Jon M: [00:00:15] Hi. I’m Jon Moscow.
Amy H-L: [00:00:17] And I’m Amy Halpern-Laff. Welcome to Ethical Schools. Our guest today is Daarel Burnette II, staff writer at Education Week, where he covers school funding and finance. Previously, Mr. Burnette served as a bureau chief at Chalkbeat Tennessee, a start up news organization based in Memphis, and worked as an education reporter at a number of newspapers. He earned a BA in print journalism from Hampton University and an MA in politics and journalism from Columbia. Welcome Daaryl.
Daarel B: [00:00:48] Thank you for having me.
Jon M: [00:00:50] You recently wrote an article for Education Week entitled “Do America’s Public Schools Owe Black People Reparations?” Much of the article is about Prince Edward County, Virginia. What’s significant about Prince Edward County?
Daarel B: [00:01:03] Yeah. A couple of things that are significant about Prince Edward County. And I think there are a couple of things that are not significant about Prince Edward County. The biggest is that they have decided to apologize and make reparations for the racist past.
Prince Edward, between the years of 1959 and 1964, in an effort to block integration, block their schools from being integrated, they shut the entire school system down and provided vouchers to the White students in the district to attend a private academy, leaving the Black students, who made up about a third of the district, with nowhere to go to school.
And so. In 2004, I think it is, they decided that they were going to, after a series of apologies, they had conferences, they had, you know, they built a statute, et cetera. The legislature decided to set aside $2 million for the victims of this to go back to school, basically. And so much of my essay is just sort of about that effort and whether or not that was successful.
Amy H-L: [00:02:06] You mentioned that Virginia established a fund to help the victims receive an education that was stolen from them. And that Virginia is one of only four states that have had reparations programs aimed at Black Americans, at Black American students, I should say. What would you tell us about the fund?
Daarel B: [00:02:28] So this one has a, it’s a very unusual setup for a couple of reasons. One, they kind of picked a number out of the air. The state actually withheld about $11 million in today’s funds from the district, basically shutting the district down. The fund set aside $2 million and they limit the fund to anybody who attended schools in Prince Edward, Charlottesville, I think Norfolk, and Arlington schools. Those are the four districts that, in the effort of massive resistance, were shut down for a period of time, Prince Eward being the longest, but the victims had to still live in Virginia.
And if anybody’s aware of the mass migration north, very few of the victims still lived in Virginia. And they had to be students at the time. They had to be between the ages of five and 18 between 1959 and 1964. And so effectively, they were telling people who were 60 years and older in 2004 that now they had an opportunity to go and get their high school diploma or college degree.
Amy H-L: [00:03:31] And what was the reaction of the people to whom you spoke, who were offered money from this fund?
Daarel B: [00:03:36] It was mixed. I think I was, I think going in when reading about this district on paper, I was kind of like, Oh, this is really fascinating. Is almost like the promised land of reconciliation and reparations that, you know, as much as we talk about maybe one day Black people will be able to see reparations. This district actually has actually gone through it. You know, they had all these apologies. They had like these, they had these ceremonies in which they lit candles. And, you know, the White residents apologize to the Black residents and people were crying and, you know, they have this at Richmond, at the Capitol, they have a statue that’s dedicated to some of the student activists at the time. So going in, I thought that these people would just be kind of head over heels and thinking, you know, reparations and reconciliation is the best thing on earth.
And what I found was a very different story. One, I was shocked at how poor these residents were, very, very poor. I mean, I’ve been to about 45 states in America. I have traveled the world. I’ve been to Africa and lived in Turkey for a while as a kid. And it is some of the most intense poverty that I have seen with my own two eyes, right down the street in rural Virginia. And so they described in detail sort of how their lives kind of took a turn for the worse after the school systems shut down. I mean, one of the women had dropped out of high school. She got pregnant at the age of 17. One of them never learned how to read and write. Their careers were basically derailed. Their K-12 trajectory was derailed and their careers were derailed. And I think that they were sort of like cynical about this idea that, you know, 50 years later. you get this apology, which, you know, technically as they described it, they don’t even use word sorry. They say, you know, with sorrow, with regret. They don’t actually use the actual language. And as guilty as they feel, it doesn’t undo this, you know, this life. I mean, one of the guys that I talked to is bankrupt, he was, he was addicted to drugs. And so they were just like, you know, what does this do for me? And a lot of them actually [inaudible] you know, some of them actually went back and got degrees, but by then they were close to retirement.
