Thursday, January 15, 2009

Separate and Unequal Public Schools: "Liberal" Blue States Have Worse Records Than "Dixie"

Democrats frequently brag about their party's diversity and support for "equality" measures. They also blast the Republican Party as a relic of the past and as a racist, sexist, and homophobic organization that only attracts white, male, and older voters.

After the "historic" battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the Democratic Party has given the country its first black president. Around 90% of blacks vote for Democratic candidates, and this trend started long before Obama's candidacy. Majorities of Latinos, Asian Americans, women, and younger voters also prefer Democrats. And liberal political scientists hope that Obama's election victory means that white elites, forward-thinking younger voters and traditionally Democratic-leaning persons of color have now formed a liberal "Great Society Coalition" that will reverse a generation of Democratic losses in presidential politics.

On many issues, the Democratic Party provides more support for the interests of vulnerable communities and progressive social movements. But Democrats perform miserably in other areas, and these failures undermine the rhetoric concerning its diversity and liberalism. Educational inequality is perhaps the greatest failure of contemporary liberal governance.

Separate and Unequal Schools: Blue States Outperform Dixie
Many of the nation's public schools are separate and unequal. Typically, the country's school populations are racially homogeneous, and vast differences in funding exist across jurisdictions. On average, schools with relatively poorer student populations receive less public funding. Also, schools with higher concentrations of students of color tend to have poorer student bodies. Together, these two realities produce school systems in which the average student of color attends racially isolated and poorly funded schools, while white students attend racially isolated, yet better funded schools.

Educational statistics repeatedly confirm that Democratic (or "blue states") are among the very worst offenders with respect to racial isolation and funding inequity. The Civil Rights Project at UCLA (formerly at Harvard University) and the Federal Education Budget Project of the New America Foundation conduct research and compile data related to education policy. Reports prepared by these two institutions reveal that "liberal" blue states have worse records than Dixie with respect to educational equality.

Racial Isolation
The Civil Rights Project is a leading national authority on race-related education research. A 2006 publication released by the Civil Rights Project analyzes the rate of racial segregation in public schools for each state. The report presents data regarding several categories of segregation (e.g., black, Latino, Asian-American) and for varying degrees of isolation (e.g., majority-minority, 90-100% minority). Public schools in liberal Democratic states consistently rank among the most racially isolated in the nation.

Blacks and Latinos Most Segregated in Democratic Jurisdictions
According to the Civil Rights Project, the 10 states with the lowest percentages of black students attending schools with white students are: New York, Illinois, Michigan, California, Maryland, New Jersey, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Wisconsin. In terms of black students attending highly segregated schools (90-100% minority students), the list is almost identical: New York, Illinois, Michigan, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Wisconsin, and Mississippi.

With respect to Latino students' exposure to white students, the 10 most segregated systems are located in: New York, California, Texas, New Mexico, New Jersey, Illinois, Rhode Island, Arizona, Florida, and Maryland. The states with the highest percentages of Latino students attending highly segregated schools (90-100% minority) are: New York, Texas, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Arizona, Rhode Island, Florida, New Mexico, and Maryland.

These rates of racial isolation are not inevitable. Nevada, for example, has a large population of black and Latino students in its public schools, but it has one of the highest rates of integration for these two demographics. The Civil Rights Project attributes this to a longstanding, but now-expired, desegregation decree. Since the lifting of the desegregation order, however, Nevada has experienced an increase in racial isolation for black and Latino students.

California Consistently Bad
In 1979, California voters amended the state constitution to prohibit state courts from ordering busing or student reassignment unless a federal court would do so under the same circumstances. The amendment effectively toughened the legal standard for remedying racial isolation in the state's public school because at the time, California law, unlike federal law, prohibited both intentional and de facto racial segregation in public schools.

The movement to pass Proposition 1 began as a state judge contemplated issuing a busing order to cure segregation in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The amendment made the proposed remedy illegal under state law.

