Advocates Say Segregation, Discrimination Still Exist in US Education

Some education advocates say that segregation and discrimination still exist in American schools and have slowly increased over the years in a new form — segregation based on both race and income, writes Allie Bidwell of U.S. News.

Academics and politicians are divided on whether some education reforms will help improve equity in education. According to Gary Orfield, professor of education at the University of California at Los Angeles, many of the civil rights reforms were only seriously enforced for a few years.

"Race matters deeply in the U.S. and we are pretending that it does not," Orfield said at the American Educational Research Association's Brown Lecture in Education research October 24th. "Being colorblind in a segregated and unequal nation means accepting persistent inequality and blaming the victims. There is a long, often sad history and it is not over."

The debate regarding colorblind policies in American education never really went away, according to Orfield.

"The core anti-discrimination aspect of civil rights policy is often neglected because people assume that discrimination only happened in the past," Orfield said. "To expand opportunity, education policy must be supported by policies that improve opportunity in homes and communities."

In June, a major ruling was avoided by the Supreme Court in the case of Abigail Fisher, a white student who claims she was denied admission to the University of Texas's flagship Austin campus because of her race. In its ruling, the court said the university's admission policy required further scrutiny and sent the case back to a lower court, which is scheduled to hear oral arguments next month.

On October 15th, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a suit challenging a 2006 constitutional amendment that banned affirmative action in Michigan. The Michigan's Attorney General Bill Schuette is leading the case in favor of the ban. Schuette said the ban cannot be discriminatory in itself.

"It is curious to say that a law that bars a state from discriminating on the basis of race or sex violates the Equal Protection Clause by discriminating on the basis of race and sex," Schuette said in a brief.

Some policies at the K-12 level have also resurrected the idea of segregation and discrimination in schools. School choice systems, such as voucher programs, have received both support and criticism. Vouchers offer financial assistance to low-income children attending failing schools who wish to transfer to private schools.

The Justice Department in August tried to block a portion of the Louisiana voucher program, claiming vouchers issued in some districts impeded the desegregation process for districts that are still under federal desegregation orders.

In Alabama, a similar program also faced a legal challenge from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which alleges that the system creates two classes of students based on who can afford private school tuition or the added cost of transportation. In this case, families receive tax credits rather than up-front tuition assistance.

Roger Clegg, president and general counsel at the Center for Equal Opportunity, favors colorblind educational policies and said it is wrong to "conflate racial issues with economic issues."

According to Clegg, more focus should be placed on the quality of school curriculum rather than racial makeup of a school's student body. Clegg said that school choice and voucher systems are designed to help students get out of lower achieving schools.

Orfield, however, said that without implementing additional civil rights provisions, these programs will be ineffective. Civil rights provisions include greater access to affordable housing, or providing transportation to low-income students who choose to take advantage of school choice and voucher programs.

Otherwise, Orfield says families will self-segregate through school choice and voucher programs, and that teacher evaluation systems, which reward or sanction teachers based on how well their students perform, will push effective teachers out of the schools that need them the most.

11 4, 2013
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