Are public schools really
Expresso, Nov. 27,
An argument favoring traditional public schools over public charters and
private schools is that by nature, the former is far more diverse than the
latter: Unlike private schools, which select their own students from the
population and charters -- which actually take all comers but are often tagged
as doing otherwise by its opponents -- students in public schools must mingle
with those of different racial, ethnic, economic and social backgrounds. This
enhances their learning experiences, fosters tolerance of others and
ultimately, proves to be an economic and social benefit to the community and
the nation at large.
The diversity argument would be valid if it were true. But public school
data combed from the state Department of Education, along with the history of
the civil rights movement and a round of cases before the federal Supreme Court
proves that public schools are about as diverse as churches. And as anyone who
attends church knows by now, the most segregated day of the week is Sunday. For
many Hoosier children -- and children nationwide -- every day is a segregated
day when it comes to school.
Washington Township could be considered among the
most diverse in the state, with a population that is almost equally divided
between Blacks and Whites (40 percent and 43 percent respectively) along with a
smattering of Hispanics (9 percent) and Asians (2 percent). Economically, it is
also diverse, with only 60 percent of its students not on any sort of free or
reduced lunch program.
A closer look at each of the district's schools, however, tells a different
story: Just one of Washington
schools -- Spring Mill and Nora -- have fewer than 50 percent of their
populations dominated by one race or ethnicity. The rest are either
predominantly Black (such as Greenbriar Elementary, with a 56 percent Black
population) or White (Allisonville Elementary, which is 66 percent White). One
of its middle schools, Eastwood, is predominantly White with a significant
Black population (37 percent) while the other two are trending predominantly
Black with significant White populations. Economic diversity is a different
story, with just two elementary schools and one middle school with a paid lunch
population greater than 60 percent (Allisonville Elementary, with 70 percent,
Crooked Creek with 64 percent and Eastwood with 66 percent).
Another Marion County district, Warren Township, shares a similar profile:
Seemingly ethnically and economically diverse on a district level -- 49 percent
White and 49 percent Black, with an equal division among wealthy and poor
students -- but not necessarily so when one gives a closer look. Just five of
its schools -- Warren Central High, Pleasant Run Elementary, Stonybrook Middle,
Eastridge Elementary and the Early
-- are dominated by one racial or ethnic group; the rest, including Creston
Middle (61 percent Black) and Liberty Elementary (58 percent White) are
predominantly Black or White schools. Economically however, the schools are
equally divided among wealthier and poorer students; just one -- Lowell
Elementary -- is a predominantly paid-lunch school.
The rest of Marion
County's school districts
are hardly exemplars of diversity of any kind -- and this is despite the effort
to end such segregation through three decades of court-ordered desegregation
that began in 1971. A White student has just a one-in-20 chance of encountering
a Black coed in Perry
Township's Rosa Parks
elementary school, making the fact that the school is named after a legendary
civil rights hero unintentionally funny. In fact, Perry
Township is predominantly White (76
percent) overall, while Beech Grove, Speedway, Decatur and Franklin
Township have a similar
demographic profile racially. Meanwhile
and Indianapolis Public Schools are overwhelmingly Black.
There is also little economic diversity in these districts, with IPS'
population consisting mostly of poor students, while most of the other school
districts contain largely middle-class and wealthier populations.
The racial, ethnic and economic segregation is also predominant throughout
Central Indiana districts, with nearly all its districts, including that of Shelby County,
being predominantly White. Lake County's public schools are also heavily segregated, with
students attending either mostly-White schools (in such districts as Hanover
Community and Crown Point) or mostly-Black
schools, as in the case of those in Gary.
Just three districts in Lake County -- Merrillville
(largely Black, but with a sizable White population), East
Chicago (almost equally divided among Blacks and Hispanics) and Hammond (divided in
thirds between Blacks, Whites and Hispanics) -- have some level of racial
diversity; economically, the districts are almost all segregated.
How does this diversity stack up against charters and private schools: Many
public schools are no more diverse in any way than either such charters as Irvington Community School
(86 percent White and 69 percent paid lunch) or Flanner House Elementary (98
percent Black with a 67 percent free-and-reduced lunch population). Or than the Catholic school systems in Indianapolis
or Gary, which
are mostly White and have a largely paid lunch population. And the latter, for
the Catholic schools and private parochial schools, is deceiving: The schools
may actually have high numbers of poor children -- and often times with
Catholic schools, they usually do -- but because they don't always seek out
government school lunch aid, it isn't always reflected in the demographics.
Indiana isn't alone in this segregation:
Spend any time in California
or other states and the story remains the same. Nor is the segregation limited
to the student population: America's
teacher corps is mostly White and female, with few males -- especially Black
males -- in the ranks. And there has never been a time in American history in
which schools embraced diversity in practice: From Horace Mann's efforts to
mandate civic education based on White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant ideals -- the
very reason why the modern American public school system was created in the
first place -- to the battles over integration in the South, in Boston and in
Indianapolis during the Civil Rights era, schools have almost deliberately been
segregated, if not based on race or ethnicity, then on religion or thought.
And even if this wasn't the case, the reality may be that most Americans
don't necessarily want diversity; after all, this seems to be the case when
parents exercise either the traditional form of school choice (if one can call
it that) -- move from one neighborhood (and school district) to another -- or
in the more efficient forms offered through vouchers and charter schools.
Should schools, be it public or private, be diverse
in their populations. From where I sit, they should be. Whether or not that
should be a primary goal, in light of the need to stem dropouts and improve
academic learning, is a different matter, one which is now being debated in
Topeka, KS -- whose school district's policies led to the landmark Supreme Court
ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. For Blacks, who have seen
integration efforts lead to the worsening of their neighborhood schools,
diversity may be less important than improving the quality of schools in their
own communities; the same may go for poor Whites, who like Blacks, have few
options at their disposal and those who support vouchers and charters.
Middle-class parents may also oppose it because they don't think they need it.
But before a discussion of any kind can be had, there must be reminders that
public schools arenít the refuges of diversity that some claim them to be.