To the Editor:
Susan Eaton and Gina Chirichigno’s recent online Commentary “Create Charter Schools That Reduce Segregation” (Aug. 6, 2009) serves as an important reminder of the part education has played in furthering racial integration in the United States. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, and a host of policy wonks and school chiefs tell us that “education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century.” But we should remember that it was also the civil rights issue of the civil rights era.
There is reason that de jure segregation ended with an education court case, and that the civil rights era is symbolized by nine black students entering an Arkansas high school under armed guard. When we envision a right to education purely in terms of test scores and economic opportunity, we sell out the ideals of the pioneering civil rights activists who began the fight for equal educational opportunity.
Ms. Eaton and Ms. Chirichigno, though, seem to have forgotten about the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, which effectively bans voluntary integration plans in publicly financed schools. The authors, and policymakers in general, would do well to look toward socioeconomic integration as a more viable, and perhaps preferable, alternative.
A version of this article appeared in the August 26, 2009 edition of Education Week as Reducing Segregation: Answers Lie In Socioeconomics, Not Charters