Today, California has one of the most racially segregated school systems in the country. White students in the Southeast, however, are more likely than students in any other region of the country to attend public school in a multiracial environment, although resegregation in the Southeast has grown more rapidly than in any other region in the last decade.

Funding Inequality
In the 1978 case Rodriguez v. San Antonio Independent School District, the Supreme Court held that funding inequity across school districts does not violate the Equal Protection Clause. Funding inequity results because in most states, property taxes finance school expenditures. Wealthier districts with higher property values can generate greater tax revenue and allocate substantially more money for their education budgets. Although poor whites suffer from this problem as well, persons of color more often live in "concentrated poverty" neighborhoods than poor whites. Accordingly, funding inequality, though problematic across racial groups, has a distinct racial effect.

The Federal Education Budget Project of the New America Foundation has compiled data on funding inequity within each state. This research reveals that, in addition to having the most racially segregated school systems, the blue states have the highest levels of school funding disparities in the nation.

According to Federal Education Budget Project report, the "South is the most equitable region" with respect to school funding. Specifically, the 10 states with the most evenly funded school districts are: Hawaii, West Virginia, Florida, Iowa, Washington, Delaware, North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, and Louisiana. By contrast, the most inequitable states (from bad to worst) are: Idaho, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Wyoming, Missouri, Massachusetts, Virginia, Montana and Illinois.

Illinois and New York: Terrible Records, Despite Obama and Clinton
Examining funding and racial composition data together reveals that public schools in Illinois and New York rank among the most racially isolated and unevenly financed in the entire nation. These states also rank among the bluest states in the nation.

Illinois has one of the best records of electing blacks (and Democrats generally) to public office, and it is the home of the nation's first black president and the Great Emancipator. Illinois sits in the cradle of change. Yet, the state's record of "diversity" has not lead to the systematic implementation of egalitarian education policy. New York, a bastion for liberal Democrats and the home state of Hillary Clinton, has a terrible record of performance on these issues as well.

No Bragging Rights
As a veteran professor of Constitutional Law and Race Relations, my exposure to data confirming the persistence of inequality -- even in states governed by Democrats -- makes me more guarded than many of my colleagues concerning the implications of Obama's election victory and the Democratic sweep of Congress. Although having a black president provides an enormous amount of positive symbolism, this fact alone will not lead inevitably to policies that address entrenched patterns of inequality.

When progressives condemned Southern whites as racists because they supported Clinton over Obama, they conveniently ignored the vast patterns of inequality in their own communities. Although Democrats have legitimately criticized the GOP for referring to Obama as a "magic Negro," pervasive educational inequality harms black children much more than the Republican's satire. And while contemporary civil rights activists flexed their muscles to rid the nation's airwaves of Don Imus, they have not engaged in equally organized and passionate advocacy to challenge educational inequality.

Supporting symbolic change means little unless it leads to the actual transformation of policy. Embracing policy transformation does little, unless the new policies seek to undo entrenched patterns of inequality, rather than simply reciting (again) that discrimination is wrong. Until the Democrats begin to show progress on these issues in jurisdictions where they have consistently exercised dominance, I will remain guarded concerning the significance of their recent success in national politics.

By exploring these issues, I seek to push Democrats beyond a simplistic narrative that portrays liberals as just and conservatives as unjust. Ultimately, I hope to persuade liberals (and anyone else who listens) to embrace a concept of "diversity" that extends beyond mere window-dressing and to imagine and begin creating a society where access to equal educational opportunity does not depend upon one's race or class. Before they can meaningfully reform the image of the United States in foreign affairs, Democrats need to challenge the invidious distribution of important social resources in their own communities.


Aaron said...

I'm not completely persuaded by your data... it seems to me that the causality is a bit backwards: states that contain a homogeneous population of African-Americans within their borders are more likely be states with large Urban African-American voting blocks for the Democratic Party, which can be big enough to tip a state blue, even when a majority of White voters usually vote Republican. Most of the Blue states on the "Most segregated" list seem to fit that category.

