Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Obama Administration's Disappointing Record on Integration

In the spring of 2008, shortly after it became pretty clear that Barrack Obama would secure the democratic nomination for president, the then-dean of Howard Law School, Kurt Schmoke, convened a lunch time town hall at the school to discuss the upcoming election and the potential history it would make.  I posed the question of whether it was possible that Obama's election might spell a step backward on several of the issues that we held most dear.  The response suggested that my question bordered on blasphemy, but fortunately I was surrounded by lawyers and bright students who politely moved on to the euphoria of the times.  

I fully supported his presidency and served in the administration's transition team after the election, but I had a sneaking suspicion that we were too optimistic.  What we needed was a good dose of Derrick Bell-style skepticism.  He was not there, so I played the inadequate fill-in.  My concern was not that Obama would lack the conscience of our convictions but that he would face political and cultural opposition that a white candidate pushing those same convictions would not.  

Seven years later, I realize that I underestimated how hard progress on issues like integration would be.  My Derrick Bell-style skepticism is too shallow most of the time.  I do not know if the reason why we have seen so little progress is because the administration lacked our convictions, decided pursuing them was futile, or thought it would undermine other policies that it favored more.  Regardless, it has been disappointing, particularly for groups like the National Coalition on School Diversity, which has consistently pushed these issues before the administration.  As we near the end of the Obama administration, the media is finally taking stock.  The New York Times has run a few stories and editorials in the past year on school integration, but none as pointed as The American Prospect this weekend:

Many advocates had hoped to see the Obama administration take steps to address rising school segregation, but so far its record has not been great. While the Department of Education has paid lip service to the need to promote integrated schools, and has included modest diversity incentives within a handful of federal grants, it refused to use larger education initiatives like Race to the Top to encourage states and districts to prioritize school diversity. In some cases, the department actually pushed policies that made segregation worse.

Read the full article here.


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