And I think the other thing that I was really shocked by, which is the more contemporary debate about what’s happening with this fund, is they, their kids, and their grandkids now also struggle with school. And so they were like, I have a kid, I have a grandchild who actually needs that money and I can’t actually pass that on to them. And I do think that the situation that we are in is specifically because of the schools shutting down. And, I asked them, well, why do you feel that way? And they said, well, you know, I have brothers and sisters who were older, who were not in school at the time. And they have college degrees, they went off and, you know, um, got, have full fledged careers. One of them, the guy who was addicted to drugs, you know, living in a trailer, his brother was a lawyer. So, you know, you have like these stark trajectories of these families, you know, cousins who had very different paths in their lives because one was this age when the schools were shut down and one was older, you know, were not as drastically impacted by that. So there was this, a lot of cynicism that really kind of blew me away. But then also just a lot of frustration about the way that the scholarship fund was set up.
Jon M: [00:07:09] Are there useful lessons from the other three reparations programs you referred to and from the campaigns to get them?
Daarel B: [00:07:18] I think the lessons really, I mean, I think that the process that Prince Edward went through, this concept of apologizing and then reconciliation, there was no question in that district as to why their school system is in the condition that it is in today. They knew, you know, because there’s a whole museum in the district that memorializes exactly what happened. And so as far as understanding, everybody in the county having a common understanding of what they went through, the trauma that they experienced, I think that actually that process as one of the victims has described like restorative sense of dignity. And it’s almost like, you know, the Black people aren’t really crazy. They’re not making this up.
So I do think that in Tulsa and Rosewood, in Florida, those two efforts were very similar in the sense that there is a reconciliation, there is a acknowledgement of this is what happened, and this is how we suffered from that. But then what I also think that it shows is that reparations, especially for K-12, gets really complicated because how do you put a price tag to something, to losing, you know, so many years out of your childhood and what I mentioned in my first answer about the fact that there are some things that are common.
There are some things that are unusual about Prince Edward, and there are some things that are not unusual about Prince Edward. And a lot of the tactics that were used in Prince Edward, as far as not building a high school for the Black students or building a separate and unequal system in which, you know, Black kids were put in these sorts of awful conditions in which, you know, going to school was either a health hazard or just impossible to actually get there because it’s not in a convenient location, um, that was done across the country. And so I think that what Prince Edward does show is the fact that designing a reparations program that is effective, that the victims feel is competent and actually attempts to make up for the pain and the loss that occurred, while it’s complicated, I do think that their efforts are admirable and could potentially be duplicated.
Amy H-L: [00:09:44] What would be some of the essential elements of a program for reparations, for the deprivation by states and school systems of Black people’s education?
Daarel B: [00:09:57] Yeah. So I think it’s two fold. I mean, you know, school districts did two things that I think were pretty destructive for, and I’ve kind of framed the story in describing the wealth gap, because obviously that’s sort of the goal with reparations is that we need to figure out a way to close the wealth gap. And so there were two things that I think were destructive that school boards did repeatedly over the years that allowed for this wealth gap to be exacerbated.
The first thing is that is the tax theft. The fact that you have Black people whose homes were over-valuated. And so they were in effect being assessed exorbitant tax fees, and then paying these fees, and then they weren’t allowed to basically send their kids to the schools that the fees were being used for. So you have, you know, and this is like, well-documented. Actually, Fisk has a database of all the schools that Black people actually ended up building with their own funds after the school board refused to kick in their funds. So the taxation, I think, is one thing that districts need to figure out a way to reconcile and repair, because that is still going on.
