Public Education is Being Dismantled on the Backs of Black and Brown Children
Education “reformers” are seeing their privatization dreams come true as mass public school closings spread from one city to the next.
Chicago is currently ground zero for this scheme with 54 schools slated for closing this year in what the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss called “the largest mass district closing of schools ever in the United States.”
This is not simply a right-wing fantasy come true; Democrats have proven themselves to be staunch supporters of the privatization agenda. In fact, “The stated goal of the [Obama] administration’s education agenda is to shut down failing schools and promote the expansion of publicly funded, privately run charter schools,” notes NPR.
Perhaps this is the reason it’s so difficult for people to come to terms with the racist nature of these closings, which disproportionally affect low-income neighborhoods of color. In Chicago, African American students account for 9 out of 10 of those affected by school closings despite making up only 41.7 percent of the overall public school student population.
Racial disparities are so rampant that community groups from cities across the country, including Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Detroit and Newark, have filed civil rights complaints with the federal government.
In Philadelphia, officials voted to close 23 public schools, nearly 10 percent of the city’s school system, a move they say will reduce the city’s budget deficit. But the pain is far from evenly distributed. An analysis of city data carried out by the Notebook found that black students comprise 79 percent of those who will be impacted by the closings despite accounting for just 55 percent of the overall student population. And three-fourths of the 43 schools initially slated for closure are 80 percent or more African American.
Picking up where Michelle Rhee left off, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Kaya Henderson has marked 15 DC public schools for closure by the end of 2014. This comes on top of the 28 schools closed by Rhee in 2008. In both instances, low-income neighborhoods of color are bearing the brunt. In fact, some students whose schools were shut down in 2008 are pushed out again.
Empower DC, a grassroots organization that plans to file a lawsuit against the city’s school closure plan this Friday, points out the shocking racial and class disparities in the wards being affected (emphasis mine):
“While public schools in wealthier Ward 3 and Ward 6’s “Capitol Hill Cluster” are enjoying success and investment, students impacted by closures are almost exclusively nonwhite and lower income. The current plan would displace over 2,700 students of which only two are white.”
Johnny Barnes, the lead attorney behind the suit, said in the statement, “Residents do not have a right to education in DC, but once an education is provided to some, it must be provided to all. The impact of closures is unjust and discriminatory, with the burden falling on those most vulnerable.”
What’s happening in DC is significant because it highlights the need for an authoritarian power structure to push through these unpopular education policies. It wasn’t until 2007–when the DC City Council voted to dissolve the elected School Board and transfer control of DCPS to then-Mayor then-Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) in a system known as Mayoral control– that Michelle Rhee was appointed DC School Chancellor and allowed to enforce her draconian school reforms, which accelerated the replacement of public schools with charter schools. Mayoral control is often touted as preferable for districts with underperforming schools but it turns out that there’s no evidence to suggest that Mayors are superior to democratically elected school boards.
“The city has failed to evaluate Mayoral control, despite the enacting legislation calling for annual review,” says Empower DC. “The 2008 closures caused 4,000 students to leave DCPS, and others were moved to schools which now face closure.” The organization is calling for a moratorium on school closures to allow time for these school reform policies to be properly evaluated.
(On a side note, I’m interested in investigating the connection between gentrification school “reform”.)
In January, Detroit’s emergency financial manager announced plans to shut 28 Detroit Public Schools. This follows the closing of 100 DPS buildings since 2003. DPS officials say the closings are due to under-enrollment. Teachers and parents disagree and say that majority black and brown schools are being targeted for privatization.
Though numbers were hard to come by, their argument was compelling enough to provoke a Department of Education investigation into civil rights violations by the state of Michigan.
“[The Office of Civil Rights] is currently investigating a complaint alleging the Detroit Public Schools District has discriminated against African American and Hispanic students on the bases of race and national origin by closing and/or converting to charter schools a number of district schools,” Education Department spokesperson Jim Bradshaw told Michigan Radio in an email.
“OCR is also currently investigating a complaint alleging the state of Michigan discriminated against black and Hispanic students and parents in the Detroit Public School District , based on race and national origin…by appointing emergency managers to the district but not appointing emergency managers to similarly situated, predominantly white suburban districts.”
Again, DPS couldn’t push through their unpopular reforms without first enacting an authoritarian body (Emergency Financial Manager) capable of overriding community pushback.
Perhaps it’s time our leaders stop looking to unelected business interests for answers to our education woes and instead turn to educators, parents and students for insight into how public education can be improved. I’m talking to you, Rahm.