A sobering view of the state of inner-city schools

A Baltimore Sun education reporter writes about a talk she had with noted education reformer Jonathan Kozol, author of “Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools” and many other books on the unequal state of education for America’s inner-city children.  Mr. Kozol’s indictment is sobering:

Kozol quoted a recent speech by President Obama who said high school dropout rates have tripled since the early 1980s — when, Kozol says, the schools began to “massively resegregate” and Brown vs. Board of Ed was effectively dismantled. He says black and Latino children are more segregated now than they have been since 1968, the year of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

“I’m utterly out of fashion these days in that I actually believe Dr. King was right,” said Kozol, 72, who doesn’t use a computer and had hand-written notes for the address he was about to deliver to more than 100 people in a university auditorium. He says segregated schools convey the message to the children there that “you have been sequestered in this institution so you will not contaminate the education of white people.” Children get this message from the condition of the buildings (often “squalid surroundings”) and from dispirited teachers who have to “give up joy and creativity to become drill sergeants for the state.” (Kozol went on a hunger strike in 2007 to protest No Child Left Behind.) He says the most successful African-Americans he’s seen — including Obama and Kurt Schmoke (a student of Kozol’s once upon a time at Yale) — did not have to attend segregated inner-city schools.


3 responses to “A sobering view of the state of inner-city schools

  1. Those dismal statistics are very often inaccurate.

    Since you’re devoting an ungodly amount of time to serving the community (and we much appreciate it), I imagine you’re not lolling around surfing the blogs. Well, I don’t loll, but I do surf the education blogs. There’s a big flurry of anguished outrage on many of them about how Obama got all those facts wrong — and who is behind pushing the unjust, exaggerated attacks on our school system, and how they got him to (presumably unwittingly) join in.

    Here’s one other one for you, too — repeated in the Obama speech and many, many, many mainstream media outlets (constantly): some variation on the claim that the U.S. has more high school dropouts than (fill in the blank number of) other nations.

    Here’s one actual, true, valid comparison. In the Netherlands, students are tracked into academic or vocational strands early on. Students on vocational tracks graduate from high school after the equivalent of our 10th grade, at age 16 or so. They are actual, real, official graduates. Students in this country who leave high school after the equivalent of 10th grade, at age 16 or so, are dropouts. Well, you can’t compare those two! I don’t know of any thorough comparisons of different nations’ high school graduation processes, but reportedly they’re a mishmash. (A Swiss teenager told me the graduation age in Switzerland is also 16.)

    So, that claim is just bull**** top to bottom, and it’s repeated endlessly, unquestioned. That big Time Mag cover story on Michelle Rhee declared it emphatically, for example.

    I’m not minimizing the problems of our educational system, but it’s still not right for the president, the MSM et al. to exaggerate them with inaccurate purported statistics. (“Truthiness” doesn’t count.)

  2. Wow, I have to say that I have such trust in Obama that I didn’t even bother to consider whether his statistics were accurate. I guess I am so used to hearing dismal statistics about our educational system I never second-guess them.

  3. I’m having to read and reread this to see if Kozol, the Baltimore Sun or Rachel corrected the inaccurate information in Obama’s speech. It’s simply not true that the high school dropout rate has tripled. Actually, it has declined by a third.

    That was one of a shocking number of inaccurate statements in that particular speech by Obama about U.S. education, which portrayed our school system in a worse light than it deserves. (It’s really weird — why is it our national leaders seem so bound and determined to do that? The Republicans maybe, since they’d like to see the public education system drowned in the bathtub, but Obama??)

    I’m not being an apologist, but it’s wrong to give false information. A lot of education commentators were shocked that Obama’s team was either so sloppy or so deceitful.

    This isn’t all of the inaccurate and misleading claims in that speech, but these are the ones corrected on factcheck.org:

    * The high school dropout rate hasn’t “tripled in the past 30 years,” as Obama claimed. According to the Department of Education, it has actually declined by a third.

    * Eighth-grade math scores haven’t “fallen” to ninth place compared with other countries. U.S. scores have climbed to that ranking from as low as 28th place in 1995.

    * Obama also set a goal “of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world” by 2020. But in terms of bachelor’s degrees, we’re nearly there. The U.S. is already second only to Norway in the percentage of adults age 25 to 64 with a four-year degree, and trails by just 1 percentage point.