The other thing is obviously the theft of an education. So you have all these people, most of them who are still alive, you know, my grandparents’ age, who were denied access to a quality education. And when I say quality, in some instances, the education was subpar and many instances, education was just not actually there. And one of the things that I find the most fascinating in my research of Black history and in K-12 education is there were several districts in the country that would not build high schools for Black students. And so this ability to actually get a blue collar or white collar job was almost impossible because there was no high school to get a diploma. And so this was one of the things that sparked the migration from the South to the North, because parents were like, Oh my God, I have nowhere to send my child to. But then also you have tales like my grandfather’s in which they were like, you know, after eighth grade there was nowhere to go. And so we just got on a train and went North to live with the relatives. There’s all this family separation that was happening. A lot of Black colleges ended up building high school diploma programs, et cetera.
So that’s sort of the other piece of it is just, I think school districts reconciling how they denied access to education for Black people through Brown v Board of Education, before the passing of Brown v Board of Education, and then exactly, sort of, how they can figure out a way to assist either the actual victims, like in Prince Edward, or the descendants of those victims.
And one of the things that I kind of parse out my story is just, I mean, where Prince Edward fell short is that the actually did not fix the system as it is. And so actually meeting their constitutional obligations to provide Black students with an adequate, or I think, Virginia’s constitution says “quality education,” Virginia still has failed to do that. Funding is still inequitable and then tearing down some of the, some of the taxation structures that overtax Black people and led to the underfunding of Black schools. That’s still in existence. So actually tearing down these structures would actually be a form of reparations.
Amy H-L: [00:13:28] What do you mean by overtaxing Black people and then underfunding the schools? How does that work?
Historically, one of the reasons why politicians did not want to build schools for Black students or were building subpar schools for Black students is because they wanted to keep tax rates low. And one of the ways that White politicians were getting elected was they could sell the concept of keeping tax rates low.
And so one of the things that they did was, I mean, this is pretty well documented in the “Color of Law” book where they went around and they basically over-assessed Black homes. And so you basically, if you lived in a Black neighborhood, your tax rate would be 40 to 60% higher than it would be in a White neighborhood. And this was happening rampantly across the country. Black folks call it the ghetto tax. You know, you just know living in a Black neighborhood that your taxes are just extremely high. Well, there’s reason behind that. It’s because White politicians have conspired to keep the tax rates of their base very low. And so the continuation of that, or what I’ve written about in recent years, is just the fact that because Black residents still live in these segregated neighborhoods, you have to, it’s almost like squeezing a lemon. It’s like trying to figure out exactly how to provide enough funding from the property tax, from the property there, to get enough funding to the school districts.
And so you have school boards across the country who are still over-assessing Black homes or instituting extremely high tax rates in Black neighborhoods. And despite that, you still have underfunded schools. And that has, I mean, I don’t want to get into the complications of school funding, but that has a lot to do with the fact that the ways that districts are drawn concentrate Black poverty, the fact that the states have not kept up their end of the deal of funding schools adequately.,The fact that we’re still so reliant on property taxes as a way to fund schools, et cetera. So again, there’s a lot of history behind it, but I think what would shock people is that a lot of these practices are still going on today.
So we often talk about how segregated housing promotes segregated schools, but you’re talking about a much more direct involvement of school boards or school systems with housing. That’s what I think needs to be addressed more directly. Oftentimes I think people in the K-12 industry feel as if well, segregated schools are just a symptom of segregated housing, but segregated housing became segregated for a plethora of reasons, for like a constellation of policies. But school boards were very much involved in these actions. I mean, I’ve just explained the taxation concept, but when Black families moved into white neighborhoods, school boards said, okay, well, we cannot, we can no longer provide your child transportation because that child is Black.School districts built schools in the middle of Black neighborhoods, in an effort to disallow integration of schools. Obviously, this is still going on today [inaudible]. Just the fact that homes are assessed based off of the quality of the schools, so there was a lot of work between mayors, city councils, etc, and school boards to figure out a way to basically draw district lines around areas that would not allow for Black students to attend or to keep the so “quality” of the school high. So yes, there was a lot of just, I think there were a lot of actions from school boards when it comes to keeping neighborhoods segregated.
