It’s Not About Integration, It’s About Investing in the Education of Black and Brown Kids

News flash: Separation, in itself, does not lead to inequity. Schools with only Black and Brown students can be academically rigorous and culturally-affirming.

Many people look at low-achieving schools with predominantly Black or Brown students and assume the racial make-up of the school makes it inherently inferior. But those of us who have seen and experienced excellence in all-Black or Brown spaces, those of us who recognize lazy thinking and damaging stereotypes—we know better.

Apparently the folks at The Associated Press don’t know better. An article this weekend displayed the arrested thinking and illogical reasoning of staunch charter school critics.

Charter schools are among the nation’s most segregated — an outcome at odds…with their goal of offering a better alternative to failing traditional public schools.

This means that by placing my child in an all-Black charter school, I am worsening their educational opportunities? Keep in mind, in many neighborhoods where there are charter schools, the only other options are those “failing traditional public schools.” But AP seems to think that would be a better option for my kid?

This doesn’t make sense to me. Not even a little. But more worrisome is that it reveals a pernicious mindset about Black and Brown students.

The reasoning behind this AP story suggests that quality is equivalent to having White kids in the classroom. This implies that Black and Brown families lack the wherewithal to produce outstanding outcomes on their own.

I’m sorry, but there is no magic intellectual pixie dust that follows White students around and automatically makes students of color smarter.

The Money Follows the White Kids

However, once you dig into the article, you see what’s really driving the difference in school quality in our society. And it’s surely not that Black children can’t learn at high levels without being in proximity to White children:

Decades of research have shown that schools with high percentages of minority students historically have fewer resources, less experienced teachers, and lower levels of achievement.

When there is a smaller number of White students, less resources will be sent to that school. When the number of Black and Brown students are higher, less effective teachers will end up there.

Low achievement isn’t a Black and Brown thing. Low achievement is a lack-of-resources and a teacher and staff equity thing.

If you think struggling schools are symptomatic of any population of poor students, you are mistaken. Here in Pennsylvania, the faith-based organization, POWER, released a study demonstrating that the Blacker or Browner you are, the less money your school district receives.

I’ve said it before:

In Pennsylvania, the Whiter the district, the more money the state system provides towards their education. The Blacker the district, the less money per pupil they receive. This is institutional racism at some of its most pernicious levels. It bakes injustice into the very system (education) that is supposed to be a lever out of poverty.

Want to know what’s really driving inequity? Let’s go back to that AP piece:

Like many other American cities, Milwaukee has seen an exodus of White students since a busing program in the 1970s. Whites now account for only 14 percent of the 78,500 students in the public-school system. City schools often have one predominant ethnic group, and many charters are at the far end of that spectrum.

If you have a problem with segregated communities, you might want to look again at that “White exodus” that happened in nearly every U.S. city. Stop blaming charter schools for increased segregation—especially when White folks have consistently shown that they don’t want their children to attend school with students of color. This mindset pre-dates charter schools by hundreds of years.

Further, you can visit plenty of “integrated” schools and see that segregation happens class by class. Visit the honors and AP courses and see how “integrated” these schools actually are.

If you think that simply putting different skin tones together in a building is going to lead to a world-class education for our Black and Brown youth, then that is just another example of the lazy thinking that is holding back our education system and perpetuating the devastating race and class divide in our society.

Look, I am not against integrating schools. But honestly, it is not my priority.

My goal is for our society to actually look at what it means to invest equitably and meaningfully in Black and Brown kids’ education. Because even now, in 2017, we have never actually seen what that looks like.

Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.


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