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Schools Matter @ the Chalk Face: From St. Louis’s Leafy Suburbs: Equal Education for All Unless You’re Black or Poor

“I think that any time you disturb a culture — you’re bringing in a variable that is unknown — I think it has the ability to create some unrest because you don’t know how the variable’s going to play out in the culture you already have.”

No, that wasn’t George Wallace in 1963–that was Pam Sloan, the suburban superintendent at Francis Howell School just outside of St. Louis. In 2013.

You see, the ascendant corporate containment and repression model for urban schooling has hit a snag in St. Louis, due to a state law that allows poor children whose poor test scores make their schools poor-performing may, in fact, transfer out to the leafy suburbs where middle class children have schools where kids learn in fine buildings and are treated with some respect.  On cue, the blowback from white privileged parents has been loud and angry, which reminds us that the stormy integration of Little Rock High School in 1957 isn’t so far away.  That was when President Eisenhower called out the 101 Airborne Division to protect black children who were trying to go to school.

Ironically, this renewed racism in St. Louis suburbs may lead conservative lawmakers to embrace small class size, if for no other reason to limit seats in the leafy suburban schools where nervous moms and dads scream like wounded animals at the thought of Kaitlyn or Seth going to school with Chantel or Daemonte.

The story from the New York Times:

. . . .“When I saw them screaming and hollering like they were crazy, I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, this is back in Martin Luther King days,’ ” said Ms. Gladney, 45. “ ‘They’re going to get the hoses out. They’re going to be beating our kids and making sure they don’t get off the school bus.’ ”

Public schools here in the St. Louis region, as in many other metropolitan areas across the country, have struggled for decades to bridge a wide achievement gap between school districts — a divide that often runs along racial and socioeconomic lines. By affirming the right to transfer students out of failing school districts, the State Supreme Court opened the doors for hundreds of families to cross the lines and move their children into better schools.

But the ensuing contention has shown that the process remains a tricky one, complicated by class, race, geography and social perceptions.

“Most folks are for having equal opportunity, having good schools for everyone,” said Patrick J. Flavin, an assistant professor of political science at Baylor University who recently wrote a report on the black-white achievement gap in schools. “We’re all about that in the abstract. You start to see support levels drop when it turns into a real-life thing.”. . . .

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Jim Horn

Jim Horn is Professor of Educational Leadership at Cambridge College, Cambridge, MA. He has published widely on theoretical and practical issues related to educat...