Tag: segregation

DC Private Schooling: A Portrait in Diversity?

Private schools are the preserves of rich, white people, and if they weren’t around education would be more racially integrated. That’s probably the assumption many people have, and it could be what people reading about a recent Shanker Institute report on segregation in Washington, DC, might have gathered.

“It’s no secret that the District’s public schools are highly segregated, with a recent analysis showing that nearly three-quarters of black students attend schools where they have virtually no white peers,” began a Washington Post story on the Shanker analysis. “But a recent report examines the role that enrollment in private schools, which are disproportionately white, plays in the city’s segregation woes.” Similarly, a story on WAMU—a DC NPR affiliate—intoned: “’In a very loose sense,’ the authors explain, ‘D.C.’s private schools serve as the segregation equivalent of a suburb within a city.’ That’s because white students in D.C. tend to enroll in private schools.”

So are the city’s private schools really preserves of white people? And are they a big impediment to integration? The answer appears to be “no” to both questions.

Importantly, the Shanker report, while saying that a disproportionate share of private school students are white, also noted that African-American students in private schools had greater exposure to white students than black children in public schools, an indicator that for African-American kids in private schools the racial mix is less isolating. The typical black student in a DC public school (traditional and charter) goes to an institution in which only 3.5 percent of students are white. For the typical black private schooler, the student body is 24.5 percent white.

Those numbers indicate greater exposure to whites for African American private schoolers, but that the latter is not a much higher number also indicates that many African Americans attend private schools that are predominantly minority, which the WAMU story notes at the very bottom: “While there are fewer students of color in private schools, when they do attend private school it’s usually with students who look like them. 65 percent of an African-American student’s peers in D.C. private schools are also African-American.”

Contrary to what many people likely imagine, DC’s private schooling sector is not lily white: private schools serve all sorts of kids. Breaking down the city’s 63 private elementary and secondary schools using National Center for Education Statistics and GreatSchools.org data indicates that almost half—31 schools—serve predominantly minority student bodies, defined as more than 50 percent black and Hispanic. Roman Catholic schools—which have traditions of serving first dispossessed Catholics, then other poor and marginalized groups—disproportionately serve such populations, with 58 percent of Catholic schools doing so. Catholic schools, especially diocesan institutions, also tend to be less expensive than non-Catholic schools, making them more affordable to African Americans and Hispanics, who tend to have lower incomes.

African Americans Speak for Themselves: Most Want School Choice

Private school choice is the work of racists. That message, it seems increasingly clear, is going to be a major weapon wielded by opponents of educational freedom for the foreseeable future. It is the explicit contention of a new Center for American Progress report, The Racist Origins of Private School Vouchers, and of Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, who has been proclaiming that modern choice programs are “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.”

As I and others have written, the assertion that school choice originated in racism, or somehow has a more repellant history than public schooling, would be laughable if the implications of the charge were not so serious. Remember, Brown v. Board of Education was about massive, mandated segregation in public schools, the schools that defenders love to tell us serve the vast majority of students. Segregation in them meant—and means—segregation for huge swaths of people. Perhaps that is why a response to my critique of the CAP report from the Century Foundation’s Kimberly Quick focused not on history, but my pointing out that private school choice is popular with African Americans.

According to Quick this is not so, and by the way, on what grounds does someone at Cato speak “on behalf of the black community”? Cato has no African American policy scholars.

I never wrote that I speak on behalf of African Americans. I do not presume to speak for anyone other than myself. But the survey literature—African Americans speaking for themselves—is overwhelmingly on my side.

To demonstrate that polls do not show majority African American support for private school choice, Quick cites the oft-used question from the annual Phi Delta Kappa poll, which employs wording notoriously loaded against choice: “Do you favor allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense.” “At public expense” sounds like freeloading, and “choose a private school” rather than to choose among schools minimizes the empowerment of families. Not surprisingly, this wording garners only 33 percent African-American support, though that outpaces the general public.

What is much more telling is what the polling reveals when the question is more neutral, which excludes surveys that get both high negative and positive numbers. What follows is not an exhaustive list, and there are other ways to game survey outcomes such as question order, but there have been many, more neutrally worded surveys that have shown that African Americans want private school choice.

The journal Education Next has for several years asked questions both neutral and not so neutral to gauge school choice support. As I noted in my initial response to the CAP paper, the 2016 survey found “a whopping 64 percent of African Americans supported ‘a tax credit for individual and corporate donations that pay for scholarships to help low-income parents send their children to private schools.’” The 2015 survey revealed that 58 percent of African Americans favored a program “that would give all families with children in public schools a wider choice, by allowing them to enroll their children in private schools instead, with the government helping to pay the tuition.” 66 percent supported a similar program just for low-income families, and even when using wording closer to PDK’s, pluralities of African Americans supported it. In 2016 EdChoice asked three forms of a question about vouchers, and the composite average was 61 percent of African Americans favoring them.