However, if you are trying to start a conversation about how the topic of racial equality in education has fallen down the list of Democratic party policy priorities, you are right on. Its pitiful how little energy, outrage, and capital is spent pursuing long and short term solutions to this issue. Even as Obama takes his oath, we are on the verge of slipping back into the deepest depths of race-based unfairness, even as people who were born after the civil rights era watch their grandchildren learn how to walk.

To me the problem is clear: whites had no problem solving the question posed by Brown: if we can't segregate by race within a school district, we'll just move the white people out of the district. Many of our nations most deplorable school conditions situated right across some sort of jurisdictional line from a host of highly successful, well funded school systems. Detroit, St. Louis, and Washington DC spring immediately to mind, but I'm sure an expert in the field could list many more, particularly in the states you have listed.

I guess my question is, can a legal or policy argument be made that would break down the racial walls these jurisdictional lines have come to represent? Is there something in the constitutional framework left by Brown that can make busing a reality in someplace like the DC region... a ruling that would necessitate busing between places like Arlington/Alexandria/Fairfax and Washington DC/PG County?

I'm not the constitutional law guy, so I don't know... but it seems like this is the sort of aggressive, innovative, and creative approach that the Democratic party should be pursuing... and you are right to point out that the fact that we aren't having a national discussion about this at this moment is a shameful indictment of a party that claims to put equality a the top of their to-do list.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Aaron: great analysis. I had already considered your point -- that some of these blue states would actually be red, in the absence of black and Latino populations. This argument, though potentially valid, cannot explain the presence of some states (like Massachusetts) or the absence of others (like West Virginia) among the worst offenders.

Also, many studies explain the differences by pointing to the size of school districts. Northern and Midwestern states have very small and numerous school zones, while Southern states have fewer, but much more expansive, zones. In Northern and Midwestern states, the small zones are racially isolated, and the construction of "neighborhood schools" helps to sustain segregation. In the South, however, larger school zones with more diverse populations helps to accomplish integration.

Clearly this issue is more complex than "Democrats are just racist" (an argument I did not make or hope to imply). Instead, this situation persists, in part, because the Left has not made it a priority. Instead, warm and fuzzy statements about "diversity" dominate liberal discourse surrounding race.

Also, much of the early educational equality litigation focused on the South (for obvious reasons). As a result, many structural changes took place (like the redrawing of zones) that remain effective today. Northern states resisted these efforts as desegregation litigation moved out of the South (see below).

But we should not excuse liberal white Democrats from responsibility for educational inequality -- both racial and class-based. Many liberal enclaves suffer from racial isolation and funding inequity. But voters in these areas resist (or do not demand) the creative solutions you suggest.

Finally, with respect to your legal question, as desegregation litigation moved out of the South, the Supreme Court immunized "white flight" from judicial invalidation. In the 1974 case Milliken v Bradley, the Supreme Court held that federal courts could not order metropolitan remedies (such as consolidating school districts or busing students across districts) in order to achieve integration, unless the suburban school district had engaged in discrimination as well.

The Court reasoned that in the absence of a finding of discrimination in the suburbs, involving those schools in the remedial scheme would exceed the scope of the constitutional violation. In other words, the Court held that white flight (and the construction of schools to service this migration) was unrelated to unlawful racial segregation in cities.

Now that the Court has abandoned the concept of “de facto” discrimination, hope for any type of judicial remedy is pretty bleak. In addition to precluding a interdistrict remedy, Court doctrine does not even consider racial isolation a constitutional violation, unless the state intentionally caused it.

Because of this precedent, educational equality movements must seek political/legislative responses from local and federal governments. Some jurisdictions have in fact made efforts, but not many.

The silence around this subject among Democrats speaks volumes. Liberals spent more time bashing Palin for her Neiman Marcus run, than they gave to voicing concerns about educational inequality during the campaign. Patterns like these do not make me hopeful that change is on the horizon.

Thanks the the engagement!

