Monday, September 9, 2013
In an NPR interview last week ranging a few different topics, Secretary of Education Duncan said in regard to integration, "whatever we can do to continue to increase integration in a voluntary way—I don’t think you could force these kinds of things—we want to be very, very thoughtful and to try to do more in that area quite frankly.” Given that in 2011 Secretary Duncan courageously jumped into the firestorm over Wake County, North Carolina's integration plan and urged the district to not go "backward," a sympathetic listener might interpret Duncan's current statements on integration to be a poor choice of words. But outside of that singular stance in Wake County, Arne Duncan and the Department of Education have been almost completely silent on integration. Many would say they have given integration a cold shoulder. In fact, although civil rights leaders have repeatedly requested that integration and diversity be explicitly included as positive factors in the various competitive grant programs like Race to the Top, the Department has refused. Through these competitive programs, the Department has exacted huge changes in state policies, but none in regard to integration. Surely the Department could have conditioned some funding on diversity or integration steps. Would that be "forcing these things" or the federal government simply putting its money where its mouth is and hoping some states would agree? When the Department's past actions are coupled with Duncan's most recent statement, one must seriously question whether Arne Duncan and the Department really believe in pursuing integration any more.
For those wanting to draw their own conclusions, Duncan's full comments on the subject are after the jump.
I fundamentally think the need for integration and more integrative schools is very real, and there are things that we can do. Obviously, there are housing patterns that present challenges.… But I was fortunate to go to an integrated school, you know, all the way through K-12.
And I don’t think I could do a job like this was I not, you know, didn’t have that kind of opportunity. And far too many children today are denied that opportunity. So, yes, we want to do everything to make sure they’re, you know, getting rigorous course work and have great teachers and are academically prepared for college. But you want children to grow up comfortable and confident with other people who come from different backgrounds from them.
And if they don’t have those opportunities—not that you can’t learn it as an adult, but it’s much harder. So whatever we can do to continue to increase integration in a voluntary way—I don’t think you could force these kinds of things—we want to be very, very thoughtful and to try to do more in that area quite frankly.
For more analysis of his comments, see Richard Rothstein's comments.