Saturday, September 26, 2009

Educational Discrimination: Race Baiting?

I just had a major argument with someone about educational benefits. It got so bad, her boyfriend was ready to fight me inside a Marie Callender's.

Apparently, this woman's friend had complained that a school district denied her white child benefits because of his race. This woman then said her friend raised this issue at a public school meeting and was "brave" for doing so. This woman specifically said that "only minorities could apply for these benefits," which riled me up. (Later, in an online discussion, she wrote, "my friend's child was not allowed to obtain government assistance because an administrator determined that the program was for minority groups only.")

I said several times that the government could not deny public educational benefits to anyone based on race. She reiterated that only minorities could apply for these benefits. After several minutes of heated back-and-forth discussions, I heard her say the law and reality were two different things. In other words, the law itself might not discriminate against white kids, but in reality, the school district wasn't allowing white kids to apply for certain benefits. (I guess what she meant to say earlier was, "In practice, school districts allow only minority children to apply for certain benefits.") I asked for the name of this anti-white program. She couldn't tell me the name of the program.

Then, some other people at the table jumped in. One person said teachers were giving undeserving minorities passing grades so their schools could get funding. I said it sounded like teachers were passing stupid people (of all races) to get funding. He agreed. I said if stupid people are being passed, we're not necessarily talking about minorities--we're talking about stupid people. He clarified that a certain percentage of minority students had to be passed each year to get funding. Once again, no one was able to cite a specific law or program.

Afterwards, I thought about "No Child Left Behind." The law apparently rewards school districts for retaining children from disadvantaged groups, including disabled kids and economically disadvantaged kids. I suppose a teacher who wanted to game the system would pass an ever-increasing percentage of black kids each year. My friend's husband probably meant to say that teachers are unfairly promoting stupid kids who happen to be black, not black kids because they are black. Maybe it's a subtle difference, but it's an important difference. I didn't see any federal funding tied to ensuring a certain number of minority kids pass a particular grade. (If I am wrong, I hope someone will leave a comment citing a U.S.C. or C.F.R. section.)

Someone else then mentioned a school program that allows black kids from a poor section of town to attend an affluent Atherton, California school. The problem? These black students live outside Atheron's mainly white and rich county, so their parents don't pay the same amount of local property taxes as the white Atherton parents. In essence, it seems these black kids are getting a free ride, i.e., a special benefit because they are black--or at least that was the insinuation.

After a few questions, I found out these black kids live in a county (maybe an unincorporated area?) without a school. Because they don't have a school in their county, the nearby Atherton school allowed them to attend. I pointed out that these kids weren't getting a free ride because of their race--they had to go to school, and their county didn't have a school. It sounded like someone saw a bus dropping off a bunch of non-white kids at the mainly white Atherton school district and assumed there was a pro-minority government program. In the alternative, perhaps there was a busing program to help desegregate various schools. In these programs, both white kids and minority children may attend schools in other districts. [See below for more information on this Atherton busing program. The Tinsley Act/Program, aka VTP, does create more opportunities for minorities; in fact, the district's own webpage specifies that "Students of Color living in the Ravenswood City School District entering kindergarten, first, or second grade" are eligible. Minority students, aka "students of color," are assigned limited placements through a lottery system; however, white children from the better-performing Atherton schools may apply to attend the poorer-performing Ravenwood School District.]

If anyone knows of any government program that denies benefits to anyone because of race, s/he should contact this legal foundation (Pacific Legal Foundation). In America, the government cannot legally prevent anyone from receiving educational benefits because of their race. See here for a relevant U.S. Supreme Court decision, and my analysis of the decision here.

In six years of legal practice, I have seen legitimate complaints about anti-white government programs only in two instances: allegedly improper promotions or unqualified hires in government jobs, especially in police departments. If, however, you believe the government is denying educational benefits to white children because of their race, you should know that such programs may be illegal. Again, see here.

I find this notion of anti-white government programs ludicrous. I mean, an entire swath of teachers, parents, lawyers, boards, PTAs, and administrators would have to knowingly violate the law (or stay silent) for schools to deny "special" benefits to white children because they are white. We're talking about tens of thousands of people involved in a de facto conspiracy to violate the law and prevent white children from applying for public benefits.

Now, there may be special programs to assimilate Spanish-speaking children in schools, but such programs are not based on race. For example, an Argentinian immigrant of German ancestry could benefit from such a language-assimilation program. In addition, I favor opening the desegregation program to all poor children, including white children, from East Palo Alto.

Once again, to the extent there are programs that assign special benefits to children because of their non-white race, you should contact the Pacific Legal Foundation or the Cato Institute. You may also contact me. I am very interested in learning whether widespread anti-white discrimination exists in the administration of educational benefits in California.

Anyway, whew! Not what I expected on a Friday night. In the future, I hope all children and adults study Occam's razor--the idea that in most cases, the simplest explanation is the right one.

Update: I researched the law extensively to see whether I could find something on point. Here is what I found: see 20 USC 1703: "No State shall deny equal educational opportunity to an individual on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin..." After Brown v. Board of Education, this country has taken numerous steps to ensure that all children have equal access to educational benefits.

I thought about the idea that some teachers were passing kids who didn't deserve to pass. I looked up the No Child Left Behind law again. It doesn't force teachers to pass kids of any race; however, it does establish vague goals, like "closing the achievement gap between high- and low- performing children, especially the achievement gaps between minority and nonminority students, and between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers." It appears to authorize programs for lessening the achievement gap, but it is unclear who is funding these programs.

In one section, however, NCLB establishes a specific grant for "students with disabilities, ethnic minority students, and students with migrant parents" for the sole purpose of visiting Washington, D.C. (It looks like more of a pro-tourist grant than a race-based grant.)

