The Kozol Konundrum

The main question that I’m looking forward to asking author Jonathan Kozol when I interview him in a couple of weeks is how do we get from where we are now – an insufficient educational system that has rapidly resegregated during recent years -- to where we want to be.

Between the ghetto squalor and governmental indifference that has come to light from Hurricane Katrina and the wall-to-wall press coverage that his book has generated, the problems and some of their causes seem pretty clear:

Editorial: Hard Bigotry of No Expectations NYT
'The Shame of the Nation' New York Times
Author: Our schools are still segregated Chicago Sun Times
Writer Laments ‘Apartheid’ Schooling Education Week

In that sense, as many have noted, the Kozol book could not be more timely.

But, as described in a recent post on the conservative blog Powerline (Kozol's crusade), Kozol’s writing can, despite its power and purpose, seem “one-note.” Even to sympathetic ears, it is easy to put Kozol in with Kotlowitz and Orfield (and Kahlenberg) as those who are better at shaming or informing us than bringing us to solutions.

After all, only a handful of communities (
La Crosse, Wis.; St. Lucie County, Fla.; San Francisco; Cambridge, Mass.; and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.,) have income-based integration in place, and even good news like in today's NYT won't be enough to convince many: Raleigh Credits Integration By Income .


Anonymous Mike Klonsky said...

The right wing may be right--Kozol is singing one note. But it is a good note to sing. You don't need him to tell you the solution to American apartheid. Try singing along with Jonathan.

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Piet VanLier said...

I’m always looking for more people with solutions, of course, but history is full of persistent people who keep telling us what’s wrong in the face of willful ignorance.

It’s probably a good thing people like Kozol are out there and don’t give up.

As for Kahlenberg, if writing books about a possible solution isn’t, well, bringing us solutions, I don’t know what is.

The fact that few districts or cities seem ready to act on the idea of economic integration isn’t his fault.

10:05 PM  
Anonymous ted kolderie said...

When folks like Kozol point to the shameful state of schools, buildings or program, I like to ask: "Why does this happen?" K-12 is full of people who say they mean well, have kids' interest at heart. And yet look at what happens. Why? What is it that causes good people to do bad things? Not all of the blame can be laid off on stingy taxpayers and insensitive legislators. The people in K-12 are influential with legislators; yet kids get shorted. Why?

I figure that knowing what goes wrong, and where it goes wrong, is the key to figuring out what to do. Perhaps this'd be a way to approach Kozol, if you haven't had that interview with him yet.


Somebody told me recently there's "the mother of all 'adequacy' cases generating out in California", so I went back, dug out, sent some folks in California the section from my book about 'adequacy'. To wit:

1. There is no concept of 'adequate' financing

Only a little, really, needs to be said about the most common argument of all: that K-12 would be fine if the taxpayers and the Legislature would just give the districts adequate financing.

The problem is that there is no concept of adequate - sufficient - financing. No definition of ‘enough’ will be accepted by the districts and their associations. So long as they feel they do not have the capacity to meet expectations for student learning the districts will hold on to the traditional defenses. And no defense has worked better than blaming ‘inadequate resources’.

Beyond this, the unclarity about the objective to be reached creates uncertainty about ‘how much’. The desire not to limit improvement implies a need for ‘more’. And of course – quite independent of the objectives and what is necessary to meet them - ‘more’ is essential for the biennial salary increase.

So those in K-12 are likely always to be pressing for more; writing budgets that have to be ‘cut’ and then blaming the Legislature for not providing ‘enough’. The institution is absolutely addicted to this strategy. Some people close to the Minnesota debate remember a K-12 lobbyist answering the question “How much?” by saying: “All you’ve got plus 10 percent.”

The financing arrangements are in fact structured to drive expenditure. Those in K-12 fight hard to keep open the right for wealthy districts to go beyond what the state provides. These are described as ‘lighthouse’ districts, striving for quality. Soon rich districts are spending significantly more per pupil. Then a cry goes up that this is inequitable. Lawsuits are filed. Bills are introduced to reduce the disparity. Money is provided to bring the low-spending districts up. But no one closes off that opportunity for high-value districts to go beyond. So the process begins again, the disparity stretching out and closing up over time like a caterpillar moving along a porch railing.

The discussion about adequacy needs to be shifted away from money, to focus on the (in)adequacy of the system arrangements. A skillful governor could do this. Next time a suit is filed, alleging the state is failing to provide a ‘thorough and efficient’ (an adequate) system of education, resist the attorney general’s instinctive impulse to deny the complaint. Admit the complaint; not with respect to money but with respect to the system arrangements. Argue that ‘efficient’ means what the dictionary says: capable of accomplishing the result intended. Show that as presently arranged K-12 is in-capable of accomplishing the result intended. Make the system-arrangements the issue in adequacy. Otherwise the question will always be framed in money terms and, with no one to explain why money alone does not create the capacity to improve, a court accepting the need for improvement will almost certainly order an increase in spending.

10:14 AM  

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