Quality schools matter more than racial integration, black leaders say

Part 77 of 77 in the series Educating America

By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

Education analysts and lawmakers should consider an issue beyond racial integration — quality schools, some black leaders say.

NBD: Racial integration is not the most important battle for 2014, some black leaders said. Instead, they want to see better schools.

“Where does real integration take place in America? At the end of the day, it takes place in the marketplace, and if you come to that marketplace with no skills, what’s going to happen to you?” asked Howard Fuller, former chairman of Black Alliance for Educational Options.

Two new reports consider race and education.

The U.S. Department of Education last week published findings that minority children are more likely to be suspended or expelled from school and less likely to have access to quality classes.

Earlier this week, UCLA found the most segregated public schools in the country are in New York and other northern states, as well as in California.

“There was a time in our history when fighting for integration was the most important fight to be engaged in,” said Kenneth Campbell, president of BAEO. “I think the most important fight to engage in now is educational quality for kids, wherever they may be.”

The blame for segregation often is placed on charter schools and other private school choice programs. That’s unfortunate, said Kevin Chavous, executive counsel for the American Federation for Children. The choice programs often provide lifelines for disadvantaged families — many of which are black.

“(Charter schools) do not increase racial segregation, because the schools are already segregated. They don’t increase it, but what they do do is make sure that these kids learn,” he said.

“What’s really frustrating is, on one hand, they give people who have choice programs or charter schools a hard time if they locate those schools in middle-class or affluent neighborhoods where integration is easier, then they say if you locate them in the neighborhoods where there’s most need, you’re accelerating segregation,” he said.

“These programs are designed to help kids who come from challenged backgrounds to get a quality education, period. We actually think this helps the segregation issue. Get kids out of failing schools and challenged neighborhoods and in a better position to be integrated into mainstream society. That’s what we’re seeing happen when these kids go on to college and professional careers.”

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at mtillotson@watchdog.org