Tuesday, November 13

Teachers College Symposium addresses equal education opportunity

Yesterday I attended the third annual symposium of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, where I am a student. This year’s topic is "Equal Education Opportunity: What Now? Reassessing the Role of the Courts, the Law and School Policies after Seattle and CFE."

The focus of the two-day symposium is primarily to discuss the role of litigation in promoting equal educational opportunity. This is particularly salient now given the Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding voluntary school integration plans in Seattle and Louisville, as well as New York State’s recent decision to put $5.4 billion into New York City schools as a result of litigation from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

The morning session gathered four leading scholars for a moderated discussion about the impact of the Seattle and Louisville case. Amy Stuart Wells, a TC professor of sociology and education, began by providing a brief overview of the Supreme Court’s 185-page decision. The decision is remarkably complex but the essence of it is that schools may not use racial classifications in assigning children to school—even if these measures are carried out for the purpose of racial integration. Justice Kennedy proved to be the swing vote on the case, siding with the conservative bloc of judges on all parts of the decision except one (where he argued that there is a compelling state interest in racial balancing). However, because Kennedy’s decision is “remarkably unclear,” the future impact of the Supreme Court’s decision is still unclear, the panelists said.

Wells was joined by Ted Shaw of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; James Ryan, a law professor at the University of Virginia; and john a. powell of Ohio State University’s Kirwin Institute for Race and Ethnicity. Each provided interesting perspectives on the court’s decision but I am most concerned with the way that New York City fits into this picture.

Professor Ryan commented that racial integration is only on the agenda of about 1000 out of 16,000 school districts across the United States. In fact, half of all school districts in the country are either 90% white or 90% minority. What this means in practice is that half of school districts could not adopt racial integration plans even if they wanted to. Such is the case in New York City, where 85.6% of the student population during the 2005-2006 school year was classified as “other than white/non-Hispanic,” according to the Legal Defense Fund. As Shaw commented, “Desegregation is already a lost cause in many places like New York City.”

If desegregation really is a lost cause in a place like New York City, then the question obviously becomes “what now?” The panel provided little insight into this topic since the panelists seem focused on the next steps in litigation over racial integration and about what will be allowed in the era ushered in by the Supreme Court’s decision. Nonetheless, powell did stress that education is the crucible for democracy and that “true integration” has transformative effects. I presume powell would argue that even if New York City cannot achieve racial integration, the question of how we ensure equal educational opportunity for over 1 million children is salient—particularly with the next round of reforms underway.

Leah Gogel is a student at Columbia University's Teachers College and a Zankel Fellow at Insideschools.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a waste of time this is. Talk of integration??

Schools are seperated by neighboorhood with exceptions coming with high test scores or mental/physical handicap.

So, the real issue is not race in schools (in NYC) its the increasing cost of housing that forces minorities out and places whites in.