In tomorrow’s New York Times Book Review, Nathan Glazer reviews Jonathan Kozol’s latest rewrite of the one-note books he has been writing on the subject of the public education of black and minority children since 1967: “Separate and unequal.” Glazer notes that in his current book Kozol widens his focus from the inadequacy of the education of minority students to include the “presumed educational effects” of increasing de facto “resegregation” of the public schools.
Offhand, I can’t remember ever reading a more devastating review of a serious book by a respectable leftist in the New York Times. On the basic question of how “desegregation” would improve the academic achievement of minority students, Glazer observes that there isn’t much analysis of the questioin whether greater “integration” would make any difference:
Quoting The New York Times, Kozol notes that parent groups are asking school officials in New York City to exclude from their local schools “thousands of poor black and Hispanic students who travel long distances.” The parents want more room for their own children so that they can attend schools in their own neighborhoods. Desegregation efforts, The Times notes, “produced lackluster academic results,” and the schools “lost their distinct neighborhood character.” One would think it would be important to consider whether the results were indeed lackluster, and whether retaining the neighborhood character of schools is a value. But for Kozol the overriding issue is integration. It is, after all, the promise of the 1954 Brown decision, and the difficulties – one might say the impossibility, in many large cities – of implementing desegregation do not moderate his insistence that we must place black children in schools with more whites. He does not go into great detail as to how this might now be done. Orfield and Kozol do point out that more is possible in small cities.
Neither does Kozol spend much time on the question of whether desegregation would have the positive educational effects he hopes for. In fact, it would be difficult for him to do so because he is skeptical about the tests we depend on to determine just what the educational effects of various interventions are.
What about the alleged effects of the financial disparity between urban and suburban per pupil expenditures? Glazer writes:
There has been research using the standard tests that questions whether greater expenditures on schools and students produce better educational results, but that research does not discourage Kozol. He expresses outrage at inequities in expenditure, pointing out that New York City in 2002-3 spent $11,627 on the education of each child, while Manhasset spent $22,311, Great Neck $19,705 and so on. There are comparable disparities in other metropolitan areas.
Hasn’t government spending on public education in city schools increased? Doesn’t it have some bearing on Kozol’s argument? Glazer writes:
Expenditure per student in New York City has risen by two-thirds since 1991, when Kozol dealt with this issue in his book “Savage Inequalities,” an increase considerably more than inflation, with no obvious educational effects. One can argue that regardless of specific measurable educational effects, the poor deserve whatever benefits – in class size, better-paid teachers, more supplies, larger playgrounds, cleaner restrooms – that an increase to the Manhasset level would make possible. But the litigation in many states now attacking these disparities, litigation reviewed by Kozol, is based not on the argument that the children in the big cities deserve to have as much spent on them as is spent in well-to-do suburbs, but on a different proposition – namely, that the expenditures of the big cities do not provide an “adequate” education, as prescribed in the state constitutions. “Adequacy,” one assumes, will in time be judged by the same kind of tests we are using today.
In New York State the litigation has now resulted in a judicial requirement that school expenditure in New York City be increased by something like 40 percent. Clearly such an increase would make life pleasanter for teachers and students. There is no strong evidence it would do much for the test results. One suspects the “adequacy” argument will eventually wind up in the same black hole that now accommodates arguments for desegregation.
Glazer concludes with a reflection on considerations near the heart of Kozol’s ideological enterprise:
TO be sure, the case for both integration and equality of expenditure is powerful. But the chief obstacle to achieving these goals does not seem to be the indifference of whites and the nonpoor to the education of nonwhites and the poor, although this is what one would conclude from Kozol’s account. Rather, other values, which are not simply shields for racism, stand in the way: the value of the neighborhood school; the value of local control of education and, above all, the value of freedom from state imposition when it affects matters so personal as the future of one’s children.
States could probably see to it that local school districts received uniform sums for the education of each child (with perhaps a supplement for those from difficult circumstances), but how could politicians prevent well-to-do or knowledgeable parents from adding more on their own, or from leaving the state system entirely? It is factors like these – which add up to nothing less than a commitment to individual freedom – that make it so difficult to achieve the obviously desirable goals of integration and equalization.
It is at least worth noting that Kozol opposes the liberation of minority children from the public schools via vouchers for the standard leftist reasons:
I am opposed to the use of public funds for private education. If we allow public funds to be used to support our relatively benign, morally grounded schools, we will have to allow those public funds to be used for any type of private school. Vouchers can also be used for a David Duke school or a right-wing militia school or a Louis Farrakhan school — any type of ethnically or ideologically extremist school with a hateful and divisive agenda. This would rip apart the social fabric of already fragile cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, with their multiplicity ofethnic, political and ideological groups. It would be the last nail in the coffin of public education.
Many of those who argue for vouchers say that they simply want to use competition to improve public education. I don