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Education and Diversity at the City Club

On Friday, February 13th, we attended a City Club program titled "From Brown V. Board 1954 to Ferguson 2014: Why We Have Not Made More Progress?" featuring Mr. Richard Rothstein, a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and senior fellow of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California as well as the author of several books on educational policy. Mr. Rothstein contended that evidence shows that the achievement gap between black and white students cannot ever be completely closed. This is 1/3 the fault of the schools and 2/3 the result of an unstable home life that lower class children of color have to endure partially due to the varying work hours of their parents. This children also get shuffled around a lot and it is not rare for some public schools to have a 100% mobility rate each year.

Mr. Rothstein produced evidence that showed that integration and a more diverse educational environment greatly helps but this unachievable due to housing patterns that started long ago. He spent a great deal of time during his presentation talking about this and contended that those who contend that segregated housing is not deliberate are either not telling the truth or do not know the its history which started during the New Deal when integrated areas were often demolished for the creation of public housing that allowed only white people to live there. He said that the ratio of public housing for whites and public housing for people of color was 75% to 25%. After World War II, FHA loans were made available for white families to move into the suburbs but these loans were not available for people of color who remained in public housing. Then the population grew, rents went up, governmental services were stretched and areas declined.

Mr. Rothstein recalled that after President Nixon was elected in 1968, he appointed former Michigan governor George Romney as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Mr. Romney said that there was a "white noose" around the cities and attempted to address the problems by establishing an "open community program" in which federal funds would be denied to any city for whatever reason that did not ban exclusionary zoning, provide scattered public housing all over and put an end to the notorious high rises, and insist that builders who wanted government contracts build more lower/middle income housing. Unfortunately, Mr. Romney created too much controversy and lost his post and we haven't had a real challenge to the system since then.

Mr. Rothstein believed that a huge mistake was made when the Department of Education was created and education was no longer part of the Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare because successful education is intertwined with health and welfare.

When it comes to what can be done, Mr. Rothstein said that large urban areas are just too spread out now to attempt to integrate them although he expressed hope for smaller areas like Hartford, CN. So we must continue to work with the schools and make them as good as we can for whatever funds we can scrape together even though they are only 1/3 of the problem. He also cautioned about raising public expectations too high over this because it is easy to misinterpret hard-won modest gains for failures. He went on to say that perhaps even more helpful than educational reform would be laws protecting the low wage workers so that their work schedules could stabilize thus enabling them to spend more time with their families and make more concrete preschool, school, and day care arrangements for their children.

Most importantly, he believed that the history of segregation must be taught so that people could more fully understand why we have the problems that we do today. Mr. Rothstein told us how he had studied several textbooks and the amount of time given to this subject was so small that he termed it a "scandal". When a high school student asked him what can teenagers do to change things, he replied that they could demand the schools obtain new textbooks that would be more honest and contain more complete accounts of what really happened regarding segregation in the United States.

On another note, we learned that at close to the beginning of the 20th century a similar achievement gap existed between newly arrived immigrants and people whose families had resided in the United States for generations because it took a long time for immigrants to learn the language and the customs. Italians were especially regarded as underachievers.

We sat at the same table as several educators including Mr. Tom Tucker, Superintendent of Lorain City Schools and Mr. David Hall, the assistant superintendent. After the program was over we talked to Ohio State Rep. Kent Smith; Ms. Megan O'Brien, Executive Director of the Cleveland Transformation Alliance; and Mr. Jay Gardner, Development Manager of the CSU Foundation. Of not everyone agreed with Mr. Rothstein 100% but they all felt that he made a compelling case for what he believed in and that a lot of what he said definitely had merit.

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