Thinking about Dr. King's legacy and the current state of the public schools of America's cities... It's the Socioeconomic Segregation, Stupid

In a piece for The Nation by a few days ago, Linda Darling-Hammond demolishes most of the remaining chunks of any size within the crumbling structure of corporate education’s most ironically-titled reform ever — No Child Left Behind. NCLB is rubble, even though many unseen victims continue to be buried beneath its mammoth pile.

Darling-Hammond, who was recruited to get Team Obama up to speed on education issues following the 2008 election, entitled her piece, “Why Is Congress Redlining Our Schools?” It should be noted that as soon as Team Obama got a lay of the edu-land, they dismissed Darling-Hammond and brought in corporate lackey, Arne Duncan, to serve as titular head of the Education Department while the corporate foundations run the show.

Now that I think about it, she might have more appropriately entitled piece “Why are the White House and Congress Redlining Our School?”

And even as Darling-Hammond’s essay is well worth the read, it does not answer the question she asks in the title, nor does she have anything in her list of recommendations near the end that would do anything in the short term the stem of continuing segregation of the poor in total compliance corporate charter testing factories that middle class parents would never subject their children to.

Just as red-lining was used for many years by the FHA to maintain racial purity and avoid ethnic mixing, red-lining is a good description of what is going on in urban public education to contain and isolate children of the poor. Thanks to requirements of NCLB, residents of urban areas who send their children to these schools must contend with the federal label of failure and high risk, with public monies often withheld because the poor children in these schools cannot pass the tests whose pass rates are directly correlated to family income. And because the teachers and principals in these schools have been blamed, then, for the student failure that poverty has assured, these red-lined schools are shut down or reconstituted per the NCLB plan— increasingly with private management firms and/or corporate foundations running them.

The schools that are shut down, then, are often handed to corporate foundations in sweetheart deals enabled by new charter-embracing laws (try Indiana where charter corporations can buy an empty school for a dollar). Add some corporate tax-sheltered venture funds and, bingo, a new charter is born, complete with cheaper (20% cheaper nationally) and marginally-prepared teachers, a chain gang instructional model, total compliance and constant surveillance, zero tolerance, and no excuses. Remember these new apartheid charters, too, are most often entirely segregated by class and race, and their Boards are often appointed cronies of the school CEO or sponsoring corporations or corporate foundations, so that oversight is minimal and accountability for breaches in administrative behavior are sometime dangerously absent.

The corporate management organizations (EMOs) or the charter management organizations (CMOs), in turn, often appoint as principals of these testing camps former Teach for America Corps members who are schooled in the new corporate model of total autocratic control of poor children, even down to the behavioral catechisms and the learned optimism strategies of the creepy positive psychologists with whom they consult.

An fast-growing empire run by self-serving predators, venture philanthropists, and Wall Street hedge stands behind this charter movement, from Eva Moskowitz to the Milken Brothers and all the up the chain to Eli Broad, the Walton clan, and Bill Gates. In the process of turning public schools into permanent corporate revenue streams, tax bills for the 1 %ers get further reduced, the teachers unions are eviscerated, and the politicians collect from corporate coffers the unlimited funds they need to get re-elected. And the cycle is complete.

So Dr. Darling-Hammond, that is Why Congress AND the Whte House Are Redlining Our Schools.

What Darling-Hammond left out of recommendations for moving forward beyond NCLB is the necessity for reducing economic inequality rather than increasing it, which will take a 180-degree turn for most politicians on both sides of the corporate jet aisle. One thing that schools can do in this regard is to take seriously the research by James Coleman, which has been ignored or misused since it was published in 1966, just one year after Congressional approval of the first ESEA in 1965. Coleman’s findings are here summarized by Coleman scholar, Gerald Grant (2009):

Simply put, Coleman found that the achievement of both poor and rich children was depressed by attending a school where most children came from low-income families. More important to the goal of achieving equal educational opportunity, he found that the achievement of poor children was raised by attending a predominantly middle-class school, while the achievement of affluent children in the school was not harmed. This was true even if per-pupil expenditures were the same at both schools. No research over the past forty years has overturned Coleman’s finding . . . (p. 159). Coleman also found that the longer that poor black children were stuck in low SES schools, the lower their achievement moved in comparison to middle class children. Dr. King knew this in his gut and in his head, and that is why his focus was on economic equality when he was murdered in 1968.

Now we have a federal charter school policy that actually calls for, in the guidance, high poverty quotas of 60 percent minimum of poor children to win the federal grants to fund “successful” charter expansion. This is exactly the opposite of what needs to be done, if charter schools are going to continue at all. They should, in fact, have a cap of 40 percent of low-income children, so that the social capital that James Coleman and hundreds of other scholars have shown to be so important over the years can help to equalize the punishing effects of poverty, particularly when poverty is concentrated. Why is this segregating incentive to contain poor children in the guidance for winning federal grants for schools?

Or why does this point in our history closely resemble the one of a hundred years ago when eugenics became the scourge of the nation and the world? And why do our national priorities ignore and minimize magnet schools that integrate, while embracing charter schools that segregate?

Ask the predatory hedge funders and glassy-eyed do-gooders at the corporate foundations, who want to make the world safe for the prosperous and well-heeled, the connected and the corporate, the job cremators creators and others whose positions of power clearly indicate a well-deserved happiness. They’ll tell you with a straight face that education is the civil rights issue of this generation, and that is why we need quick reauthorization of ESEA. Irony rising from irony flattened.

[The above piece began at Jim Horn's blog "Schools Matter" and is here with permission].


Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

3 + 3 =