Sunday, May 01, 2011

The New Segregation

The Orlando Sentinel has a fascinating article on how one of every eight charter schools in Florida has a 90 percent or more student body of a single ethnicity. For instance, if the charter school is located in a black or Hispanic community the student body will largely reflect that. School busing was used to integrate public schools. Republican presidential candidates Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater campaigned against school busing in the sixties. The idea of blacks and whites going to the same schools was radical to many Americans of that era.

Now the trend is moving back towards creating separate charter schools from regular public schools. Many of these learning institutions were started with good intentions. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks started a charter school in the high crime area of Hillsborough County nicknamed Suitcase City. Some of the charter schools are targeting ethnic children.

Principal Jennifer Porter-Smith says the Nap Ford charter in the shadow of the old Amway Arena in downtown Orlando serves as a focal point for the historically black Parramore neighborhood.

Porter-Smith acknowledges that "my population is not diverse." It is 92 percent black, with a handful of Hispanics and a couple of white kids.

"We are a neighborhood school, so we give preference to children who live in the neighborhood," Porter-Smith said. "But we are open to anyone in the county."

But the curriculum is geared toward black students living in poverty and is designed to "address some real historical societal ills," said Porter-Smith, who along with others defends targeting racial or ethnic groups.

Ed Burns, co-creator of the television show The Wire worked as a teacher in Baltimore. Burns and educators started a program to create less disruptive classrooms. Burns and other teachers separated the corner kids (children with behavior and criminal problems) from the better adjusted children. The program was part of the season 4 storyline of The Wire. Burns said that the program had some success with teaching disruptive kids to behave better. Other students would benefit from having the disruptive students removed from the classrooms.

On one level, parents who send their kids to charter schools are more likely invested in their education and attentive at home. The problem down road is Florida could make regular public schools as disastrous as the District of Columbia. Affluent white people through their personal xenophobia did not want to send their children to school with poor black children. D.C. schools were also poorly funded. Increasingly segregated and ethnic schools make it easier for political power to ignore the school crisis in Washington. Florida Republicans want less school funding, private vouchers, and more charter schools. The quality of education of the mass majority of children still in regular public schools will decline because it is not even a priority to state lawmakers or Gov. Rick Scott. Republicans and neoliberal Democrats are more focused on bogus state test scores to keep the appearance of learning. All the while ignoring the problems in the classrooms. This scene in season 4 of The Wire is an analogy for what is wrong with the American education system.

Some educators see minority charter schools pose a danger to the education of children.

Orange School Board member Kat Gordon, whose district is majority African-American, does not agree. It is a return to segregation, says Gordon, who is frustrated with the direction.

"No! No! We do not want to go back to where we were in the 1950s and '60s," said Gordon, who is African-American. "They have got to make sure they have diversity in those schools."

The Schott Foundation monitors education for young black males. Schott found that Florida is one of the worst states at graduating black males. From 2005 to 2008, Florida only graduated 37.5 of the black males that went through its high school system. Having charter schools unintentionally segregate its schools is not a likely way to make black graduating rates go up. These charter schools were started with honorable intentions. The reality is lawmakers aren't going to be concerned about giving resources to schools that don't have white kids.

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