Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Supreme Court case that public education advocates should be watching

"If states can continue to reinforce segregation by placing most subsidized units 
in disadvantaged neighborhoods, it will be difficult to make needed improvements 
 low-income and minority student achievement..."
---Richard Rothstein

At Issue: Inclusive Communities Project v. Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs

This from the Answer Sheet:
Critics of education reform that focuses on standardized tests for accountability purposes and the expansion of “choice” correctly point out that what happens in a classroom is impossible to entirely divorce from what happens to children outside their school since Brown vs. Board of Education was handed down in 1954 and ruled unconstitutional all state laws that created separate public schools for black and white children. In fact, in a piece last year on the 60th anniversary of Brown vs. Board, Rothstein noted that public schools remain segregated today because neighborhoods in which they are located are segregated, and he wrote, “Education policy is housing policy.”
buildings. Government housing, tax and other policies affect public schools, though they are very rarely considered when people talk about how to close the achievement gap or about how to provide more college access to children from low-income families. In the following piece, scholar Richard Rothstein looks at a coming U.S. Supreme Court case that he says could indirectly be the most important public school desegregation case

Rothstein is  a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, a non-profit created in 1986 to broaden the discussion about economic policy to include the interests of low- and middle-income workers. He is also senior fellow of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law, and he is the author of books including  “Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right,  and “Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap.” He was a national education writer for The New York Times as well. This appeared on the EPI website and I am republishing it with Rothstein’s permission.

Public education advocates should be watching this case.
This by Richard Rothstein
The U.S. Supreme Court could be on the verge of issuing a major setback to neighborhood integration, and thus to school improvement, in a case that has attracted little attention outside the fair housing community. Educators should take note: The segregation of low-income minority schools undermines efforts to narrow achievement gaps between middle class and low-income minority students.

When a few children in a classroom come from homes with less literacy and without the benefit of high-quality early childhood care, a skilled teacher can give those children special attention. But when most children in that classroom have these disadvantages, the average instructional level must decline. The most skilled teachers must devote more time to remediation, less to new instruction. When most or even many children in a classroom are sorely stressed from life in violent neighborhoods, or from homes that are economically insecure, teachers must devote more time to discipline, less to learning. When children have been exposed to few college-educated adults (except for their teachers), these children’s own ambitions are inevitably constrained. Of course, good teachers will do more to raise such children’s achievement than inadequate teachers, but even the best teachers cannot elicit average outcomes from disadvantaged children that they can elicit from middle class children.

Narrowing the achievement gap requires enabling disadvantaged children to attend integrated, predominantly middle class schools. In such schools, the time and resources to devote special attention to remediation are available. A few tools are available for integrating students who live in ghetto communities that are adjacent to middle class ones – magnet schools, attendance zone modifications, busing. But for most low-income black students, trapped in isolated ghettos in our major metropolitan areas, only family housing opportunities in middle class communities hold hope for integration.

Yet federal and state policy has been reinforcing, rather than combatting, residential segregation. The government’s most important housing program is now the “Low Income Housing Tax Credit,” in which the federal Treasury Department issues tax credits for construction. In a case to be argued this month, the Supreme Court will decide whether states can be prohibited from placing a disproportionate share of subsidized low-income housing units in low-income minority neighborhoods. If states can continue to reinforce segregation by placing most subsidized units in disadvantaged neighborhoods, it will be difficult to make needed improvements low-income and minority student achievement, or to address the need for racial progress that recent events have shown to be so urgent.

A commentary published on January 9 explains the importance of this case and the background of the housing tax credit program. Although the case seems to be about housing, it could be, indirectly, the most important school segregation case since Brown v. Board of Education.

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