Immigration and Schools, Part 4: Communities

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Immigration and Schools, Part 4: Communities
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Immigration & Diversity

Communities - rural, suburban, urban - are all under pressure from higher levels of government. The pressure has been building for one hundred years. Illegal immigration is the latest prong in a four-prong assault by these higher levels of government on the integrity of neighborhoods, villages, and towns. Another prong, the oldest, is centralization: the gradual transfer of control of education from communities to state and federal authorities. Still another prong is consolidation of school districts. I briefly discussed the latter two in Unintended Consequences of No Child Left Behind. 
 
The third prong in the assault on communities is diversity engineering. Its heyday was the seventies and eighties. Court-ordered busing to racially balance schools drove the middle class from cities, wiping out neighborhoods by the thousands.
 
All of these attacks on communities were, for the most part, without malice. The education experts who persuaded state legislatures to centralize control of curriculum, teacher training and licensing, textbook adoption, testing, etc. were convinced that the happy result of concentrating power in state agencies would be a superior school experience for children.
 
The education professionals and efficiency experts who pressed consolidation on communities and on small schools believed economies of scale and the ability to offer advanced courses outweighed the costs of closing centers of social life for so many communities, the local school. Social engineers’ passion for racial balance busing stemmed from an ardent belief that proportional enrollment of white and African-American children best meets the needs of all students. Weakened communities were a necessary price to pay to implement these grand visions. Business lobbies seeking abundant, cheap immigrant labor today do so for profit, not to harm communities. Their allies, minority pressure groups, embrace open borders to advance ethnic interests, not to stress American communities.
 
Whatever the intent — good or ill, this four-pronged assault has wreaked havoc on America’s neighborhoods, towns, and communities.

Hickory, North Carolina, circa 1925

The strong communities of an earlier era were not saintly social units. My ninety-year-old aunt is writing her autobiography for the family. I am her editor. In Chapter Two she describes games she played as a little girl in the early twenties in Hickory, North Carolina, a town of about 5,000: Everyone knew everyone else. It was a wonderful neighborhood. No one was afraid to be out at night. Crime was almost unheard of. We kids played outside until long after dark, especially in the summer time. We played such games as No Bears Out Tonight, which is played in the yard, and also Fox and Hounds, in which we skated all around town with no fear, even after dark and even into the black section of town.
 
“Did black children come into the white section of town after dark?” I asked.
 
No.
 
Even oppressed communities had surprising strength. Below are excerpts from a review of The Price They Paid: Desegregation in an African American Community (Vivian Gunn Morris and Curtis L. Morris, New York: Teachers College Press, 2002). The Price They Paid  is a study of a black high school in Tuscumbia, Alabama, closed because of desegregation:
 
. . . desegregation policies disrupted a symbiotic relationship that once existed between the black community and black schools and educators . . . black people in Tuscumbia . . . felt the sting of racism . . . Yet . . . the African American community worked collectively to ensure that the school met the needs of black children and functioned in the overall interest of the black community. As elsewhere throughout the segregated South . . . the black people of Tuscumbia donated land to build the school, and offered their time and other resources. Moreover, while white policymakers and district leaders imposed a curriculum that reflected an industrial model [vocational education] . . . the school leaders at Trenholm High School resisted this imposition, and embraced the classical or liberal educational model.
 
Unlike many scholarly accounts of segregated black schooling, which focus on the disparities in resources between black and white schools, this account of a black school community focuses on black agency in the midst of legalized racial apartheid . . . Like many black schools of its day, Trenholm played an integral role in the black community. Black educators created opportunities for black children to display their talents, leadership, and speaking abilities, and also imparted a sense of responsibility to the children . . .
 
My aunt lived four blocks from Hickory’s black high school, Ridgeview High. Ridgeview High was known statewide for its band and its football team. I spoke at length with a 1952 Ridgeview graduate. “It was a wonderful school,” she said. The community “never recovered” from its closing. (1)
 
Closing the heart of a community - its high school - hurts the community. Communities are the support of families and families of children. Harm the communities, harm the children.  
The consolidators of today and yesterday, the centralizers, the diversity engineers and the open borders advocates are engaged in deadly folly. If there is hope of slowing or turning back their assault on communities and neighborhoods, we need to understand that assault - all four prongs:
 
1) SCHOOL DISTRICT CONSOLIDATION: There were 127,000 school districts in 1931, there are less than 15,000 today. School district consolidation, this menace to communities, is at last getting scholarly attention. In “School Inflation” (Education Next , Fall, 2004), Christopher Berry of the University of Chicago provides a concise history of the consolidation movement. Berry’s three charts tell the story at a glance.
 
