Skip to comments.Special school programs for blacks: racist or essential?
Posted on 03/25/2007 8:11:07 AM PDT by devane617
For decades, school districts have organized around a simple idea: Whatever you give to white students, give it to black students, too.
Put both groups of students in the same schools. Expose them to the same teaching. If they struggle, give them the same help.
In the Tampa Bay area and across the nation, this was how educators atoned for the long-ago sin of relegating black children to inferior schools.
Now, in a class-action lawsuit that has Pinellas County's top educators on the defensive, the plaintiffs say the policy of equal access has failed the school district's 20,000 black students.
Black kids, they contend, will need uniquely tailored programs if the district ever hopes to erase an education gap that has them lagging behind every other ethnic group in school performance.
The case of William Crowley vs. the Pinellas County School Board - seven years old and finally headed for trial - may be the only one of its kind in the nation.
"What's unique about it is the unadorned claim that if you have an achievement gap, you are violating the law," said Michael Kirk, a Washington, D.C., lawyer hired to help defend the district. If that were true, he argued, then every district with a significant number of minority students would be liable.
The call for a unique set of programs to help black students has been a central theme in recent days as lawyers prepare for a two-week jury trial starting July 9. The plaintiffs' attorney, Guy Burns of Tampa, has summoned the entire Pinellas School Board for depositions, as well as superintendent Clayton Wilcox and his top deputies.
In the four depositions to date, Wilcox and three board members have stayed on message: The district provides equal opportunity for all students to learn, they said. What students make of that opportunity is up to them.
If the district does any tailoring, they said, it's with an eye toward individual student needs, not race. They said the causes of the gap are too varied and complex to be solved by a single program or set of programs for black students.
At one point as he appeared to choke back emotion, Wilcox argued that giving black students something special would imply they are, by nature, less able than their peers.
"I know a lot of people want to ascribe things to us, but I will tell you I think we go out of our way to look at kids as kids in this district," he said. "I know we do at the highest levels. I know we do."
He added: "We don't just go into a school and say, 'You know what? We got a bunch of black kids here so we've got to teach (a different way).' I think that would be racist behavior. I absolutely won't do that. You can't make me do that."
The lawsuit was filed in August 2000 by William Crowley on behalf of his son, Akwete Osoka, then a 7-year-old student at Sawgrass Elementary School in St. Petersburg.
The boy, who is black, had faced academic problems that were "typical of those difficulties commonly faced by students of African descent," the lawsuit said. It alleged Pinellas failed to provide an adequate education to black students, in violation of Florida law and the state Constitution.
The case has since become a class action, meaning the plaintiffs include all black children who attend or will later attend Pinellas public schools.
Initially supported by the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, an activist group in St. Petersburg, the challenge has come to be embraced by a broader segment of the black population, Burns said.
It is a case grounded in numbers, none of them flattering.
Last year, 67 percent of black public school students in Pinellas scored below their grade level on the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test - nearly twice the percentage of low-scoring whites.
The graduation rate for black students was a dismal 46 percent in 2005, and black students perennially are more than twice as likely as nonblacks to be suspended.
In a three-hour deposition this month, Burns asked School Board member Nancy Bostock if the district had addressed the gap with any programs designed for black students.
"Our programs are designed to address a student's academic needs, not their skin color," she answered.
Did she think the numbers warranted special programs?
"No, I don't."
Did she think Pinellas black students received a high-quality education?
"I believe many black students in Pinellas County do receive a high-quality education."
What did she think of a system that failed to graduate more than half its black students?
"I think it would depend on what those students availed themselves of while they were in the system," said Bostock, whose black son is officially considered a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
In other questions, Burns suggested that the district's current methods weren't working with the 19 percent of its students who are black. He also played off the district's contention that it is legally obligated to provide every student an opportunity for a good education, not a good outcome.
He asked board member Linda Lerner whether there was some flaw in the way the opportunity was being presented to black kids.
"No," she answered.
Everyone agrees the gap is large and troublesome, Burns said in an interview. They differ on who is responsible for it and how far a school district should go in trying to fix it.
"There's a big philosophical rift," Burns said.
Part of the difference is in how the two sides interpret the numbers.
While Burns has pointed to aggregate numbers that show the gap in stark relief, Wilcox points to subsets of numbers that show smaller groups of black kids making modest gains.
While Burns points to the graduation rate, Wilcox says the statistic "is not a fair measure of all that goes on in a system."