Does the Black Lives Matter movement open the door to a movement for educational equity?
Daarel B: [00:17:34] I think that I think that the Black lLives Matter movement has awakened a lot of people in America to America’s racist past and our present. One of the things that I think is really destructive in schools today is the fact that teachers still believe that Black students are genetically inferior to White students. You know, Education Week has done surveys about this, there have been studies on this, et cetera. And so I think that a lot of the teachers and superintendents are now saying yes, Black lives matter. But the idea which was really rampant during integration, schools were still segregated, et cetera, that we don’t need to provide Black kids with a quality education, with quality teachers, with quality curriculum, because genetically they’re not capable of doing the sort of work that White students are doing, or they’re incapable of learning. I think that that is such a destructive concept that is still with us today. And so, there are a lot of Black educators uut there, there are a lot of White educators out there, who are leading the cause of Black Lives Matter, and having these really crucial conversations in the classroom, et cetera, you know, wanting to institute the 1619 project in their curriculum. But if they are actually placing schools in that history, I think oftentimes we kind of treat segregation, we treat Brown v Board sort of like. BC, before Christ and after Christ, you know. Things were awful before schools are integrated and now they’re, they’re all good after they’ve integrated. So there’s this long history of Black people seeking a quality education and in many instances are still seeking a quality education. So I think just trying to better understand the continuum of the history, I think where K-12 struggles.
Jon M: [00:19:28] Following up on what you said, I think the Education Week survey in 2019 found that over 40% of teachers that they surveyed said that genetics played at least some role in why White students have better educational outcomes than Black students. So how do we change this? What are some of the things that can be done to take that specific statistic and just change the situation?
Daarel B: [00:19:56] One of the most influential organization within K-12 policy is the American Enterprise Institute, and who works at the American Enterprise Institute, but Charles Murray, he’s still employed there today and he’s still writing books. He just came out with a book in February that basically re-promoted his bell curve idea, which is what actually made this idea even more rampant than it was, you know, before it came out in 1998. So the bell curve is something that was so influential in K-12 discussions, this question, that maybe we should just put this idea out there that Black people are genetically inferior. It’s still being actively promoted by a very large think tank. So I’m not necessarily saying we need to censor him, but this is what I’m saying about reconciliation. We need to confront our racist past and better understand how we developed these ideas. And there was a whole, there’s a reason why polititions promoted this idea that Black people are genetically inferior. It’s to keep us enslaved, to keep Jim Crow, and empower… It was to explain away the reason why Black people were poor, et cetera. And so I think once people understand the history behind this racist idea and then understand the more contemporary destruction of this racist idea. I mean, the fact that Black kids are being placed in front of curriculum that is subpar because teachers have lower expectations of their capabilities. This is something that’s well documented. We know this is the case. I mean, Virginia got a lot of heat for the fact that they set lower standards for their Black students in the state. They told districts if your test scores for Black students are lower, then that’s okay at the State. So you just have to understand sort of the destructive nature of this idea and how it is sort of infused itself in our policy, in a classroom practices and our culture, et cetera.
Jon M: [00:22:00] I think it’s, it’s interesting because that, as a parallel goes back to like the Coleman report in the sixties, which, you know, says it’s Black families that are the problem, so that you often run into teachers who say, well, we’re doing everything we can possibly do, but what can you expect? So that in, in both situations, it’s sort of saying, well, we have nothing to do with this. It’s some kind of external problem, whether it’s genetic or family structures or whatever.