“School Inflation” is based on Berry’s unabridged report, “School Size and Returns to Education: Evidence from the Consolidation Movement, 1930-1970 ,” which he produced while a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard. Quoting from his first paragraph:
 
As late as 1930, American schools were small, community-controlled institutions, most employing a single teacher. From roughly 1930 to 1970, a rapid movement toward centralization and professionalization reduced the number of schools by more than 100,000, as more than two-thirds of the schools that existed in the former year were eliminated through a process of consolidation. The average size of a school increased fivefold over this short period. In the process school districts evolved into professionally run educational bureaucracies, some operating hundreds of schools and educating hundreds of thousands of students.
 
Berry does not attempt to measure the effects of school district consolidation on communities. But he does note, “As [David] Reynolds observes, in the pre-consolidation era, the local school ‘was typically the key neighborhood institution binding neighbors and linking them to the larger social and cultural world around them.’ Thus, consolidation of the local school district, and in particular loss of the local school, threatened a community’s social cohesion and economic vitality.” (There Goes the Neighborhood by David Reynolds, University of Iowa Press, 1999)
 
Consolidation is bad for communities. Could it be good for children? Standardized tests were not in wide use until after the great wave of consolidation. Berry measures instead the “value of their [children’s] education in the labor market” - in isolation from other variables. In a nutshell: small schools add “quite substantial” value: 
 
Increasing a state’s average school size by 100 students was associated with a decline of one-third of a standard deviation in the rate of return to education for students educated there. In plain English, this would amount to a 3.7 percent decline in earnings for a high-school graduate.
Large districts also add value, but the district size effect is small. All things being equal, a small school in a large district would be optimal. All things are rarely equal, however. Large districts have large schools. The correlation between school size and district size - across states - “remained nearly constant at at about 0.70 from 1930 to 1970.” (Note: 1.00 indicates a perfect correlation; .00 indicates no relationship.) 
 
District consolidation is toxic for neighborhoods. By Berry’s yardstick, value of additional schooling in the labor market, consolidation is also bad for children because it puts them in large schools.
 
2) CENTRALIZATION OF CONTROL IN STATE AGENCIES: States gradually extended their authority over accreditation, curriculum, textbooks and teacher certification. “School Inflation” and Christopher Berry’s unabridged report, in particular, provide an overview.
 
This shift of control of education from communities to the states has had tragic effects. Research professor Diane Ravitch’s widely acclaimed The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (2003) is a portrait of what the transfer of control has meant for textbooks, curricula and standards — particularly as regards literature and history. Jane Eisner, book reviewer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, sums up: “It should make you scream.”
 
At Google type three words: “political correctness textbooks” in any order. Read a few of the top-listed articles. And for a glimpse of what centralization of control does for science textbooks, read my letter to North Carolina’s Triangle Business Journal, “Biotech Training Must Begin Early.”
The effects of state control of the licensing of teachers and administrators - and hence of their education - are also dire. For a window on the insular world of colleges of education read “Skewed Perspective” by David Steiner of Boston University (Education Next , Winter 2005). For the specific effects on the training of administrators read “A Race to the Bottom: The Nation’s School Leadership Programs Are Not Producing the Educational Administrators We Need,” by Arthur Levine, National Crosstalk , Summer, 2005) and also my “GRE Scores of School Administrators,” EducationNews.org , July 27, 2005.
 
Planners in state education departments aren’t particularly good at exercising the vast powers they’ve accrued over many decades. That’s lesson #1 for anyone who would reform education.
 
3) DIVERSITY ENGINEERING: The single-minded pursuit of racially balanced schools by judges and their boosters in the press did immense harm to neighborhoods and communities in the latter decades of the twentieth century. The damage is done. But we can learn from what happened. National Public Radio has produced three fine audio reports - eight minutes each - on this, America’s first great diversity engineering project. The series,  “The Legacy of School Busing,” focuses on key cities: Charlotte, Detroit, and Boston. National Public Radio takes a restrained, even sympathetic, but the disaster visited upon each city is evident enough. Brief comments on each report:
 
Part 1: “A Qualified Success in Charlotte, N.C.”: Charlotte had long been the national media’s model for coerced diversity. Here was a city that made forced busing work. But Charlotte’s was a Potemkin diversity, and not just because the dwindling white student population removed to outer parts of the city when a federal court declared the system “unitary” in 2001 and halted race-based school assignments. Black elementary scores have risen since then, but a three-decade obsession with the racial composition of schools has taken a heavy toll in this big consolidated district. Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, Jr.’s assessment of high school test scores: “academically in the ditch year after year,” The public favors de-consolidation. See brief summary of Charlotte Observer report, “Public Favors CMS Breakup.”
 
Part 2: “Detroit's Racial Divide”: All would have been well say the diversity engineers, if the Supreme Court in 1974 had held that the Constitution required them to order busing for racial balance between Detroit and the 52 surrounding districts.
 
Part 3: “Boston’s White Flight”: What has Boston got to show for thirty years of racial balance busing? Schools are more segregated than when busing began. See “School study finds deep racial divide”(Boston Globe , September 9, 2003).
 