Another example: Last year, 13,105 black students took the reading FCAT. Burns focuses on the 8,780 who scored below grade level and sees a huge problem. District officials see the problem, too, but point to the 4,325 black students who did well in reading.
How can that be, they ask, if the district is systematically discriminating against black students?
For district officials, the debate is nothing new. They've had many of the same arguments among themselves.
At a retreat with the School Board in January, Wilcox found himself in the minority when he argued that the district should be making a special effort to improve the performance of black students. He wanted it stated prominently as a goal in the district's strategic plan.
Several board members said they did not see why black students should be highlighted over other kids.
"That is the one group right now that we really have to be publicly focused on," Wilcox responded. "It's 20 percent. That's one out of every five kids in this district."
But the superintendent found himself making the opposite case in the deposition with Burns.
"I don't look at kids based on their race; I look at individual kids based on their needs," he said. "Eighty percent of my kids are some other race."
Kirk, the district's lawyer, explained that the district and Wilcox find themselves caught between two positions.
Legally, they are "only responsible for putting a good education out there," he said. But as educators they want to do more.
He said of Wilcox: "He feels like they need to do everything in their power to get good results."
To each according to his needs.
Resources, of course, to be allocated by unelected bureaucrats.
Right after that, I remember reading a story about two girls who graduated from a mostly-black high-school in the city, who went to a local junior college. The college decided that both girls had to attend remedial English and math classes, before they could begin normal college-level courses at the JUNIOR college.
Why do I remember this? Because the two girls had been the Valedictorian and Saluatorian of their high-school class, and they were not ready for college yet. And in the meantime, the same city that spent taxpayer money for a baseball team could not get these girls educated in less than 5 years for what should be a 4 year program.
And with their GPA's, it wasn't like their attitude was the problem.
I think discipline would go a long way in improving education for everyone. I don't know when the last time you were in your local high school, but it is different that in my day.
Instead of improving our kids, we have allowed the undisciplined to bring down the border-line, and good kids to their level.
Give the blacks extra time by flunking them all and thus
they get AN EXTRA YEAR!
The system didn't fail the black students, the black students failed themselves. I remember back in the early 70's when the Dallas ISD decided to bus black kids to our school. That was 35 years ago and at least one generation of black students getting the same exact educational benefits as white students.
Talk to any public school teacher who works in an intergrated setting.
The following will come out: too many black kids come out of an oppositional culture. When faced with demands from a white teacher that they actually try, they won't.
Too many black kids have terrible attitudes about education; black kids who do achieve are called 'sell-outs'.
Too many black kids lose their books and materials; when they come to class they are not prepared.
Too many black kids come to class late if they come at all. This is said by the professional apologists to be a 'cultural' issue. It's not about being uncaring or uninterested.
Too many black kids miss too much class time. Everything a teacher does for the rest of the class he/she has to do again for them.
Too many black kids think society owes them a living. They have a welfare attitude; if they can't get a job someone will/should give them money.
Not all black kids; I didn't say that. But, just too many.
That was a pretty stupid comment
Totally agree. People don't see that school at best is only half of education . No family structure , no discipline or guidance at home , forget it .
I am tired of the school politcos mind set that could care less if white, asian, or hispanic kids fail, but as soon as it's a black kid THEN we can break out all the methods that we weren't allowed to use with any of the other students.
Talk about bigoted.
It's good for one it should be good for all.
The truth bother you?
It is simply a question of cultural values. African-American culture may pay lip service to the value of education but that is all. I grew up in a rural farming community where education and respect for authority were values on which a lot was placed. There were terribly poor people in this community who were "hired hands" and their families. Some employers treated these people decently but many did not. Although their parents were uneducated and they came from circumstance where there was quite possibly no TV, or radio, and some did not even have electricity and I am talking about the fifties. But nonetheless these kids came to school and as disadvantaged as they were, they worked at school and got enough education that they would be in a much better position than their parents. Our public school system is a miserable failure for a variety of reasons, but throughout our society and beyond just African-American culture, there are so many who only pay lip service to the value of education. Education is and always has been the most reliable way to climb the socio-economic latter. But it is not the fastest or the easiest, but it is the safest without the overwhelming odds of failure that the quick and fast ways offer.
That is why my sig suggests we (conservatives) in the education system, and the media. Either we take back those two institutions, or the America we know is gone.
I disagree. It is done daily. It is called discipline, and parenting.