Daarel B: [00:22:30] Yeah, the next story in that publication, if you turn the page, is by my colleague, Debbie, who had a scholar review her work in the late nineties. And the scholar pointed out that even Education Week thought that the problem was Black culture. It had nothing to do with the policy. And it’s sort of like this idea that even, uh, a trade publication, in which all we write about is how the institution of education can improve itself, that we thought at that time that the problem was Black families, not the institution. My beat is school funding. The first couple of stories that I wrote, which I think in any other industry would kind of be ludicrous, are stories disputing the Coleman report. That Coleman report, one of the things that it allowed for was people to think that money does not matter in K-12. So because of this, you have 50 years of defunding schools because politicians have repeatedly said, we can raise your taxes, but it’s not really going to make a difference between academics, but all this research has now been disputed, I shouldn’t even say disputed. It’s been dismissed outright. Not true. But there’s an idea in K-12, unlike most industries, that money does not matter.
And so again, how these ideas germinate and how they just become so natural that we just assume this has nothing to do with the school system at large, it has everything to do with Black families. Right.
Amy H-L: [00:24:08] And I guess we’ve more recently seen supposed evidence that Black and Brown families don’t care about education, right. It’s not a priority for them.
Daarel B: [00:24:19] That’s why I led my story with this idea that Black people actually established public schools in the South. It was their political demand. It wasn’t White people’s political demand. It was Black people’s political demand. So you have this history of Black people striving to get an education.
We just had a scholar present to Education Week, and his presentation was all about how like we built schools all through the 1900s, the 1970s, and they would be repeatedly burned down. And Black people would raise the funds. They were called Rosenwald days in which they would go out and they would raise the money to build another school. They would construct the school again, and it would be burned down by the KKK. So you have all this evidence, it’s historical evidence of Black people, Black families actually wanting an education, knowing that that is the path to freedom, to wealth, to respect, and that being denied by local state and federal politicians. Our history is just warped.
Jon M: [00:25:14] And a lot of that was in Reconstruction as well. That was one of the major times that Black schools were burned down.
Daarel B: [00:25:23] Yeah. So he has a report coming out in the Civil War Journal about the Reconstruction era, but then he’s done research that brings that forward all the way through the 1960s, that schools were repeatedly, I mean, Rosenwald, you read books on Rosenwald Schools. A lot of those schools were burned down the 1920s, 30s, 40s. My parents are Black college administrators and their Black colleges are rife with stories about buildings on their campus as being burned, because they were seen as a threat to the local economy, that once Black people got degrees, once they got their diplomas, they would now compete for the jobs. And so you just burn the institution down. That was literally happening all throughout the 20th century.
Amy H-L: [00:26:05] You’ve written the children of Black military families do significantly better academically on average than their Black peers and almost as well as their white peers. Why do you think this is?
Daarel B: [00:26:19] This is my essay that I wrote about two years ago on Black military families. And it was just like a little known research fact that despite the fact that children of Black military families move on average, I think, nine times between the ages of five and 18, they actually outperform Black and white students who never move. So I think, you know, the premise that I have there, and again, I’m not a researcher, but I talked to a lot of. military families, and I was a military brat. I talked to a couple of researchers who have been looking into this issue and the data’s still emerging, but I think there are a couple of things that are happening.
I think the biggest thing is that the military in general has a lot of political power that Black families just traditionally don’t have. And so when you have a military base in town, that military base basically pumps a lot of money into the local school district and they go and tell the school board, “you’ve got to do better, what you guys are doing right now is not enough.” And then beyond that, they say “what you’re doing right now for White and Black students, it’s not enough.” When, as I described before, Virginia having lower standards for Black families than for White families, that’s not happening in school districts that are around military bases.