America’s first diversity engineering project, busing for racial balance, didn’t work. Instead, it devastated communities and neighborhoods and failed to improve education for black students.
This will not deter a new generation of diversity engineers. But it should deter everyone else.
 
4) OPEN BORDERS IMMIGRATION POLICIES: Open borders are, in a sense, America’s second great diversity engineering project. Open borders are a form of forced integration. The pressure on communities is not unlike that of the era of wide-scale forced busing. North Carolina is among heavily impacted states. Here is North Carolina State Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee on the effects of Bush administration open borders policies:
 
It’s very overwhelming. I get a lot of complaints from superintendents and principals from all over the state that tell me these children are interfering with the education process of the other children . . . Most of the children are unable to speak English. And, in most instances, they are illiterate in their own language . . . We are very uncertain as to what we are going to do at this time. It’ s very hard to know if there is a breaking point at some point and what our response will be. (“Influx of Hispanic Immigrants Hitting Schools Hardest,” Carolina Journal , December, 2005)
 
Why are President Bush and Congress putting such stress on American communities and neighborhoods? California congressman Dana Rohrabacher:
 
The politics of immigration has been a lethal mix in this country. It’s a combination of Republicans who capitulate to huge corporate interests wanting to keep wages down, and Democrats who are looking for a new underclass to justify their positions of expanding government programs, which of course gives them political power. (The American Enterprise , January/February, 2005)
 
Add to Rohrabacher’s “lethal mix” ethnic pressure groups such as the National Council of La Raza (the Race) and the Mexican government (which profits handsomely from cash sent home by immigrants) and one gets a sense of the array of organized special interests well served by open borders policies.
 
American communities aren’t well served. A short article recently near the top of a Google search for “immigration” and “schools” is “Bad Schools, Immigration, and the Great Middle-Class Massacre.” It’s logic must be confronted.

Revolt of the Governed

What the federal and state governments are about - as regards communities - is to do to them great harm. We have the absurdity of a president who aspires to run the nation’s schools (No Child Left Behind) but not stop an invasion. Time Magazine’s two-time Pulitzer-Prize winning reporting duo, Donald L. Barlett and James E. Steele, wrote recently, “It’s fair to estimate, based on a TIME investigation, that the number of illegal aliens flooding into the U.S. this year will total 3 million.” Barlett and Steele’s classic portrait of our chaotic southern border, “Who Left the Door Open?” (TIME cover story, Sept. 12, 2004) can still be found online.
 
There is a difference between being anti-immigrant and being anti-ridiculously-out-of-control immigration. Heather Mac Donald, writing for the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal:
 
The most striking political constant in the last four decades of immigration policy is the overwhelming popular desire to rein in immigration, and the utter pulverization of that desire by special interests. No poll has ever shown that Americans want ever-more open-borders, yet that is exactly what the elites deliver year after year.
 
So it is today - with all four public policy assaults on communities by the states and of the federal government. Little by little, these governments have enfeebled communities. Americans did not want to hand control of schools to state authorities. Professional educators linked to state education departments led the expansion of state power. Americans did not want their school districts consolidated. Professional educators and “efficiency” experts, backed by state legislatures, rolled over often fierce local resistance. Few parents, black or white, wanted their children bussed across town to achieve some utopian ratio of minorities to whites. Elites in the media, the courts and academia knew it had to be.
 
The American people do not want open borders. The President and Congress obstruct all efforts to slow an illegal alien tide. “On the payroll: illegal immigrants” (San Diego Union-Tribune , Nov. 7, 2004) reveals how the President and Congress have gutted enforcement of employer sanctions for hiring illegal aliens.
 
How will debilitated communities respond to this relentless challenge? As you reflect on the consolidation, centralization and diversity engineering tragedies of past decades know that your own half-formed judgement on the most recent crisis, the immigration fiasco, is as good as the popular judgement then. Americans resisted those elite-driven causes. But they were overmatched by government “experts.” The elites prevailed. Communities, neighborhoods, families and children have paid a terrible price.
 
Are the elites destined to prevail once again? Will their experts buffalo the public one more time?
Writing for the Wall Street Journal , deputy editorial page editor Daniel Henninger recently observed, “Raw communications technologies . . . [have] begun to affect an historic shift in the relationship between governments and the governed. The governed are starting to win.”
The four-pronged assault on communities can be rolled back. How the rollback might begin is the subject of Part 6.
 

Notes

1) I asked a long-time resident of the black community of my own hometown, Lenoir (about 20 miles northwest of Hickory) about the effects on the community of the closing in 1967 of Freedman High, the local black high school, for desegregation purposes. Her instant reply: “I’s been down hill ever since.”
 
Tom Shuford is a retired public school teacher living in Lenoir, North Carolina. This article originally appeared in EducationNews.org in June, 2007.
 

 

 

Tom Shuford
2011 May 3