Ken Ballweg said...

I believe that the problems with school support and policy break down along classic funding divides: kids/no kids, rural/urban, younger/older fixed income as much as conservative/liberal. And it is, at least in Oregon, a matter of really, really bad press sponsored by the anti-tax propaganda machines.

There are many groups of kids we are shorting, with the inner urban schools being the obvious hardest hit. In Oregon, there may be conscious racism involved, but it’s more likely to be effected by the personal finances as racial agendas. Not that the results aren’t the same, but understanding this can effect what needs to be pushed for solutions. In Oregon there have been organized attacks on the cost of schools that have too often been successful. Bless our little “referendum” system that allowed the Zero Tax crowd victories in the form of caps on local property taxes (even on districts that have a good record of support for schools), followed a Super Majority to pass tax increases, and their final capper of moving all school funding from local control to make it a state (i.e. income tax funded since that’s really all Oregon has for it’s tax base) budget line.

This allowed a long and strongly funded propaganda campaign against state tax rates as being too high (well duh, you just created a 50% increase in state obligations) which resonates with two very large voting groups, the no-kids and the overlapping fixed-incomes who eagerly buy the “there is enough money, THEY just aren’t spending it properly” mantra as a rationale for voting against educational funding. Add the more recent “I ain’t payin’ for some illegal’s education” and it’s a death dance for the kids.

Yes, there are still people in the state which had open active Klans and sundown laws into the 40s and 60s respectively, that move their kids because of outright racism. But in Oregon it’s much more tied a perverted Ayne Randian Libertarian amorality that says, “I got mine, and devil take the hindmost”. Pretty much the same thing that is killing our nation’s infrastructure, as well as education.

Results, the general collapse of the educational system to the point that Oregon became a national punch line when schools had to close three to four weeks early because they ran out of money. This is a system that, because of Prop 5 (the anti-tax crowds crown jewel), has required funding equalization across districts, so poor rural districts with no tax base pull money from urban areas with large tax bases at the same time that those rural districts are loosing their federal timber subsidies from the years of Logging’s equivalent to strip open pit strip mining.

The general strangling of education costs combines with the too frequent reaction of the ones with kids focusing on the "what can I get for my kid" rather than system issues, and fleeing to charter and private schools (usually religious) because of academic quality. Then they objects (with their votes) to public funding for schools because they are already paying for schools on the side. Vicious circle for them. Result, de-facto segregation again, not easily corrected by such remedies as busing or vouchers; when they all suck, where you going to go?

Because anti-tax strategies are a mainstay of the political right they are much more actively involved in this cynical destruction of our schools. Oregon becomes, in the process, a showcase for some of the forces beyond racism that are contributing to the resegregation.

The Right’s exploitation of class war wedge issues was a huge contributor, especially as it plays out in the area of anti-taxation mind sets. The Left’s complicity in letting it happen (i.e. not putting up more resistance against the Zero Tax propaganda) and frequently voting their pocket consistent with our national economic narcissism has resulted not just in the resegregation of schools but the destruction of our schools as a resource and a living part of our infrastructure.

From the Oregon experience I would argue that equitable and ADEQUATE funding is the first line of attack for countering the creep of values from the Republican “Southern Strategy”, and the Reagan “Government is the problem” into the left. Yes de-facto racism is a result. Telling lefties or “blues” they have recreated a racist system is going to fall on deaf ears because they will look you in the eye and say “There isn’t a racist bone in my body...” and mean it because they can’t see the disconnect between principles and unintended consequences.

I suspect we have to tie it back to the fiscal neglect they have allowed for all kids and contributed to (in the name of getting the best for their own kids) if you want them to help fix it.

This often results in

Ken Ballweg said...

That last stray tag line is a cut and paste error not an unfinished thought.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Ken - the interesting thing is that we can make these observations without attributing it to some type of conscious bias. If we can only use the political process or litigation to remedy "racism" (as defined in 1900), then we will have a very limited civil rights structure.

