What has 'Brown' Done for Blacks?

To mark the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. the Board of Education, every media outlet in the country ran at least one school desegregation story. Nearly all say that desegregation has been a disappointment.

Integrating schools hasn't equalized achievement, writes Washington Post columnist William Raspberry.

Fifty years after Brown, we should have learned that there is no magic in white classmates. The magic lies at the intersection of educational opportunity and attitude -- the coming together of teachers who know how to teach and children who are ready to learn.

No one thing -- not the ballot, not changes in school governance, not desegregation -- will produce that happy confluence. We have to demand that the schools get ready for our children. But we also have to make sure, using every resource at our disposal, that our children are ready for school.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Clarence Johnson argues that integration has failed because children of different races and genders learn differently. He wants "elite schools to meet the particular needs of the children who go there," such as three “dream schools” that will open in San Francisco this fall. The dream schools will require student uniforms, longer schedules, parental pledges of cooperation and rigorous academics.

I don't think children learn differently based on their race or gender, but I agree that schools targeted to the needs of specific students are more likely to be successful. Many students, of all races, need structure and rigor. It shouldn’t be just a dream.

He's Not Joking

The audience laughed and black leaders frowned when Bill Cosby mocked underclass blacks at a D.C. event commemorating the desegregation decision. From the Washington Post:

"Ladies and gentlemen, the lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal," he declared. "These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids -- $500 sneakers for what? And won't spend $200 for 'Hooked on Phonics.' . . .

"They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English," he exclaimed. "I can't even talk the way these people talk: 'Why you aint,' 'Where you is' . . . And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk. . . . Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads. . . . You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth!"

The Post's Hamil Harris reports that Cosby also turned his wrath to "the incarcerated," saying: "These are not political criminals. These are people going around stealing Coca-Cola. People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake and then we run out and we are outraged, [saying] 'The cops shouldn't have shot him.' What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand?"

When Cosby finally concluded, Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and NAACP legal defense fund head Theodore Shaw came to the podium looking stone-faced. Shaw told the crowd that most people on welfare are not African American, and many of the problems his organization has addressed in the black community were not self-inflicted.

This AP story has more:

Comedian Bill Cosby wants black Americans to follow the example of civil rights leaders in improving their neighborhoods and reaching out for higher education.

"These people marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education and now we've got these knuckleheads walking around," he said Monday evening at an NAACP gala commemorating the anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision 50 years earlier.

"Take the neighborhood back," Cosby said, chiding parents who do not take an active role in caring for their children.

. . . In one of the lighter moments, comedian Dick Gregory pretended to run off with the medal he presented to Cosby.

Cosby and his wife were honored for their donations to historically black colleges.

Black Flight

Urban black parents who care about their children's education are fleeing to charter and private schools, writes Samuel Freedman in the New York Times. He starts with a public school teacher who pays half her salary to send her sons to a private school.

There is nothing effete about the private education at the Whitfield School. Its campus consists of three cinderblock barracks tucked behind a Baptist church. The curriculum eschews the fashionable pedagogies of whole language and constructivist math. From pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, every pupil wears a uniform. And not a single child in a student body of 470 is white.

In her decision to enroll her children there, Ms. Jones has plenty of company among the Whitfield School parents. Probation officers, nurse's aides, office managers, subway conductors, these are the overlooked legions of the black working class. A vast majority serve actively in their churches and hold a strain of social conservatism alongside political liberalism. Their departure from urban school systems, not only in New York but also across the nation, represents one of the most significant and little-noticed trends in public education.

Democrats sound "ridiculous" when they dismiss school choice, Eduwonk writes.

Minority parents want good educational options now, not unproven plans with a time horizon that often exceeds the amount of time their children will even be in school.

Eduwonk also links to articles on the "problem" of inner-city charter schools that aren't racially diverse: In Boston and Fort Wayne, Ind., nearly all-black schools serve the needs of their students. Education is a higher priority for parents than racial mixing.

Closing the Gap

Schools in Norfolk, Va., are closing the achievement gap between black and white students, reports the St. Pete Times. Overall, the district is two-thirds black; 60 percent of students come from low-income families.

In 1998, 67 percent of Norfolk's white third-graders passed the state English exam. Only 41 percent of the district's black third-graders met that standard.

Five years later, the passing rate for black students had jumped to 61 percent.

A black superintendent named John Simpson took over in 1998 with a mandate to improve achievement. He stressed using data to improve teaching.


Dale Manor, an auto mechanic in Brooklyn, Mich., writes:

Many kids are not college material. They are treated [as] inferior if they want to be in skilled trades. Keep up the pressure!

Jeannine Stergios of Merrimack, N.H., writes:

Vocational schools are being ignored here in New Hampshire; the elitists in academia turn up their noses at anything that doesn't involve college.

They should give seventh graders tests to gauge their likes, dislikes, as well as their abilities, and then design classes that might capture these kids' attention long enough to get them through school. I see so many good kids drop out of school because what is taught is not anything they will ever need in the real world. Kids are bored!!

For example, my daughter was in slow classes due to having suffered brain damage as an infant from meningitis. She really wanted to learn, but was hampered by her disability. In her senior year in high school, her low-level English class was reading Beowulf!!  

I went to the school and demanded that they teach these kids (who were not going to college) something useful such as how to fill out a job application, how to find a job, how to budget their money, open a bank account, etc. They looked at me in amazement and actually changed the curriculum.    

I discovered that kids who are not college bound are left by the wayside. I would like to see more people from the real world teaching high school.   

PS: I also have a son with an MBA who graduated last week with a 4.0 GPA and two younger boys who are honor students. Guess what? One wants to be an auto technician!! I say good for him: Do what you love and you will be happy.

John L. Tatum of Winchester, Va., writes:

I own a construction and development company, and find it almost impossible to find any young person with any trade experience. There is a vocational school in the community but students that choose to attend it are chastised by school administrators. There aren't any entry-level, skilled tradesmen available, so I am forced to pay top dollar for older tradesmen which leads to higher priced homes. Immigrant labor is just as costly because we can't communicate. They refuse to learn English, so I end up having to replace their work. And, they go back to their native countries for months out of a year. 

Mike Atchison of Kingwood, Texas writes:

Early in my management career, I volunteered as a “real world” counselor at a local junior college, almost always spending time with freshmen. Most of them were minorities; many were also first-in-the-family college students. Very few knew what they really wanted to do after they graduated.

I told them that in the real world a good craftsman -- plumber, carpenter, mechanic, etc. -- earned almost as much as an average so-called professional (not the top ones, of course), and they had the advantage of a skill set that was transportable and needed anywhere they went in the world.  I didn't tell them this to get them to change direction, just to put some perspective in their lives.

More than once a student would tell me they thought that it was easier to get into college than to find a way to learn a craft.

Glenn Sacks writes: 

According to Dan Walters, “To suggest that some kids might, in fact, be better off as mechanics, carpenters, electricians or plumbers is to risk the wrath of parents, or even allegations of racist tracking."

Walters makes an excellent point. I used to teach in the inner cities and saw many boys who would have made good skilled tradesmen and who could have supported their families that way. However, it was not PC to suggest that they go in that direction. Not only does this harm the kids, but I always thought the disparaging of the skilled trades was enormously disrespectful to the students' tradesman fathers.

Joanne Jacobs writes about education and other issues at JoanneJacobs.com. She’s writing a book, Ride the Carrot Salad, about a start-up charter high school in San Jose.

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