Apartheid Education and Segrenomics

7 Apr

By T. Ultican 4/7/2019

Noliwe Rooks new book Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation and the End of Public Education, her fourth, is a commanding account of the century’s long trend toward under-educating America’s Black and Brown children. Rooks is Director of American Studies at Cornell University where she is a Professor in Africana Studies and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. The book is an illuminating peek inside the heart-breaking education experience of black and brown families.

Noliwe Rooks

Professor Noliwe Rooks

Well meaning white liberals are often blind to the true nature of the injustices they are inclined to fight. Here, a Black scholar elucidates the history of Black and Brown education in ways that edify. I grew up in rural Idaho and never met an African-American until I was 17 years-old. I saw public education through the lens of my almost all white school. Big cultural events in my home were school performances, high school sports and rodeos.  The few Mexican kids in our school were popular so I thought that was solid evidence that we were not racists. It was beyond my scope of understanding how different the American experience was for children being brutalized by racism. This book helps create that needed understanding.

Martin Luther King and his non-violent fight against racism absolutely moved my soul. However, I did not have a clue about how deep, vicious and sustained racist ideology was. I saw Bo Connor as an ignorant aberration not a representative of a widely held view. Most of all, it was not believable to me that people would purposely work to ensure that Black children were not educated even if they did not want them in the same school with their own children. More unbelievable is that today Black and Brown children are as segregated as they were in the 1970’s and their schools are monetized.

This book also answers the question, “Why are Black and Brown communities so vulnerable to the billionaire funded destroy public education (DPE) movement?”

Segrenomics

Rooks introduction begins by quoting John F. Kennedy,

“Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes, or results in … discrimination.”

She tells us that to lift all children up requires racial and economic integration and encourages us to educate poor students with wealthy students; not falling for the separate but equal fallacy. Unfortunately, today, poor children experience a recurrent push towards vocational education. Their schools often employ “cost effective” forms of funding and delivery such as cyber schools, students at screens and blended learning.  Rooks says,

“While not ensuring educational equality, such separate, segregated, and unequal forms of education have provided the opportunity for businesses to make a profit selling schooling. I am calling this specific form of economic profit segrenomics. Segrenomics, or the business of profiting specifically from high levels of racial and economic segregation, is on the rise.”

Segregation pays! Rooks cites Frederick Hess’s description of the focus on “90/90/90 schools.” That is 90% of the students are low income, 90% are of color and 90% fail to meet set academic standards. Philanthropic foundations, school reformers, and charter operators are in the business of educating poor Black and Hispanic kids attending these schools. As an example, the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) claims to serve nearly 80,000 students, 96% of who are Black or Latino and almost 90% are from families identified as poor. These segregated poor communities are the engines of growth for charter schools and other education businesses.

Wendy Kopp started Teach for America (TFA) based on her 1989 Princeton undergraduate thesis. Kopp spent the spring of her senior year contacting the CEO’s of several corporations and philanthropies. Rooks notes that it is significant to notice the people she did not meet with.  Based on Kopp’s memoir One Day, All Children, Rooks states,

“As she began to flesh out the specifics of her new venture to educate children in rural and urban areas who were at the bottom of the economic and educational ladder, she does not say that she met with parents, guardians, educators, teachers, or any number of stakeholders in the communities most likely to be impacted. Instead, she chronicles her meetings with representatives in business and finance whom she asks to help her get TFA off the ground.”

One business leaders Kopp met with was Chris Whittle founder of the Edison Schools. He tried to recruit her but she declined. However, she did marry one of his employees, Richard Barth. Following his time at Edison Schools, Barth became the CEO of KIPP, the charter schools founded by two early TFA corps members, Mike Feinberg and David Levin, both graduates of Yale.