Because again, this is like my working theory, but I also think that Black students who move frequently are not caught up in tracking, which is something that’s really rampant. And a lot of majority Black school districts in which teacher says, well, this student has, you know, EBD. I mean, I had several teachers who have told me that I had EBD, but by the time that they actually were able to like… EBD, emotional behavior disturbance. They would say, well, this kid is acting out in class because of a medical condition. And by the time that the teacher could get a doctor to diagnose and write an IEP plan, the kid is up and moved, so you’re in a new school. And so it’s almost like, I think I described it in that essay as sort of like dodging a lot of the discrimination that goes on in schools. And I think that a lot of the racism that goes on in schools, it takes years to kind of compile itself. So by the time that the child is in middle school or high school, it’s so dramatic that, you know, families sort sorta like cave under the pressure, but Black families are moving so frequently and the expectations of their students are equal across the board that I think that what you’re seeing is this sort of outperformance where on military bases, at Department of Defense schools, you almost see very little of what we call the achievement gap. Black and white students perform just as well.
Jon M: [00:29:00] Could you give some example where the command in military basis has successfully intervene to improve the schools serving military children?
Daarel B: [00:29:12] Yeah. So for that story I actually talked to a district in Missouri , and I’ve written about districts since then, but the one in Missouri, it was a rural school district. I think they built a base there in the 1970s that was going to fly planes. So all of a sudden you have this rural, mostly White district, and now all of a sudden you have all these Black and Latino kids that are coming into the district and the district was not a high, high flying performer at all, but the military, once a military base is built, there’s all this grant money that comes with it. And the military general sometimes sits, actually in that district, the military actually had designee on the school board. And then the superintendent built this relationship with the military base to understand when a new troop was going to come into town, when a new troop was going to be deported, et cetera, then the district actually set up all these wraparound services. So they kind of went above and beyond to deal with mobility more then traditional school districts do. So they had counselors, they had all this testing to figure out where students belonged, if they needed it to be an AP class or if they had special needs, et cetera.
And so you have like this infrastructure to deal with. A heavily mobile student population. And then you also had all this grant money from the military that encouraged teacher quality teacher stability, et cetera, that you don’t see in a lot of other rural districts. And then more recently, I’ve kind of went to see the opposite effect in which in Montgomery, Alabama, the local district is not that good, and Alabama has not, that the district has not, responded to the military’s encouragement to improve the school strict, and now the military base has threatened leave. And I kind of saw in real time,the scrambling that was going on between state and local politicians to basically please the military, because the military brings so much money to the local economy, because it’s such an economic boon for the town.
So again, I just think that there just, it’s twofold. You know, there’s all this work that goes on within the school system, and then there’s all this politics that goes on outside of the school system, both which result in this kind of weird quirk in outcomes, academic outcomes.
Jon M: [00:31:34] You know, it’s interesting when you’re talking about specific steps around mobility. So many of the things that you’re talking about would be really important to do with just the mobility that happens in urban situations generally and most specifically right now with students who are homeless. That, you know, the circumstances are somewhat different, but the basic fact of mobility and adapting schools to that would seem to me, so it could benefit a great deal from looking at that experience.
Daarel B: [00:32:03] Yeah, there’s there’s actually, and again, like, I think I was kind of surprised as to how much progress has been made in the military community and actually documenting some of the work that they do because in the past it was sort of like, it was just like a one off and the military was not very good at basically trying to isolate the work that they were doing in schools and then replicate that across other school districts. So that is happening a lot more now in the military community. Thanks to, you know, a lot of funding that’s happened at the federal level, but then also there’s a lot more sharing between homeless, foster and low income school districts and military school districts to better handle mobility. But a lot of it boils down to funding, which I think is something that a lot of districts struggle with. It costs money to hire more counselors. It cost money to pay teachers to deal with such high mobility, to keep a stable teaching force, et cetera. So, yes, I do think a lot of these things could be easily replicated, but the data and the anecdotes are far and few in between.
So it just needs a lot more research and focus.
Amy H-L: [00:33:17] Daarel, is there some spillover effect on Black families, Black civilian families? Do those children also benefit from the military having being there?
