by Chris Bodenner
Since the '70s, support for integration, except rhetorically, has plummeted. Many black parents were (and are) rightly skeptical of the rhetoric of some integrationists--namely that mere exposure to whites would somehow magically uplift their children. And most whites tell pollsters and survey researchers that they support racial integration, until more than a handful of minority students show up, and then they bolt. The result is that school districts have resegregated. And more recently, the Roberts Court has struck down even voluntary school integration plans. All but the most hardcore advocates of Jim Crow from the Brown v. Board days would be pleased.
But, hey, we have a president who supports integration, don't we? Unfortunately, so far, his support also seems to be mostly rhetorical.
Obama has emphasized education, but his administration is walking down the same rutted path as his predecessors. More funding for charter schools. More teaching to the test in a warmed-over version of No Child Left Behind. And Obama--always optimistic about the power of well-turned words--serves up bromides about "self-discipline" and "hard work," believing somehow that he will fire up little Johnny or Jamal and that miraculously, they will make it in a school system where the deck is stacked against them.
One fundamental problem (and there are many more that I can't list here) with the Obama administration's policies is that they take for granted that segregation by race and class is unchangeable. They take for granted that disadvantaged students will remain concentrated together. And they accept as a given the reality of ghettos of wealth in privileged school districts.
States--even those led by Republicans running against Obama--have jumped into the fray to compete for federal "Race to the Top" funds. They invariably follow the money--and that is right into unproven charter schools and programs to teach to the test that leave racial isolation untouched. Why not add an incentive: set aside funds for districts and states that come up with plans to diversify their student bodies. It's happened on a small scale in metropolitan Boston, where METCO has opened spots (not enough) for city students in some of the region's best-funded and excellent public schools.