Up   |  May 26, 2012

Desegregation and making schools work

To tout his education plan, Mitt Romney visited an inner city charter school in West Philadelphia this week, where he talked about class size and importance of technology. What he didn’t talk about is how the achievement gap shrinks when children from different backgrounds attend the same schools. Up host Chris Hayes, along with Dana Goldstein of The Nation, Pedro Noguera, sociology professor at NYU, Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, and MSNBC contributor Karen Hunter discuss the many benefits of desegregation in schools.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

HAYES: All right. We've talked about the elephant in the room before we went to break, which is school segregation and the fact that we have a very segregated school system . In fact, " The New York Times " did a bloc buster piece about this, I think about a week ago, which they just looked at the numbers. Running the numbers in New York , and the trends are also not very promising. I mean, we have essentially given up as a nation on desegregation achieving integrated schools as a policy objective. I think it's fair to say that we essentially just threw in the towel on that. Why is that not in the conversation, Pedro ? This is something that you write about a lot, and what are the -- are there concrete benefits education to actually desegregating schools?

NOGUERA: I think because of court orders that have made it more difficult and because of a history that showed a great deal of resistance on the part of White middle class people to putting their kids in schools, which on the color. We basically say OK, we're going to leave it alone. We're not going to force it anymore, and we'll accept segregated schools. So, the way we are now, if you think about it as a country, not only aren't we living up to the brown division, we're not even living up to the plussie division. Plussie said separate but equal. We are separate and profoundly unequal. Now, the good news is, and this is the story that doesn't get heard, is there are a small number of experiments around the country of magnet schools . Connecticut has several of them that are integrated , deliberately integrated by law and are doing extremely well. And the research has shown that our kids do, in fact, do better, particularly poor children, in integrated schools. A lot of that is about access to resources, but it's also about the effect of having access to other children who are getting support at home. So, you're not in a school that has concentrated poverty and where kids are coming from very similar circumstances.

GOLDSTEIN: And if I could just jump in here, I was lucky enough to attend integrated schools all through my education. So, I've been interested in this as a journalist and I was at the research. And a common misconception is while it may be great for poor kids to be an integrated school, it's not good for middle class kids. Their achievement is going to go down.

HAYES: It's like a zero some game. It's like a transfer --

GOLDSTEIN: And that's why I think parents resisted. They think, oh, the teacher is really focusing on the more disadvantage students. My child is going to suffer. And actually, that's not true. The research does not show that middle class kids do really want integrated schools, and they're bringing a set of values with them out into the world that I think value diversity are more sort of in tuned with what other people's lives are like.

HUNTER: That's why you're so successful and cool --

HUNTER: Yes, because you have that flavor. You know, and I think it is important. So, how do we -- how do we get people to stop being inherently racist, because it's really definitely what we're talking about, right? Because I don't want to send my kids to school with those people because they're going to infect them with their bad education .

HAYES: And because that -- I mean, let's not forget, there was a brutal war waged over exactly this issue. I mean, almost physical war.

NOGUERA: In Boston , it was a literal war.

HAYES: In Boston , it was a literal war.

GOODMAN: I mean, I come from Bay Shore High School in Long Island , public high school . And my dad led the task force to integrate the schools of our community. I mean, that's where I grew up in that fight. I would go to the cafeterias in the high schools , a thousand screaming parents. My father had death threats against him, the whole task force . But ultimately, they integrated our community, and I think it was way better for that, for everyone, for all colors, for all classes.

HAYES: Well, one of -- I mean, in terms of what it would take, I mean, it would take us re-putting this on the agenda. And it's very hard to any political incentives for anyone to start talking about --

GOODMAN: Mitt Romney should out that in his --

HAYES: Yes. Maybe, it's a mix in the China moment.

NOGUERA: Here's the thing that what we know. The only think that will lead to more integrated schools is a focus on equality. Middle class people will not put their children in bad schools.

HAYES: Right.

NOGUERA: You can only force poor people to put their kids in bad schools.

HUNTER: So, why do we tolerate that and --

NOGUERA: We shouldn't tolerate it. We shouldn't tolerate it. So, that's why I say New York City . Here we have Mike Bloomberg had control of the schools for almost 12 years now. And what has he done to address this issue? It's not even part of the agenda.

HAYES: Right.

NOGUERA: Even as they -- Mike Bloomberg , Joe Cline , now Mitt Romney say education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century, this is the civil rights issue they never touched.

HAYES: I want to -- we've talked -- I'm glad that we brought into this conversation things that are so often excise from a poverty , in concentrated poverty , the segregated nature of American education . But now, I want to turn because while I have you here, I want to talk about something that is always at the center of it which is the teacher's unions, which not, Lord knows, you can't go a day without hearing about the horrible specter that is hunting America and education of the teacher's unions. Mitt Romney had some strong words direct to the teacher's unions. I want to play that, and then, one of the spokes people for the Obama campaign seemed to throw the teacher's union under the bus. We're going to talk about that right after this break.