Thursday, February 24, 2011

Detroit Schools: A Reflection of Racial Inequity and Injustice


Amina writes about cuts to Detroit Public Schools

Detroit’s Spiral
This week Detroit Public Schools announced that it would make major cuts to eliminate its enormous $327 million budget deficit. The proposal will close half of its schools, leaving marked overcrowding in the surviving half. The shortfall is in part because of the declining public school population. Over the last 10 years the public school population has declined by 50%. The students have gone and taken their government funding with them. There is no upside to this story. No hopeful conclusion. Schools for closure are now being selected.

A Reservoir of Racial Inequity
If you want to see the health of a community look at its schools. They are the reservoirs of our racial injustice and inequity. The two are inextricably connected. Understand this reality and what’s happening in Detroit Public Schools is awful, but not shocking. Let’s be clear. Detroit Public Schools serve a Black population (upwards of 95%!). If you want clarity about racial inequity in public schools, Detroit is a newly cleaned window. Peer through that window and Detroit gives an unobstructed view of how America treats Black children. It shows how little we value them, how expendable they are.

Super Flight
Let’s start with some of the broader forces of racial inequity at work in Detroit. Detroit is a lesson in extremes. Sure things happen everywhere, but they really explode in Detroit. White flight happened all over the nation. But in the case of Detroit, its white super flight. Since it’s peak number in 1950, Detroit has lost 50% of its population. In the 1950s the population of whites in Detroit hovered around 1.5 million, by 2000 it had declined to below 200,000. Ironically in that same time period the population of African Americans grew. That fleeing white population took their resources with them and the schools tell the tale.

The Plummet
More extremes. With the decline of the auto industry and movement of jobs overseas, the country’s old steel and motor towns have gone through an economic downturn. Well in Detroit it was a plummet, or more like a mammoth explosion. Detroit has an unemployment rate of 15.1, the highest rate among America’s 50 largest metropolitan cities. For Blacks in Detroit the unemployment rate hovers around 20.9% versus 13.8 % for whites!

Detroit’s Schools Tell The Tale
And these broader racial inequities are revealed in the schools. Yes, foremost we see this in the absolute disarray of the Detroit Public School system. The cavalier way they announce the plan to close half the schools. The way it’s accepted by the mainstream American audience. The story made national news, so we could show our shallow dismayed, and now it’s quietly gone away.

But we also see it in the schools themselves. In the 2009-10 school year Detroit Public Schools recommended 29,000 suspensions and expulsions, with over 700 of those being expulsions! This is in a district of 90,000 students! The dropout rate for black males is some 80%! You’ve gotta call that a push-out rate. Detroit Public Schools may be the definition the school-to-prison pipeline.

Sure we may be able to escape the ugliness of racial inequity in much of our daily lives; with our highway commutes, our gated communities and our Facebook pages. This may be partly why education has suffered from inattention. Because to look at these schools we are reminded that with all our “progress” our past is still very much our present when it comes to racial injustice. 

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Anonymous said...

This is powerful, shameful news, but not totally unexpected. It chills to read. (I wish sources had been linked.) Thank you for sharing.

Another question is what lasting good fleeing whites got for the bargain in the Tri-County suburbs. They're fleeing and depopulating once again, no?

It would be nice to hear from those who lay claims to this still-special place!

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