Monday, March 29, 2010


By David Ellison | Oakland Tribune columnist

03/29/2010  -- CALIFORNIA HAS published its worst-schools list. The vast majority of the humiliated sites serve students who are predominately poor and/or minority.

This comes as no surprise, of course, because California's and the nation's schools are more segregated by race and class today than ever — and we've long known that concentrating our disadvantaged kids in decrepit schools staffed too often with our least-qualified teachers might make it difficult for those kids and schools to succeed.

Now we're going to "reform" those schools by, for example, giving the boot to their principals and teachers (thus discouraging other educators even more from considering a position in them).

How did our schools end up so segregated more than 50 years after the Supreme Court ruled such an arrangement was, if not immoral, at least unconstitutional?

For an explanation, look no further than hapless Kansas City, Mo., which must now close 28 of its 61 schools.

As William Moran explained in his seminal book, "Race, Law, and the Desegregation of the Public Schools":

"In 1954, Kansas City's segregated schools were more than 80 percent white, enrolled about 60,000 students, and offered arguably the finest public education available in the metropolitan area. "... By 1999, the Kansas City public schools enrolled 31,200 students, approximately 80 percent of whom were minorities "... (and) was the only unaccredited school district in the state of Missouri."

What happened?

White and middle-class families fled to the suburbs and private schools. You see, everyone supports school reform and school desegregation as long as "my own kids don't have to go to school with 'them.' "

Lest anyone in the Tri-City area believes we are more enlightened, it behooves us to recall an ugly incident that occurred as recently as 2001: When faced with new enrollment boundaries to solve overcrowding, community organizations in Fremont's Mission San Jose area — where, unlike the rest of the district and state, students are almost exclusively white, Asian and wealthy — attempted to secede from the school district rather than send their children to a much more diverse but still national-award-winning Irvington High area.

The Mission San Jose enclave underscores how it is not our schools that are segregated so much as our communities — with dire consequences for all of us, especially those families relegated to blighted neighborhoods.

In his March 8 column, however, Leonard Pitts highlighted a ray of hope emanating from a bold experiment in Atlanta.

A courageous developer replaced a segregated housing project with a new apartment complex in which half the units were reserved for middle-income families, "the idea being that (those families) would, just in their daily doings, model for their neighbors the habits and behaviors of a successful life."

The result? "Near miracles — violent crime down 96 percent, 78 percent of kids passing the state math test when only 5 percent could do it before — in what had been one of the worst and most dangerous public housing projects in the country."

The moral is obvious: If we truly want to reform our schools, we must reform all of society, beginning with our segregated communities.

Once we agree to live with people very different from ourselves, and to send our kids to school with theirs, great and wonderful things happen.

Meanwhile, The Argus reported March 14 on Fremont's long-range development plans: "There is fear in some quarters that the city's vision would continue to saddle Centerville and Irvington with a disproportionate share of Fremont's permanently affordable housing stock" while "Mission San Jose and Warm Springs, the two wealthiest districts "... will be relatively untouched."

So, de facto community and school segregation will continue in Fremont, as in most of this nation, making most of the talk about reform so much hot air.

It's a shame and a scandal.

David Ellison teaches fourth grade at Kitayama Elementary School in Union City. The Fremont resident's column appears on alternate Mondays on the Local page. Contact him via his blog,

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