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Rucker Johnson, economist and professor of public policy at Berkeley, has written an important new book called Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works.
It arrives at an opportune moment, as the Disruption Movement (AKA Reformers, Deformers) has decided that school segregation is a very good thing indeed, because charters are more segregated than public schools. A charter operator in Minnesota recently argued in comments here that segregation was just fine so long as it was voluntary. That was to rationalize the fact that Minneapolis has purposely segregated charters for children who are black, white (“German immersion”), Hmong, Hispanic, and Somali. Most recently, a charter supporter said that it was time to abandon the promise of the Brown decision, because it had not been realized.
In short, embrace the status quo, don’t fight it.
It is thus refreshing to read Rucker Johnson, who briefly summarizes his findings in an article at Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet.”
Do not be content with reading the summary. The book is rich with history and anecdote, as well as Johnson’s meticulous research about the long-term and significant benefits of school integration.
How did we get here? How has de facto Jim Crow been nurtured back to health?
Policy amnesia. We have forgotten the efficacy of the boldest suite of education policies this country has ever tried: school desegregation, school funding reform and Head Start.
School desegregation and related policies are commonly misperceived as failed social engineering that shuffled children around for many years, with no real benefit. The truth is that significant efforts to integrate schools occurred only for about 15 years, and peaked in 1988. In this period, we witnessed the greatest racial convergence of achievement gaps, educational attainment, earnings and health status.
Using nationally representative longitudinal data spanning more than four decades, I analyze the life outcomes of cohorts tracked from birth to adulthood across several generations, from the children of Brown to Brown’s grandchildren. The slow and uneven pace of desegregation, school funding reforms, and Head Start programs across the country created a natural “policy lab,” that allowed for rigorous, empirical evaluation of integration, school funding and Head Start.
The research findings are clear: African Americans experienced dramatic improvements in educational attainment, earnings and health status — and this improvement that did not come at the expense of whites.
Sixty-five years after the Brown decision, our nation is at an inflection point. Do we intend to pursue the goal of equal educational opportunity for all or do we want to cling to the discredited policies of our apartheid past?
Do we listen to those with a vision for progress or to those who embrace a failed and corrosive status quo?
Rucker Johnson explains the way forward. Read his book. Send a copy to your members of Congress.