Daarel B: [00:33:30] That’s a really good question. I don’t know. I mean, one of the things that I was like really surprised that after my story was published was I got so many inquiries from all these researchers who were like, we also think this is so odd and we’ve been trying to study this for years, but I think the way the military categorizes race is not, they just started categorizing race, and there’s no identifier for military kids within districts. So it’s hard to actually tell. I’m getting way into the weeds here. It’s hard to tell. It’s hard to tell exactly who is a military student and who is a civilian student in these districts basically. And so researchers have been, I used to word stumped and that strikes me as true. They’ve been stumped as to why you see these scores.
I mean, so I wrote that story in 2018, in 2019. When I was writing the story, the military was not very cooperative. DODS was not very cooperative with that story, but in 2019 DODS realized, you know, DODS is under a lot of defunding threats. The Trump administration and the Obama administration had been trying to defend a lot of DOD schools. And so they have now taken on this mantra of, “We figured out the answer to closing the achievement gap.” And so last year when their NAEP scores came out, [inaudible] DOD schools were the highest performing schools in the country. And there was almost no achievement gap between Black and white students. So in other words, Black students in military families are some of the highest performing students in the country. So I do think that there’s a lot of research. There’s a lot of eyes on this. The federal government just gave a huge grant to a district outside of Tacoma, district I actually attended to actually study this effect. So I think in the coming years, there will be a lot more out of this, but you’re right. A lot of questions. What happens to the Black civilian families that are in this neighborhood? Um, so yes.
Jon M: [00:35:25] You said that integration has blinded us to the other ways schools have harmed Black kids and that integration, you mentioned Brown versus Board, is treated as the end of the story without attention to what happens after integration. Could you talk a little bit more about that?
Daarel B: [00:35:42] I think, because busing was so politically chaotic and so traumatizing. I mean, I’ve seen my father cry twice my entire life. Once when my dog died. And then the second time was when we were doing a tour of Little Rock Museum. And I just never knew that, you know, from my parents’ generation, like integration was such a traumatizing experience, that you have these politicians accusing Black high school students of wanting to rape White women and all this like really nasty [inaudible] language and people were being upended and communities were being upended, et cetera. And so I think a lot of Black history is focused on the integration wars. And I don’t doubt that that was a very pivotal moment to education politics, a pivotal moment to Black education, Black access to opportunity. I point out in the story after Brown v Board, the Black high school graduation rate climbed by 40%. The Black middle class doubled in size. It was a, monumental feat, but you have to remember.That the people who filed the lawsuit for Brown v Board, one of them being in Prince Edward County, it was a student at Prince Edward County. What they were asking for was better quality schools. They were not asking necessarily for integrated schools. They were asking for quality schools. And you had the fallout from Brown v Board in which oftentimes schools were resegregated. In some instances, many instances actually, I mentioned this in the story.
One of the things that I feel as if school districts need to repair the harm done was there were Black teachers who were fired en mass. My grandmother was a principal of a middle school and she lost her job when the schools were integrated because they didn’t want white teachers and principals to lose their jobs. So you have this devastating economic act from school districts in which they’re laying Black people off, you know, left and right.
And then you had the discipline. I mean in the 1970s, 1980s, districts instituted some of the harshest discipline practices, you know, that we have, and we’re still living with the effects of that. You know, the fact that teachers just automatically think that Black students are a discipline problem, they call the police, et cetera. I think that that has sort of like had like this reverberating effect in which now you see like these Black kids who are being suspended and expelled at disproportionate rates, you have these videos of kids being beaten up by cops in schools, et cetera. So, you know, you just have this continuation, right.
And again, I also think that our hyperfocus on integration disallows us to understand the efforts that were happening before Brown v Board within Black communities. Such as the Rosenwald schools, such as Freedmen schools, such as the fact that Black people, you know, established public schools in the South. All of this history is long forgotten because we are hyperfocused on Brown v Board.
And I do think that the most detrimental act of school districts is just this inability or unwillingness to build high schools for Black students.
Jon M: [00:38:48] Could you briefly describe what both the Rosenwald and the Freedmen schools were?