One of Kopp’s first recruits to TFA was her brother’s Harvard roommate Whitney Tilson. He worked alongside Kopp as TFA co-founder for two years before leaving for a Wall Street Job. A decade after leaving TFA, Whitney Tilson – who was now running a hedge fund – became reengaged with education. Kopp invited him to one of the two original South Bronx KIPP schools where “he was immediately convinced that such schools were going to be the future of education.” Tilson started bringing his hedge fund friends and other investors to the South Bronx. He says, “KIPP was used as a converter for hedge fund guys … it went viral.” Justin Miller writing for the American Prospect noted, “You’d be hard-pressed to find a hedge fund guy who doesn’t sit on a charter-school board.

To counter political resistance for the privatization of public schools, Tilson and friends created a political pressure group called Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Tilson claimed its mission was “to break the teacher unions’ stranglehold over the Democratic Party.” DFER identified then-Senator Barak Obama and then-Mayor of Newark Corey Booker as promising politicians willing the break the teachers union and promote charter schools.

Rooks informs us that TFA, KIPP, and other large players in the “reform movement” enjoyed burgeoning success by;

“… [P]romising to help poor children improve educationally and to narrow the achievement gap for students in areas that were highly racially segregated without addressing the poverty of segregation with which those students were surrounded. In some ways, it was the twenty-first-century updated version of the separate but equal doctrine the Supreme Court had struck down in the mid-twentieth century.”

The AP reported in 2017 that charter schools were among the nation’s most segregated schools. There analysis found, “As of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.”

This is segrenomics in action.

Apartheid Schools and the Saga of Polly Williams

During the reconstruction era (1868 – 1877), federal troops were stationed in the south to ensure Blacks freedom from slavery, the right of citizenship and the right to vote. Federal funds also made possible schools, teachers and school buildings for both white and Black students. In the Compromise of 1877 Democrats agreed to let Republican Rutherford B. Hayes become president in exchange for a complete withdrawal of federal troops from the South. Republicans agreed, and the new president, ordered the remaining federal troops out.

Southern legislators moved aggressively to end the political and education progress Blacks had made. Former slave holders in state and county governments removed Black elected officials and passed laws against integrated education. They also instituted laws forbidding the use of “white tax dollars” to educate Black students.

At the beginning of the twentieth-century Northern white philanthropists like the oil barren John D. Rockefeller Sr. and the President of Sears and Roebuck Julius Rosenwald recognized a financial need to educate southern Blacks. Rockefeller founded the General Education Board which was chartered by congress to shape the public education system in the United States. Rosenwald provided matching grants for black communities to build schools. By 1930, the Rosenwald fund had provided seed money for 5,000 rural schools. One-third of American Blacks in school were in a Rosenwald seeded school.

In 1901, John D. Rockefeller Jr. led a party through the south for a tour of the institutions that were educating “the Negro.” Rooks explains, “They were in accord with the popular thinking of the time that linked Black education to certain forms of work and Black people to narratives of racial inferiority.” Among the Rockefeller party was Charles Dabney, the president of the University of Tennessee. He cautioned, “We must recognize in all its relations that momentous fact that the negro is a child race, at least two thousand years behind the Anglo-Saxon in its development.

The members of the General Education Board decided that Blacks should only be exposed to vocational education. As northern philanthropist and General Education Board member William H. Baldwin declared, “This will permit the southern white laborer to perform the more expert labor, and to leave the fields, the mines and the simpler trades for the Negro.”

Black families were desperate for their children to be educated and made amazing sacrifices for schools. They had to build schools and finance their operations by themselves. In some southern states, not only could no tax money be used at schools for Black children, Blacks were still forced to pay taxes for the schools white children attended.

Beginning this century, much of the culture that created what Rooks aptly labels “apartheid schools” was still in play. Schools were still highly segregated and spending on schools attended by Black and brown children was purposely short changed. At the 2016 Network for Public Education conference, I heard a woman from New Orleans tell about being in an 8th grade class with 55 students and no air-conditioning. She said the classroom had one fan and it could only be run for 10-minutes out of each hour. These kinds of conditions made someone saying – they are going to start a charter school in the neighborhood and fund it well – sound good.