I point out the racial and class patterns in order to tell a story of liberal neglect -- not to accuse anyone of being a bigot. While liberals tout the Democratic Party's diversity, they have not even given much airtime to these issues. While they loudly attack Palin as a "racist," they do not address these issues, which harm blacks much more than Palin calling Obama a socialist.

I know I have not done justice to your response, but I am a little pressed for time. Thanks for commenting -- as always.

dsmay said...

It may come as a shock to a great deal of people, even those within education, that schools are historically doing what they were built to do, transmit cultural capital only to a chosen few by sorting and sifting. And the current "accountability" system of high-stakes testing ordained by NCLB only further legitimizes this practice along the lines of race and class. I think we need question what it is exactly that our schools do. Schooling in this country is a disjointed bureaucracratic institution of federal, state and local forces. These forces are often ideologically at odds with each other and even more so at odds with those very individuals within the school walls who have devoted their lives to serving their communities. Currently the collective power of the classroom - this nation's students and teachers - is being attacked from above by the hegmonic interests of business and the policies of the controlling government bureaucracies and attacked from below by worsening economic and social conditions. These are dire times for children sitting in the classrooms of our nation's public schools, but especially dire for those sitting in our neighborhood schools which have been "graded" as failing under misleading NCLB mandates.

Understanding the forces at work outside of the classroom walls has made me critically question my own ideals of the goals, aims, and purposes served in education and act to bring greater equality and quality of education for our nation's children. On the fringe of this new perspective is the recognition that our nation's schools have acted not to give individuals control, but quite the opposite, to control the individual under the guise of a greater social consciousness. The persistent question is whether our existing social and economic arrangements, which have persisted since the Industrialization of this country, require that some people are relatively poor and unskilled while others are not. It was not at first obvious to such an idealist as myself that schools do help to maintain this arrangement in their intertwined role with greater bureaucratic institutions, and often times they do so blindly and uncritically.

As bureaucracies with the overt mission of transmitting knowledge, schools have been and are being used for hegemonic purposes. This mission of civil service is carried out in their teaching of cultural and economic values and dispositions that are supposedly “shared by all,” while at the same time the pedagogical practices “guarantee” that only a specified number of students are selected for higher levels of education as determined by their “ability” to contribute to the maximization of the production of the technical knowledge needed by the economy. Beginning with the early influences of Bobbitt and Taylor “the social and economic interests that served as the foundation upon which the most influential curriculum workers acted were not neutral; nor were they random” in this mission. According to Michael Apple “they embodied commitments to specific economic structures and economic policies, which, when put into place, contributed to inequality.”

This inequality is evident, as stated in Dr. Hutchinson's posts, in the persistence of segregation by race and class. I feel we must critically and persistently question the forces that drive education policy under the guise of the greater good. The greater good of our country is not served by a system that penalizes and decreases funding to those schools which dramatically display the most need. This alone is a socially unjust measure that must be challenged in our day. There is a great deal of work to do for our nation's children. I ask you to join me in advocating for our nation's public schools those students who cannot speak for themselves. Thank you.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hi, Dsmay -- another great comment! This thread has generated some great (long) commentary.

Anyway, yes, education in its original form was certainly reserved for privileged individuals. Long before "free" public education, it was private, and only privileged families could afford it. Girls were excluded from learning, and in slave states, it was a crime for blacks to read. In "free" states, education was not commonly an option.

As states opened public schools, they were racially segregated -- even in the North. The Plessy v Ferguson decision cites to a Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling, which held that racial segregation in public schools does not violate the equal protection clause.

Social and economic justice movements have always pushed for greater equality in education. A lot of work remains unfinished. But I am hopeful that we can do more. This is truly one area that can unify people, given the class dynamic. Do you have a website?

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

dsmay - clicked your link. HI!

dsmay said...

As of yet, no devoted website of my own. Perhaps I will take your lead and create one just for educational issues (although upon an intial review there are already quite a few).

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