There are other sections of NCLB that focus on children with disabilities and "ethnic minority groups," but every single provision provides a reward for adult teachers and government workers of *any* race if they improve "retention" of low performing kids, including minority kids. I did not see any benefits that were restricted to minorities only. All educational programs must be open to all students, but schools appear to be rewarded for boosting the academic performance of ethnic minorities. In any case, it is unclear to me how a white student is negatively affected if a minority student unfairly passes a grade. If anything, the undeserved promotion probably hurts the minority student.

Outside the educational sphere, I did see some government programs that favored minorities over non-minorities. For example, certain government contracts are open only to minorities--see 10 U.S.C. § 2323. However, within the educational sphere, it appears that teachers and administrators of *all races* may get more school funding if they promote academic achievement for economically disadvantaged children, including minorities and disabled children.

This country has racial issues and a major economic divide, but playing up "white victimization" isn't the way to solve anything. Just my humble opinion.

Update: I started looking at California state laws, too. One Education Code section is interesting:

54402. For purposes of this chapter, a "disadvantaged minor" is a minor who is potentially academically able but scholastically underachieving, and must compensate for inability to profit from the normal educational program. He is a minor who...(c) Is, because of home and community environment, subject to such language, cultural, economic, and like disadvantages as will make improbable his completion of the regular program leading to graduation without special efforts on the part of school authorities...

Sections 54403 and 54405 allow the State Board of Equalization to establish K-12 programs to assist "disadvantaged" minors. The word "race" isn't used anywhere, so the law does not prevent linguistically slow or culturally disadvantaged white kids from participating in the programs; however, it is clear that many minorities will participate in these programs. The reason many minorities will participate in these programs is because their parents, unlike domestic-born kids of any race, probably have no idea how to help their kids with homework. If your parents don't speak English and haven't been to school here, then obviously, they will have difficulty helping their kids understand their homework.

I realize single or poor white mothers may also lack the time to help their children with their homework. Under the law, no school may deny disadvantaged or low performing white children entry into these remedial/extra programs.

By the way, other sections authorize programs to assist "migrant" workers, but these are remedial programs and are not based on race. For example, Swedish kids who came to California in September and knew they wouldn't stay a long time would be able to participate in these programs. Fishing migrants and many other categories of migrant workers are included, not just agricultural migrants.

Update: I just thought of something that might clarify the discussion. Some people might argue ESL and other language-assimilation programs are anti-white b/c they sap resources from schools that would otherwise go to native-born kids, many of whom happen to be white. I can see why some people think this way; after all, 99% of the kids in ESL programs are probably non-white. Perhaps if you walk into a class with 99% minorities, it's easier to believe that your white child, who isn't getting special language classes, is somehow harmed (even if your white child is taking advanced English).

In reality, language-assimilation programs are not race-based; for example, German immigrants who don't speak fluent English would be allowed to enter ESL programs. It just so happens that a lot of our recent immigration has been from so-called non-white countries. In the future, if most of our immigration comes from Sweden, and we spend lots of money on ESL programs, I have a hard time believing that anyone would say such "special" programs are anti-white or deny benefits to white children.

I already mentioned language-assimilation programs earlier, but I'm not sure if I was clear. I really don't see any evidence that schools discriminate against white kids because they are white. I rest my case on the inability of anyone to specify a single specific program where schools deny benefits to white kids (who, by the way, don't need remedial English courses). I do understand that someone may argue that desegregation or busing programs discriminate against white children to the extent white children cannot apply for these programs.

I'd appreciate seeing some specific evidence of harm to white children as a result of desegregation programs. Without specific evidence, it is hard to have a productive discussion. For example, at the dinner, I felt like Richard Dawkins, trying to refute creationists--no matter how many times I demanded proof, someone expected me to accept allegations of anti-white K-12 discrimination on faith. Sigh.

Update: here is a friend/teacher, who sheds some more light about the Atherton issue:

I am glad that someone is taking the time to dispel the many misconceptions people have about society and education. You are correct about NCLB. It is essentially an unfunded federal mandate that actually has nothing to do with grades. It has to do with scores on standardized tests but has no bearing on passing or failing classes or moving on to the next grade.

there is a desegregation program that allows East Palo Alto minorities to attend Palo Alto, Atherton, Mountain View schools (some others too). Our district (Palo Alto Unified) does bus in minority kids from East Palo Alto every day in what we call the Voluntary Transfer Program which is only available to minority students even though they have a district of their own (Ravenswood). It was a court mandated ruling from the 70's called the Tinsley Act. You should look into it. It was designed to provide equal opportunity to minority kids from East Palo Alto in the form of better teachers, books, etc. I do think that white children can apply even though there aren't many in East Palo Alto.

Fascinating. See here, here, and here for more on the Tinsley Act. The district's own page states, "Students of Color living in the Ravenswood City School District entering kindergarten, first, or second grade" are eligible for the program. At the same time, California's Constitution allows voluntary desegregation programs. See Article I, Section 7:
Nothing herein shall prohibit the governing board of a school district from
voluntarily continuing or commencing a school integration plan after the effective
date of this subdivision as amended.
There is also controversy about whether the Atherton school is subsidizing the students from the other side of town. For example, one person commented, "The [Palo Alto/Atherton] district gets $3,500 per student in return. But Palo Alto spends approximately $10,300 per student, so it is 'subsidizing' these students by about $6,800 apiece for a total of $3.7 million a year." If anyone has more information about the Tinsley Program, please leave a comment.

Bonus: according to John Barton, while "California is ranked near the bottom in student test scores, the state is 25th in per-pupil spending for the current K-12 operations, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education. It is No. 1 in teacher salaries nationwide -- the U.S. average is $45,810 while the California average is $56,283 (2002-03)."

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