Friday, July 12, 2002

Choice and Segregation

Matthew Ladner from Children First America has released a new study on school choice and racial integration. Mathew offers up-to-date information on Michigan’s schools-of choice program.

He explains that "no student, minority or otherwise, has ever transferred into the Detroit public school (DPS) system and that the percentage of white students in DPS has declined from 5.7 percent in 1996 to 4.2 percent in 2000.” This continues a decade long trend of white flight from Detroit schools. “On the other hand, thousands of students have used the schools of choice program to transfer out of the Detroit Public Schools.” During 1999-2000 10,343 students transferred out of DPS. His larger point is that discussions over choice and integration ignore the fact that many school systems are already incredibly segregated. And it is not only different schools that are segregated; sometimes segregation occurs within an individual school.

In third grade my younger sister’s daughter Crystallynn, who was the best reader in her class, for some reason decided to decline to participate in the Sat-9. Later she couldn’t tell anyone why she didn’t answer the test questions. Her teacher almost cried and had a conference with her mom about her behavior. Although Crystallynn received high grades in her class, the next year she was tracked into a different kind of class that my sister and other parents called the “minority class.” Supposedly, this class had all of the lower-achieving Sat-9 students in it. According to Linda and other parents—the less effective fourth grade teacher, who was not as strong on discipline, was also teaching the class. My sister demanded that Crystallynn be transferred into the supposedly higher-performing class with her other friends from the year before. This year Crystallynn took her school tests more seriously and scored high on her 4th grade tests. She has now been accepted to a fine arts magnet program at a different school. Joanne Jacobs recently noted that kids get “tracked” based on their academic performance. She says "stop picking winners in the second grade." My sister’s experience suggests that both public-school tracking and racial segregation are occurring in public schools.

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