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"Is Racial Integration Essential to Achieving Quality Education for Low-Income Minority Students, In The Short Term? In the Long Term?,"

by Lyman Ho July/August 1996 issue of Poverty & Race

For the past 25 years, racial integration has been used as an essential tool to provide equitable access to facilities, teachers and educational budgets for low-income minority students. Very often, federal judges oversaw implementation of this access by local boards and administration staff. Chief Federal Judge Richard Matsch released the Denver Public Schools District from federal supervision on September 18, 1995. From Denver's experience, low-income minority students have benefitted in terms of access to better facilities, better teachers and a more equitable share of the district budget but have not achieved the goal of a quality education.

As damning as this conclusion may appear, forced racial integration remains an incomplete social policy that after a quarter-century of massive public funding has produced particularly poor results, as demonstrated in high drop‘ out rates, low graduation rates and consistently large gaps in test scores between African American! Hispanic students and Anglo/Asian American students. The results of this failed social policy, coupled with trends towards fiscal and social conservatism, have contributed towards increasing racial separatism. Similarly, Denver's movement towards neighborhood schools is a theme that excites many white families frightened from the District by court-ordered busing, while scaring many minority families too familiar with the inequities that forced the District into the federal lawsuit in the 1960's. The District, committed to returning to neighborhood schools, has reacted convulsively, alternating between passing a resolution against inferior as well as superior school facilities, reopening recently closed schools in low-income minority neighborhoods, relocating popular magnet schools to white middle-class neighborhoods, and simultaneously implementing and postponing attendance boundaries for elementary and secondary schools, respectively.

If a quality education for low-income minority students is the goal, Afro or African-centric charter schools, back-to-basics magnet schools and small .neighborhood schools are simply the school design du jour. Separationist ideals are not new and do not automatically lead to a bad education, any more than racial integration automatically implies a quality education. Examples of extreme separationist school designs currently out of vogue include male military academies and finishing schools for girls. A quality education, particularly for low-income minority students, is a direct result from successful schools, notwithstanding design or operating philosophy.

Successful schools include well-trained staff, engaged communities 3M a focus on learning. The successful schools share with the student the assumption of responsibility in the classroom; share with the parent the value of education; and share with the community the high expectations in a school's role within society. Essential ingredients to a quality education include parents and students engaged in the process of learning; school districts focused on providing basic and clear standards; and staff devoted to the challenge of teaching children.

Racial integration and quality education are not necessarily dependent on each other or mutually exclusive from each other. Forcing one to accomplish the other has not produced the intended results nor has it lessened friction between interested factions or tribes. It is time for those interested in quality education to focus on education, to produce literate children who are ready for school each morning and are prepared to learn the skills necessary to survive and succeed in life, build businesses and strengthen families. When the merit of a quality education rises above the considerations of personal finances and ethnicity, the education of all children will benefit.
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