The US Didn’t Commit to Integration

The teacher accountability agenda that has emerged over the last two decades–stricter evaluation systems, merit pay, the weakening of teacher tenure, and the creation of alternative pathways into the classroom, like Teach for America–is often talked about as a sort of next step in school reform, because integration failed. In her 2011 book A Change to Make History, TFA Founder Wendy Kopp wrote, “In the sixties and seventies we committed to desegregate schools in order to ensure that all of our nation’s children have access to an equal education. Unfortunately, though, poor and minority students continued to lag academically.” The conclusion that desegregation did not work is not fair, though–because the United States did not, in fact, commit to integration. In 1974 the Supreme Court ruled in Milliken v. Bradley that majority-white northern school districts had no responsibility to cooperate with inner-city schools toward the goal of integration, even in regions where affluent all-white school districts were just a few minutes away from urban neighborhoods ravaged by poverty. Desegregation was never widely implemented outside the South, and where it was implemented, as in Charlotte or Montgomery County, it often succeeded in raising student achievement to a similar or greater degree than did later teacher accountability reforms. Today there is a demand for integrated schools. . . . So it is unfortunate that these two strains of American education reform, integration and teacher accountability, rarely work in tandem.

–Dana Goldstein, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession

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