The Black Alliance for Educational Options has also conducted polling, with very straightforward wording, such as “do you support or oppose parent choice,” and “do you support school vouchers/scholarships?” Asking African Americans in New Jersey, Tennessee, Alabama, and Louisiana these questions, in 2015 BAEO reported support ranging from 61 percent to 65 percent, depending on the state.

Of course, EdChoice and BAEO advocate for school choice, and Education Next features many choice proponents. But some of the longest running evidence of African-American support for choice comes from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, “a non-partisan, non-profit public policy organization that supports elected officials and policy experts who serve communities of color across the country.” Over many years it has consistently found plurality to significant majority African-American support for choice. Its most recent poll of which I am aware, conducted in 2008, reported that 63 percent of respondents said “yes” when asked if they “support vouchers.” At least in 2000, the exact question asked was, “Would you support a voucher system where parents would get money from the government to send their children to the public, private, or parochial school of their choice?” (I haven’t been able to confirm the question for other years.)

Perhaps all of this is why Quick’s colleague Richard Kahlenberg recently said in answer to a question I asked about black support for school choice, his understanding of the polling was the same as mine: African Americans want choice. (Or so I recall—I’m not sure if event video will be up to confirm this.) Indeed, Quick herself concedes that “it makes sense that black and brown families, too often lacking options beyond segregated, under resourced, and underperforming schools, would want alternative options for their children.”

Now, about Cato for a moment. Again, I claim no insight based on personal experience into what African Americans individually or collectively want, and I certainly wish there were more black libertarians. But when I first started working at Cato, a major player in the fight for choice in Washington, DC, was Casey Lartigue, an African American Cato scholar. Similarly, Jonathan Blanks, a Cato researcher, who is African American and recently wrote that libertarians must not downplay racism or think it will be overcome just by free markets, but school choice is nonetheless important for the black community. Of course, none of this makes choice right or wrong, nor does it make Cato any more or less a spokes-tank for African Americans.

I’ll let the evidence, and individual African Americans, speak and act for themselves. Indeed, empowering the formerly powerless to act for themselves is exactly what school choice is about.

It’s the Slingshot, Not the Nuke, That’s the Bigger Danger?

For most of American educational history, government massively discriminated against African Americans, first with some states prohibiting any education for them, and long after that districts maintaining de jure, and to this day de facto, segregated schools. But we are to believe that the big segregation danger is school choice? That’s like saying it’s not the nuke we’ve been using that’s the big threat, but that someone might use a slingshot. It is also what the Center for American Progress is asserting in a new brief: The Racist Origins of Private School Vouchers.

This may be a new report, but that modern proposals are a huge danger because some states and districts used choice to evade public school integration after Brown v. Board of Education isn’t a new argument. Some places absolutely did do this, but the argument remains as logically and factually untethered from full history as it has ever been.

For one thing, the large-scale drive to have education dollars follow students to chosen schools did not start with white people trying to escape racial integration, but Roman Catholics—and others—trying to direct funding for their children to schools that taught their religious values, not someone else’s. They wanted to be treated equally, which public schools did not do. Meanwhile, as even the CAP report hints, often private people tried to help African Americans in the face of government discrimination.

Of course, we continue to have segregation in education: if you want to access a “good” district, you have to be able to pay for a home there. That is why most people probably do not think of private schooling when they think of “white flight,” but of families moving out of districts with growing African-American populations into suburban districts that tended to be largely white. This happened most famously in Michigan, not deep in the kudzu of Alabama or Mississippi.

Fair Housing or Federal Agency Running Riot?

In case you missed it, Ben Carson has been labeled as being “at odds with fair housing.” During his senate confirmation hearing last week, Carson was required to defend his position on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH), the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) controversial 100-page-plus contemporary interpretation of the Fair Housing Act.

It may sound appalling that anyone anywhere would be against fair housing. Still, there are sane reasons to object to the rule. Carson suggested a couple of possibilities; for example, he worries about Washington, D.C. administrators demanding that local communities “go looking for a [racial] problem” when no evidence of such a problem exists a priori.

If you don’t like intemperate federal agencies running riot, there is another process-related objection that Carson missed: AFFH may insert the federal agency into policy areas not even remotely authorized by the legislation it purportedly interprets.

The table below provides a comparison of the original Fair Housing Act language and AFFH language, so that you can decide for yourself:

Fair Housing Act of 1968 (original legislation) Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing of 2015 (HUD’s re-interpretation)
1)    Prohibits landlords from discriminating against minority tenants. 1)    Stated objective is to “replace segregated living patterns with truly integrated and balanced living patterns [within cities].” 
2)    Uses the word “segregated” or “segregation” a total of 0 times. 2)     Uses the word “segregated” or “segregation” a total of 126 times and urges“overcoming historic [geospatial] patterns of segregation.”
3)    The original FHA law uses the word “zoning” just 1 time, wherein it instructs the HUD Secretary to refer discriminatory local zoning or land use laws to the Attorney General so that he/she can file a lawsuit. 3)    The AFFH mentions “zoning” 53 times, wherein it suggests that communities change their zoning to improve racial integration (not a bad suggestion, but a departure from the original law).
4) The original FHA law uses the word “affirmatively” 2 times. Each time, it asks executive departments and agencies to administer their programs and activities in a way that affirmatively furthers “the purposes of this subchapter,” where the subchapter focuses on prohibiting a discriminatory relationship between landlord/seller and tenant/buyer. 4) The AFFH rule uses the word “affirmatively” 423 times, wherein it redefines the term to mean “replacing segregated living patterns with truly integrated and balanced living patterns” and “transforming racially and ethnically concentrated areas.”
5) The original FHA law uses the word “concentration,” referring to the concentration of poverty or concentration of minorities in cities, 0 times. 5) The AFFH rule uses the word “concentration” 56 times and urges “reducing racial or ethnic concentrations of poverty.”

HUD believes the rule merely implements the Fair Housing Act’s intent.  You can form your own view.

Pounding the Table, Not the Facts, on School Choice

There’s an old legal proverb about how to win a court case: “If the law is on your side, pound the law. If the facts are on your side, pound the facts. If neither is on your side, pound the table.” In this factually-challenged attack on school choice, two lawyers at the UNC Center for Civil Rights do a great deal of table pounding.

Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, the lawyers charge that school choice programs don’t work and that they increase racial segregation. For example, they claim: 

…in states with [school choice] programs, student achievement at the private schools is no better, and often worse, than in the public schools. In fact, in Milwaukee and Cleveland, whose voucher programs are the country’s longest running, traditional public school students outperform voucher students on available proficiency measures.

Even read in the most charitable light, the lawyers misleadingly compare apples and orangutans. Participants in school choice programs are generally more disadvantaged than the general population, so it is absurd to compare their average performance against the general population, which includes all the students in wealthy “public” school districts (where low-income parents have been arrested for trying to enroll their kids). Government school advocates rightly object when someone compares average private school performance to average government school performance. The private schools outperform government schools on average, but because both parents and the private schools select each other, the comparison breaks down. The same is true here.

A meaningful comparison requires a randomized-controlled trial, which is the gold standard of social science research because the process of randomization allows researchers to compare like against like and to isolate the effect of the “treatment” (in this case, the offer of a school choice scholarship). Fortunately, there have been 12 such studies addressing this very question from highly-respected institutions like Harvard University and the Brookings Institution. Eleven found that school choice programs lead to positive student outcomes, including higher academic performance and higher rates of high school graduation and college matriculation. One study found no statistically significant difference and none found a negative impact.

DOJ Lawsuit Would Keep Blacks in Failing Schools

In the name of civil rights, the Department of Justice is trying to prevent black families from exercising school choice.

On the heels of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s ridiculous lawsuit against Alabama’s new school choice law, which contends that if a law doesn’t help everyone it can’t help anyone, the U.S. Department of Justice is suing to block the state of Louisiana’s school voucher program for low-income students and students assigned to failing public schools:

The Justice Department’s primary argument is that letting students leave for vouchered private schools can disrupt the racial balance in public school systems that desegregation orders are meant to protect. Those orders almost always set rules for student transfers with the school system.

Federal analysis found that last year’s Louisiana vouchers increased racial imbalance in 34 historically segregated public schools in 13 systems. The Justice Department goes so far as to charge that in some of those schools, “the loss of students through the voucher program reversed much of the progress made toward integration.”

Segregation! That’s a serious charge. What evidence does the Department of Justice cite?

In Tangipahoa Parish, for instance, Independence Elementary School lost five white students to voucher schools, the petition states. The consequent change in the percent of enrolled white students “reinforc(ed) the racial identity of the school as a black school.”

Five students! According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there were 143 white students out of 482 students at Independence Elementary School in 2010-11 (the most recent year for which data is available). Assuming that recent enrollment and racial composition is the same and that no black students received vouchers as well, that’s a 0.7 percentage point shift from 29.6 percent white to 28.9 percent white. Though the students at Independence almost certainly would not have noticed a difference, the racial bean counters at the DOJ see worsening segregation.

But the DOJ is not content merely to prevent white students from exercising school choice. The petition also cites Cecilia Primary School, which in 2012-13 “lost six black students as a result of the voucher program,” thereby “reinforcing the school’s racial identity as a white school in a predominantly black school district.” In the previous school year, the school’s racial composition was 30.1 percent black, which the DOJ notes was 16.4 percentage points lower than the black composition of the district as a whole. According to the NCES, in 2010-11 there were 205 black students out of a total enrollment of 758, so the school was 27 percent black. Assuming a constant total enrollment, the DOJ’s numbers suggest that there were 228 black students in 2011-12. The loss of six black students would mean the school’s racial composition shifted from 30.1 percent black to 29.2 percent black as a result of the voucher program. Again, imperceptible to the untrained eye but a grave threat to racial harmony according to the Obama administration’s Department of Justice.