How ‘colorblind’ education reform policies actually ignore racial inequality

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A new critique of what are ostensibly “colorblind” education reform policies reveals that these initiatives are not, in fact, “colorblind,” and have the effect of perpetuating or replicating longtime patterns of race-based inequality. And it makes recommendations for policymakers that include promoting more diverse schools and encouraging inter-district transfers of students to promote diversity.

The policy brief, called “Seeing Past the ‘Colorblind’ Myth of Education Policy: Addressing Racial and Ethnic Inequality and Supporting Culturally Diverse Schools,” was researched and written by Amy Stuart Wells of Teachers College at Columbia University and comes at a time of increasing segregation in public schools. A 2013 report noted that  African American students today “are more isolated than they were 40 years ago, while most education policymakers and reformers have abandoned integration as a cause.”

It also comes as the United States is approaching the time — this fall, according to the U.S. Education Department —  when the public school population will be less than 50 percent white and non-Hispanic for the first time in the country’s history.

Wells, in the brief published by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, writes:

[E]ven when education policies are “colorblind” on the surface, they interact with school systems and residential patterns in which race is a central factor in deciding where students go to school, what resources and curricula they have access to, whether they are understood and appreciated by their teachers and classmates, and how they are categorized across academic programs. Such policies are also at odds with a multi-racial and ethnic society in which a growing number of parents and educators see the potential educational benefits of paying attention to diversity and difference as a pedagogical tool.

Wells reviewed interdisciplinary research that shows how housing markets, school district boundaries, accountability systems and other factors are far from colorblind in their impact on public schools, and as a result, efforts to ignore race via “colorblind” or race-neutrality policies such as school choice can “easily replicate rather than address age-old patterns of inequality grounded in a history of race consciousness.” She wrote:

For example, the two central education reforms of the last few decades — the standards/accountability movement and free-market school choice policies — have been framed as outcome-based solutions to the racial achievement gap without directly addressing any societal or educational issues related to race. These reforms were launched in response to the reported lackluster performance of U.S. public schools at the end of the Civil Rights era. Ironically, several of the education policies passed during that era directly addressed racial inequality and coincided with the largest reductions in the Black-White achievement gap in the nation’s history.

Within this current so-called “colorblind” or “post-racial” era, the accountability and school choice reforms have gained broad-based bipartisan support amid a notable indifference to the changing racial makeup of the overall public school student population, now only 52% White, non-Hispanic. Meanwhile, there is mounting evidence to suggest that so-called “colorblind” accountability and school choice policies, premised on narrow definitions of school quality and absent interventions to support teaching and learning in racially diverse public schools, exacerbate racial and social class segregation and inequality. The implication of this research should inform efforts to close achievement gaps defined by race. But this will only happen if policymakers are not blind to the role that race plays in our educational system.

She makes a number of recommendations to policymakers, including:

*creating and sustaining more racially and ethnically diverse schools

*fostering cross-district cooperation/collaboration

*encouraging inter-district transfers to promote diversity

*expanding legal challenges based on the educational benefits of diversity

* tapping into the Common Core’s potential to support the educational benefits of diversity

*placed far less emphasis on standardized tests

You can read the whole report here or below.

Pb Colorblind 0[1] by The Washington Post

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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