Why the next education secretary will be good for diversity in schools

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tags: education



Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University.

Let’s try one of those word-association games you used to play as a kid. If I say “racial integration of schools,” who comes to mind? 

If you’re like most of us, you conjured figures from the past. Perhaps you thought of the heroic young African Americans who desegregated all-white schools in places such as Little Rock and New Orleans in the 1950s and 1960s. Or maybe Earl Warren, author of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Educationdecision barring schools from separating students on the basis of race.

I doubt you chose anyone from contemporary American life. Our schools are more segregated than at any time since the late 1960s, but you probably can’t name a national political figure today who has insisted — loudly, clearly and consistently — that kids of different races should be in the same classrooms.

That’s about to change. The incoming secretary of education, John B. King Jr., has been a forceful advocate for integrating American schools. This month, President Obama tapped King to replace Arne Duncan, who focused less on integrating the races than on closing the “achievement gap” between them.

That’s been a dominant theme of education reform since the passage of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which requires schools to report test scores by race; if one of its racial groups is not making progress, an otherwise successful school can face penalties under the law. But NCLB makes no reference to integration at all. The goal is to bring up the test scores of every race, not to bring the races together into the same schools. ...




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