There are many examples of Black children excelling in school. In the 1930’s, Black children in company schools matched their white peers. There were astounding results from Black created privately operated community schools like the amazing Marva Collins’ Westside Preparatory School in Chicago, or Liller and William Green’s Ivy Leaf School in Philadelphia.

Annette Polly Williams was the key legislator that opened the way for America’s first large scale school voucher program. Williams served in the Wisconsin state senate for thirty years representing a Black section of Milwaukee. She was a passionate advocate for public education but like many members of her community was disillusioned by the lack of resources in their schools. She stated,

We wanted the children to stay in their own community and have the resources there. We had been fighting for years to improve the public schools, but it was falling on unresponsive ears.

Williams had served on the board of the Urban Day School, a nondenominational Black independent school run by Racine Dominican sisters and led by Sister Sarah Freiburger. Rooks explains,

“Sister Sarah believed that schools could be a positive force for inner-city children, and during the time when Williams was on the board, the school achieved high-flying results similar to those attained by Marva Collins’s Westside Prep, the Oakland Community School, and the Greens’ Ivy Leaf School. Over 80% of the children the school educated were Black and poor. Having already lost faith in the racially and economically segregated and funded public school system in Milwaukee, Williams was convinced that taxpayer support for schools like Urban Day were the best chance poor Black children had to finally receive a quality education.”

In 1989, Polly Williams joined with socially and fiscally conservative Republican Governor Tommy Thompson in his push for vouchers. With Williams on board, America’s first school voucher program was enacted.

By 1997, Williams began voicing concerns about the rapid expansion of the voucher program. Wisconsin was doing more to benefit white children attending Catholic schools and further impairing desegregation efforts. Up until then, she had received money for speaking honorariums and other support from the pro-choice crowd. After she voiced her concerns, Howard Fuller replaced her as the Black spokesperson for choice. In 1998, Williams observed, “Howard … is the person that the white people have selected to lead the choice movement now because I don’t cooperate.

Rooks describes a 2011 interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Howard Kane,

 “Williams went on to tell Kane that she had of course heard the concerns when she helped shape the legislation that would become ‘school choice’ – the cries from the opposition that it might eventually be expanded by politicians who wanted to damage the public school systems and teachers’ unions and were not primarily concerned with helping poor urban children learn. She explained that at the time she just didn’t want to believe it.”  

By the time Williams died in 2013, 75% of Wisconsin’s students receiving vouchers were already attending the school where they would spend the voucher. As Rooks notes, “they were able to use their taxpayer-funded vouchers to continue attending a segregated private school.

A Few Last Words

Noliwe Rooks’ new book is an outstanding look at the development of apartheid education and the deftly described modern era of segrenomics. I have not even scratched the surface of what is in this scholarly effort. I highly recommend that you read Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation and the End of Public Education.

2 Responses to “Apartheid Education and Segrenomics”

  1. ciedie aech April 7, 2019 at 6:15 pm #

    An unsettlingly dense post with so many things to respond to, but for the moment I’ll stick with this one: “Well meaning white liberals are often blind to the true nature of the injustices they are inclined to fight.” Even now, in 2019, when the Denver teachers went out on strike, the strike agitators and leadership flat out missed seeing, admitting to or KNOWING about how far they were from dealing with certain devastating issues faced by teachers working inside our city’s poorest and largely non-White schools. The strike was called a success, and in some ways it was, but not for ALL of the teaches and not for ALL of the schools. I have a feeling that this same phenomenon is true across the nation.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Billionaire Financed Racist Attack on Camden’s Schools | tultican - June 26, 2019

    […] rape of public education in Camden, New Jersey is a classic example of “segrenomics.” In 1997, one of the only functioning organizations in the city of Camden was the public school […]

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