40 YEARS AFTER RULING, CITY SCHOOLS ARE FAILING SOME STUDENTS OPT OUT; OTHERS HAVE NO CHOICE Series: BLACK, WHITE and BROWN 40 YEARS OF DESEGREGATION
William H. Freivogel Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
FORTY YEARS after Brown vs. the Board of Education, many schools in St. Louis and other big cities offer education that is separate and manifestly unequal.
At Beaumont High School, for example, 99 percent of the students are black. No one has a chance to take calculus. The advanced English class has been axed. And there's no drama club to fill the renovated auditorium.
It's no wonder that four decades avter Brown vs. the Board of Educationk, Derrick Brooks gets on the bus to the suburbs.
It's 5:20 a.m. and Derrick Brooks is in high gear ironing his shirt for school. The bus comes at 6 for the trip from the city to Kirkwood High School.
When Derrick was placed in an overcrowded first-grade classroom in the city, his mother, Verdell Brooks, enrolled him and his brothers in the voluntary city-county transfer plan as it entered its second year, in 1984.
The decision has been a success. Derrick has a 4.0 grade point average, is an officer of his junior class and treasurer of the National Honor Society. He's a role model for black students and shatters whites' stereotypes.
"Hey, reverend, what did you get?" a white student yells to Brooks after the history teacher passes back tests later in the day. The white student's 94 is two points better than Brooks' 92.
"I beat the reverend. I beat the reverend," he chants.
If Brooks attended his neighborhood school, Beaumont, he'd find no white students measuring themselves against him. Nor could he pencil in calculus on his senior class schedule, as he has at Kirkwood in preparation for a career in chemical engineering. Brooks illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the St. Louis desegregation program, the nation's most expensive school desegregation plan per pupil.
Here's a report card on the desegregation plan, based on interviews with educators, classroom observations and written reports:
The unique city-to-suburbs transfer plan offers Derrick and 13,000 other students each year a bus ride to a good education in an integrated setting. The program has problems, but it shows modest educational gains and launches exceptional students to college.
The city's magnet schools also offer top-flight, integrated education. But many students can't get in, some magnets have deteriorated, and others still aren't up and running.
The program to improve the quality of education for those left in segregated city schools has fallen far short. Forty years after the U.S. Supreme Court said "separate but equal" schools were unconstitutional, some St. Louis city schools are separate and unequal.
"If I were the judge, I would require the St. Louis school board to come up with a plan that would work and right now," says James D. Dixon II, director of the court-appointed Education Monitoring and Advisory Committee. He adds, "There is a lack of vision, and the Board of Education lacks the vision."
The Missouri Constitution required separate schools for "children of African descent" until 1976, 22 years after Brown.
Six weeks after Brown, the Missouri attorney general issued an opinion telling school districts they could decide "whether (they) must integrate." The opinion was the first of a long line of unsupportive pronouncements from Missouri attorneys general on school desegregation - a line extending into the 1990s.
"We got no help whatsoever from the state," recalls Daniel L. Schlafly, a member of the St. Louis Board of Education when the court ruled on Brown in May 1954.
The St. Louis school board was ready with a plan to desegregate, and it voted unanimously the next month to put it into effect. But, Schlafly says, the enrollment at schools like Soldan and Northwest high schools "sadly and inexorably" became more and more black in the 1960s. Whites were moving to the county.
Meanwhile, Minnie Liddell was getting angry. The woman whose name is on the St. Louis desegregation case wasn't upset that desegregation hadn't occurred. She was angry that her son had attended four different schools. And she felt the board wouldn't listen. She and other black parents filed a desegregation suit in 1972.
By this time, the Supreme Court had said that local governments had a duty to take "affirmative steps" to wipe out the vestiges of legal segregation.
In 1980, U.S. District Judge James H. Meredith found that state agencies hadn't. He called them "the primary constitutional wrongdoers."
The desegregation order Meredith approved left 30,000 black students in all-black city schools. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sued suburban schools. Using that suit as leverage, U.S. District Judge William L. Hungate prodded 22 county districts into the voluntary transfer program. The suburban districts agreed to accept a 15 percent increase in black enrollment. The state had to pay the bill.
Derrick Brooks and his brothers soon were off to Kirkwood. Cultural Exchange
It's first period, and each student in Jeanne Oliver's English class is supposed to present an anecdote. Like most of his classmates, Derrick isn't completely prepared, but he does a good job faking it. He tells of Sadie Hill, a Sunday school teacher who had told stories of racial discrimination and the importance of having a skill.
Oliver - a prize-winning teacher with a New Jersey accent and a passionate belief that every child can succeed - asks the white students to react.
A girl says she was shocked recently to hear her grandmother vow never to talk to the black family that had moved next door.
