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May 13, 2004

Separate But Unequal

Once again, Thomas Sowell beats a subject to death with the logic stick, and the results ain't pretty. Here, he takes on a sacred cow - the "separate but unequal" reasoning struck down by Brown vs. Board of Education:

Medical authorities have long recognized that a quack remedy that is harmless in itself can nevertheless be fatal in its effects, if it keeps sick people from getting the treatment that can cure them. Racial mixing and matching has been the great quack remedy for the educational lags of black school children that has substituted for higher standards and harder work.
Brown v. Board of Education did not prescribe compulsory busing for racial balance. But the logic of its argument led inexorably to that conclusion, whether that was the original intent or not.
More broadly, both the explicit language and the implicit assumptions of the Supreme Court in Brown depicted the answer to problems of blacks in general as being essentially the changing of white people. This was yet another line of reasoning that led straight into a blind alley.
Today, there are all-black schools that succeed, all-black schools that fail, and racially mixed schools that do either. Neither race nor racial segregation can explain such things. But both can serve as distractions from the task of creating higher standards and harder work.
The judicial mythology of racial mixing has led to an absurd situation where a white student can get into a selective public high school in San Francisco with lower qualifications than a Chinese American student. This farcical consequence of judicial mythology about a need for racial mixing does nothing to improve education for blacks or anyone else.

This is an important realization today, because it applies to other issues such as single-sex classrooms and colleges (which have also been shown to actually help both girls and boys learn better). Despite the evidence, they are also underattack by the same "separate cannot possibly be equal" argument. And in some cases, they may have a point: separate isn't equal - it may actually be better, as it allows schools to focus on the needs of a less diverse student body.

But Sowell also points out the dangers in easy solutions with unintended consquences. And that is the real point.

David Broder doesn't quite get it. He uses a single case in point to "prove" that 50 years after Brown, we're still separate but unequal:

By measuring youngsters' competence in basic skills at regular intervals and requiring adequate progress for all parts of the school population -- not just the bright students -- NCLB pressures states and districts to take steps to eliminate education failures. And that in turn sets up a demand for better principals and teachers and materials.
But standards by themselves will not end the two-track education system. Resources have to flow to the schools and districts that lack the tools they need. A recently published "Look Inside 33 School Districts" by the Center on Education Policy, an independent advocate for more effective public schools, draws the contrast.

His example relates the success of a Romulus, NY school system under NCLB, and what he frames as the failure of the Cleveland MSD, which did not meet NCLB goals and had 27 schools on its watch list. Of course before NCLB, there would have been no goals and no watch list. On the strength of this one example, Broder pronounces:

The Romulus schools are 97 percent white; the Cleveland schools, 80 percent non-white. Fifty years after Brown, John Edwards's description still applies.

What's wrong with this example? American schools spend more money per student than just about any other industrialized nation. Our nation's worst schools - in the District of Columbia - spend more per capita than the national average. Lack of money is not the problem - it IS standards, and accountability to those standards that is the problem, and how the money is spent is just a part of enforcing accountability on our schools.

More sloppy analysis, leading to more bad decisions and counterproductive solutions.

- Cassandra

May 13, 2004 at 08:14 AM | Permalink


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Schools may be bad - what do we do?

The Left:
1. Don't test - standards lower esteem and are racist.
2. Don't allow competition. Only people who care will get educated.
3. OK, we're testing. If the scores are bad, we should not hold people accountable.
4. OK, we are. Well, those that fail must be underfunded. Competition would only reinforce this.
5. The solution - more money.

The Conservative (or classical liberal, though sadly not the political Republican):
1. Allow competition to make everyone meet the goals.
2. Test and hold people accountable.
3. Identify the standards. If they aren't met, what about the process is wrong.
4. If the process requires more funding, fine. But don't fund first. Fund where needed.
5. Let the non-achieving systems die.

Posted by: KJ at May 13, 2004 10:01:24 AM

The answer that no one wants to face is that only students can decide to achieve - the school cannot achieve for them. Students can acheive in spite of incredible obstacles if they truly want to - they don't need piles of money, or brand new text books, or even the best teachers in the world. Those things are nice, but the prime mover in this process is, and will always be the student.

Any system that doesn't hold students accountable (that incents them not to achieve) will fail.

Posted by: Cass at May 13, 2004 3:51:50 PM

...she says, with multiple typos and punctuation errors in her post. Find them for extra credit.


Posted by: Cass at May 13, 2004 3:53:24 PM

You understand, don't you, that none of this is my fault.

I blame the faulty American educational system and the Bush administration. Another child tragically left behind.

Posted by: Cass at May 13, 2004 3:55:10 PM

Injecting a little "boots on the ground" reality check, in regards to Mr. Broder's comments:
I have lived in Cleveland and suburban Cleveland off and on over the past 30 years. Their public school system has been screwed up at least that long. It was high comedy to go to the School Board Meetings, because arguments and fights actually would break out between the members of the board. The mayor of the city actually attended for a while to impose order (at that time, George Voinovich).
I now live in suburban Columbus, and the Columbus School Board is hardly better. One character named Hugh Moss, sued the School Board for racist, discriminatory tactics (he's black), then demanded that the School Board provide him legal council gratis, to defend himself from his own suit. He showed up at school board meetings in camo-fatigues. Finally, last fall, he was voted out of office.
This stuff was shown on the public access channel, and I am not making it up.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at May 13, 2004 4:42:43 PM