Fifty years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act gave teeth to a landmark school desegregation ruling a decade earlier, the fact that Buffalo’s schools recently have become more segregated – not less – makes it seem like this city is moving backward in time.
But praying for racial enlightenment is only part of the answer to a Buffalo News analysis showing that city schools are as segregated now as in 1972. The other part is reviving the activism and sense of self-determination that forced change back then.
Changing demographics – whites now comprise only 22 percent of the district’s enrollment – make achieving racial balance far more challenging today. Even with gentrification around the Medical Campus, that is not likely to change any time soon.
That’s one reality. The other is that black kids don’t magically get smarter by sitting next to white kids.
Integration matters for a host of other reasons, including combating stereotypes and preparing kids to function in a diverse world.
But when it comes to academics, black kids get a better education by being in schools where parents are committed, involved and prepared to make schools respond to their needs.
That’s what happens at schools like City Honors and Olmsted, two out of a handful of good city schools where – not coincidentally – white enrollment is disproportionately high.
In addition to having the resources to broaden their kids’ horizons – no small factor – parents at schools like those also know how to work the system and make their voices heard. If you doubt it, watch the brouhaha that will unfold if the schools come up with drastic changes as the district revamps admissions standards at its criteria-based schools to broaden opportunity.
It’s a good, if belated, move in light of the accepted evidence of multiple intelligences and the reality that students learn in different ways. Students of all colors deserve a fair shot at the seats in the elite schools.
But not coincidentally, that change comes in response to organized pressure from the district parents’ group demanding the transfer of kids out of failing schools and into good ones. It rallied 2,100 parents last year and expects more to sign up this year.
Still, that represents only a fraction of the students who are stuck in subpar schools and whose parents remain an untapped power. With charter schools, as a whole, performing no better than those in the district, and not enough seats in good schools, the only solution is for parents of color to force change at the vast majority of district schools that warehouse their children.
That means shaking off the apathy and complacency that have greased the current system and allowed it to roll along so effectively for so long for so few. It means getting involved in school-based management teams, voting in School Board elections and doing all the other things parents at the elite schools have done for years.
White flight and segregated neighborhoods are firm realities. They make integration of the good schools a necessary but insufficient answer.
If the majority of schools with minority enrollments continue failing, it won’t be because some of them didn’t have enough white kids. It will be because parents of color let it happen.