Jonathan Kozol has for years been one of the most important voices on the inequities in America, especially in schools. His books Death at an Early Age, Rachel and Her Children, Savage Inequalities, Amazing Grace, and Ordinary Resurrections have raised the consciousness of those in this nation who still have a conscience. Thus when he offers a suggestion to address the problems of inner city schools, as he does today in his NY Times op ed Transferring up it behooves anyone seriously concerned about public schools to give him the courtesy of some attention. This diary is intended to connect you with his thinking. I will below the fold explain the issue he is attempting to address, and then give you how he proposes to address it. Then? Let the fur begin to fly, and have at it.
Kozol writes in the context of the recent decisions on school desegregation, something to which he remains committed. He is writing with the reality that inner city schools are segregated by housing patterns.
Here I note that Juan Williams, biographer of Thurgood Marshall, in an op ed on June 29th in the NY Times (now behind the subscription wall here) points out that Marshall had said
that seating black children next to white children in school had never been the point. It had been necessary only because all-white school boards were generously financing schools for white children while leaving black students in overcrowded, decrepit buildings with hand-me-down books and underpaid teachers. He had wanted black children to have the right to attend white schools as a point of leverage over the biased spending patterns of the segregationists who ran schools -- both in the 17 states where racially separate schools were required by law and in other states where they were a matter of culture.
This is relevant, because Kozol writes
Justice Anthony Kennedy opened up a new avenue for educational justice by contending that other methods of achieving integration — like revising school attendance zones — are constitutionally permissible so long as they do not sort and label individual children by race.
Kozol believes that the way to address both segregation and the inequities of public education is for the transfer provisions of NCLB to be modified. A child in a persistently failing school is entitled to transfer to a successful school, but little use has been made of this provision, often because there is no "successful" school within the district. Kozol proposes to address this by mandating access to cross-district transfers. His approach is as follows:
First, states should be required to ease transfers across district lines for children now in chronically low-performing schools.
Second, schools and districts must not be permitted to reject these students so long as they have space available in existing classrooms, which most suburban districts do.
Third, states must pay the added costs incurred by the receiving districts; they must not, however, compel hard-pressed urban schools to reimburse their wealthier suburban counterparts.
Fourth, states must pay for transportation.
Fifth, in order to ease the burden on states, Congress should create a federal fund to be used to underwrite some of the costs of complying with the law.
Sixth, Congress should enact specific fiscal penalties for states that drag their heels or defy the terms of this amendment altogether.
I put this out there for discussion. While our educational panel at Yearlykos will not specifically address No Child Left Behind, we will be addressing issues of equity. Thus I think the four of us will be interested in how you might react to Kozol's proposals.
Let me note immediately that there is little chance of his proposals being adopted. The House committee under George Miller is apparently very close to reporting out a bill to the floor. From what I have seen during m y lobbying on the Senate side there would be little willingness to take this on. Suburban districts, even with being reimbursed by the state for additional costs, would strongly resist having to take inner city kids into their schools, if for no other reason than it would represent a drop in the overall test scores compared to where they are.
Still, I believe Kozol's proposals are worthy of some level of discussion. So read his op ed, reflect a bit, and then offer your reactions.
If you have alternatives that can address the issue of inequality, lay them out.
I read Kozol as believing that so long as minority children can be isolated they will experience inequality that will exacerbate the extant levels of inequality. It is a downward spiral. He also believes there is a moral obligation not to acquiesce in the resegregation of American society. I wonder if he is too idealistic, and I need to ponder myself the ideas he puts forth, both his analysis and his prescriptions.
What about you?