A boy tells of discovering during a family reunion in rural Missouri that some locals had convened a Ku Klux Klan-style meeting about a black family that had bought a nice house in town.
Different cultures, different experiences.
Next Derrick heads for Maria Capasso's trigonometry class. The only black student there, he sits in the front row and jumps at opportunities to participate. He's the first to give some obscure answer about synthetic division. Pluses And Minuses
Derrick probably wouldn't be taking trig if he were a junior at Beaumont because its feeder schools don't offer algebra in eighth grade.
This doesn't mean that Beaumont is an intellectual wasteland. Mattie Spearman, a 29-year veteran, reaches each of the 10 freshmen in her college-prep algebra class. She shrieks good-naturedly and lunges toward a boy who is lagging. She smiles as she extracts an answer.
But Beaumont's curriculum is getting weaker in some key fundamentals. Fewer entering freshmen are prepared for the course that teaches algebra in one year. Many take a two-year course and lose more ground.
Beaumont offers an advanced English course for higher achievers, but headquarters has ordered it eliminated next year. Beaumont still lacks a computer-aided remedial math program ordered by the court five years ago.
The main program to improve the quality of education at the all-black schools is Project Courage, intended to foster self-esteem and teach students about drugs, AIDS and sexual diseases.
Dixon, director of the monitoring committee, condemns Project Courage as "intellectually bankrupt."
The school board disagrees but is redesigning the program. A district spokesman says Beaumont has "tremendous college-prep programs that graduate people like Chakakuan Johnson, a senior who has won about every (science) competition you can win."
The city's magnet school program is more successful. Magnet students score above students in regular classrooms but generally below the national average.
But a "lack of leadership" at headquarters has caused some schools to falter, Dixon says. For example, Williams Middle had a successful aerospace and aeronautics theme, but Dixon couldn't persuade Beaumont to adopt the same theme to provide continuity. A district spokesman says the court order only permits one theme at Beaumont, and it's Project Courage.
The Voluntary Student Transfer Program has registered some academic gains at the 10th-grade level, where transfer students score higher than city students.
But there are problems. Dr. James DeClue, head of the NAACP's education committee, believes the Lindbergh and Mehlville school districts in south St. Louis County suspend too many transfer students. They suspended 1 in 4 last year compared with 1 in 50 at Kirkwood and Clayton high schools.
Susan Uchitelle, director of the city-county plan, acknowledges problems. But she also cites the case of a Mehlville teacher several years ago who took in a transfer family whose home had burned. Someone burned a cross on the teacher's lawn, but the students finished the year. Breaking Stereotypes
Derrick Brooks is heading home on the bus. But his girlfriend, Nicole Tart, doesn't have far to go. She walks to the home of Kirkwood Principal Franklin McCallie, who lives next to the school, headmaster-style.
When Tart's parents had to move to Tennessee at the end of her junior year, Tart was desperate to stay. McCallie and his wife, Tresa, took her in.
Some things were different. The tofu and salads at the McCallie dinner table differed from the meat loaf and chicken she was used to. House rules prohibited phone calls after 10 p.m. and television during homework time. Nicole and McCallie also noticed that they attracted long stares when they went out to eat or shop.
Tart's grades, already on the rise when she moved in, climbed to 3.8. She was assistant captain of the pompon squad, danced in the musical, won a leadership award, was admitted to Blackburn College in Illinois, was voted prom maid.
Tart thinks both blacks and whites benefit because the transfer program "helps you multiculturally." She sent a letter to Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. saying so, but he didn't reply.
As an example of the benefit for whites, Tart tells of "this guy who asked me how it was that I talked so properly. I said to him that he was stereotyping, and he said, `Wow, I should stop making generalizations.' "
Tart doesn't think she could have made the same progress in the city schools. She had been at the top of her eighth-grade class in the city but found herself far behind when she got to Kirkwood.
"I try to do my best because I know some of the students feel why do we have this desegregation program when half of the students mess around. I want to break that stereotype."
This spring, the time came to sign up for the advanced placement English test. Tart hesitated; McCallie insisted. McCallie is frustrated he can't interest more transfer students in advanced placement classes.
He's lobbying Derrick to take advanced placement calculus next year. "I tell him, `You need to step out for yourself . . . . and you need to show other black males you can do this.' " Monday: How the Kansas City desegregation program has fared.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: 40 YEARS AFTER RULING, CITY SCHOOLS ARE FAILING SOME STUDENTS OPT OUT; OTHERS HAVE NO CHOICE Series: BLACK, WHITE and BROWN 40 YEARS OF DESEGREGATION. Contributors: William H. Freivogel Of the Post-Dispatch - Author. Newspaper title: St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO). Publication date: May 15, 1994. Page number: 1A. © 2008 St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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