Segregated Classrooms Spark Controversy As Proponents Criticize 'White Standard'

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by Tyler Durden
Monday, Nov 27, 2023 - 01:25 AM

School districts across the country, primarily in major, Democrat-run cities such as Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Oakland, have been offering segregated classes in the hopes of battling a decades-long, race-based achievement gap.

Illustration: Taylor Callory for Education Week

As the Wall Street Journal reports, Evanston Township, a suburb of Chicago, is the latest to introduce the controversial strategy designed to enhance the education experience of students of color - particularly in advanced placement courses. The local school's 3,600-student high school is 44% white, 24% black, 20% hispanic and 5% asian in a mix of wealthy families and lower income families.

Some have suggested that the voluntary segregation of black, latino, and white students raises crucial questions about the progress made since the Civil Rights Movement. "Our black students are, for lack of a better word…at the bottom, consistently still. And they are being outperformed consistently,” said Monique Parsons, Evanston school board vice president, adding "It's not good."

A white standard?

According to Dena Luna, who leads black student-achievement initiatives in Minneapolis Public Schools, "A lot of times within our education system, black students are expected to conform to a white standard," underscoring what proponents have argued is a need for spaces where students of color can thrive - which, for some reason, Indian and Asian students of color don't typically require.

The district offers middle- and high-school students electives focused on African-American history and social-emotional support, taught by teachers of color. Created in 2015 for Black boys, the format has expanded to Black girls and will soon expand to Latino students. An internal study showed improved attendance for Black boys in the program in 2017 and average GPAs of 2.27, compared with 2.14 for Black males districtwide.

"In our spaces, you don’t have to shed one ounce of yourself because everything about our space is rooted in blackness," said Luna.

Evanston's so-called 'affinity classes,' labeled AXLE for black students and GANAS for latino students, have been met with a blend of praise and skepticism. Students in these classes have reported feeling more accepted and represented. "I feel like I represent me and not the whole black race in this AP class," said one AXLE student, expressing a newfound sense of individuality in the learning environment. "It’s a safe space. In AP classes that are mostly white, I feel like if I answer wrong, I am representing all black kids. I stay quiet in those classes."

This year there are at least 105 students enrolled in GNAS math courses, while another 72 are enrolled in AXLE math courses, and 14 in AXLE sophomore English class.

A 2019 study on the original program for Black boys offered by the Oakland Unified School District found that students who took the affinity class were slightly less likely to drop out of school. The district also offers elective and advisory classes designated for Latino, Asian Pacific Islander and Arab students, said Jerome Gourdine, director of targeted strategies for the district’s office of equity.

Evanston is taking the strategy one step further, offering courses for Black and Latino students in core math classes: algebra 2, precalculus and AP calculus, as well as an English seminar. Evanston’s classes for Black students are known as AXLE, an acronym for Advancing Excellence, Lifting Everyone, and those for Latino students are called GANAS, from a Spanish expression that means “giving it all you’ve got.”  -WSJ

Meanwhile, both the legality and the social impact of re-segregating classrooms is a topic of fierce debate.

"Integration is a positive social good," said Max Eden, an education researcher at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, who believes these 'affinity classes' undermine the goal of the Civil Rights Act. "We want students to be colorblind and to treat each other only on the basis of who they are as human beings."

But will it help test scores?

In Evanston, around 75% of white students in 11th and 12th grade enroll in AP classes according to district data, vs. around 25% of black students and around a third of latino students. Of those, in the 2021-22 school year, 80% of white AP test takers earned a score of 3 or higher - the benchmark typically required for college credit, vs 61% of latinos and 48% of black AP students.

As these initiatives continue, their impact on educational equity, racial integration, and societal implications will be closely monitored.

Of course, unless students - regardless of race, are willing to devote hours of their lives to studying, preparing, and grinding out homework, we suspect this is just going to stoke widening racial divides.