Daarel B: [00:38:53] Yeah, I think this is like one of the more fascinating aspects. It’s inspiring. I think it’s somewhat of a somewhat criminal, but it’s also like just really fascinating. So in the, I think it started in the 1920s, after the Freedmen schools were closed, 1910, 1920s. There were Black communities that said, “We want to build a school. We want access to education.” And a lot of that came from the fact that they, you know, a lot of these families were sharecroppers and they couldn’t read their contracts or labor contracts, labor contract agreements. And so there was like this want and need for an education. And so they started building these schools. And there was a philanthropist, a Jewish philanthropist in Springfield, Illinois, jJulius Rosenwald. I think he made his money through Sears Robuck, but actually he’s from somewhere in Europe, his family’s from somewhere in Europe. And I think as a kid, he had seen a lot of the riots in which Jews were persecuted in Europe. And when he came to America, he was just so kind of awestruck by how the Jim Crow system had denied Black people rights to all these things.
He became really good friends with Booker T. Washington. And they basically came up with this fund in which they would basically provide startup money for Black communities to build schools. And so you have this thing in which black families were kind of passing the hat around raising money for schools. Sometimes the school board would kick in money and then Rosenwald would kick in money and then they would build these schools. If you see one of these schools, it’s really fascinating because these schools are actually, oftentimes they were, the Black families would use the Sears catalog to order construction equipment. And so these are some of the most stable facilities in the South. A lot of rural schools ended up replicating–White and Black–replicating the designs of these schools. They had big windows to bring in light because oftentimes there wasn’t electricity. They had big rooms, et cetera. And so there’s an effort now to turn these schools into a national park, which is kind of how I came across this story.
I think that it’s one of those things. I mean, there’s a lot commonality between Jewish American history and Black history. And there’s a similar story in Black colleges where a lot of professors, a lot of immigrants from Europe after World War II, ended up working at Black colleges and similar instances where they would be working in these small towns in the South and say, “Oh my God, Jim Crow looks so, so familiar to me and we need to record this history and fight back” sort of thing. And so. I find it to be just one of the more, you know, hidden truths of Black history. Then also, you know, I kind of hinted at the fact that there was little, yeah, a bit of a criminality in it, in the sense that, you know, Blacks were being double taxed. They were raising money for schools. They were being taxed for schools that their kids couldn’t attend. Then they were actually building the schools and then once the school was built iand the school district would say, “Good thing. Okay. Thank you for that property. That now belongs to us.” So, um, yeah, it’s fascinating history.
Jon M: [00:42:01] An interesting sidelight on Sears is that I understand that a lot of Black families also ordered things from Sears, especially when they couldn’t get served at local stores, especially in the South.
But you mentioned, of course, the Freedmen schools, and these were the schools that were set up during Reconstruction. And were they funded by the government or through groups like the Quakers or self-funded by Black communities?
Daarel B: [00:42:30] I think my understanding of Freedmen schools is that I think it was like half funded by the federal government and then the states were supposed to pay for much of the rest. But yeah, the Freedmen schools across the South were, it’s another fascinating story. I mean, why would Black people, why would of all the political demands you can make after being enslaved for 200 years? Why would you ask for schools? And I think the history behind that is really fascinating in the sense that because literacy became the opposite of slavery because slave masters thought that literate slaves were more likely than illiterate slaves to organize and get up and leave or organize slave rebellions. And so you have states across the South that basically illegalized or outlawed literacy. So I mentioned in my story here on reparations the fact that in Virginia, if you were caught assembling to learn, to read and write, the police would come in whip you 22 times with the lash and they would jail your teacher and fine them a hundred dollars, this sort of thing.
And so in the formerly enslaved mind, literacy was something that you need to strive for, and voting. The two things that would allow for what they would call wealth and respect. So these Freedmen schools were built. Black people demanded that states set up a public school system. The Freedman schools were built all across the South. And one by one, I mean, the scholar that just presented to us today, I think he had counted hundreds of schools in the South that were just burned down by KKK, by White Citizens, etc. And school boards, local officials stood by and watched. And I think I of it sort of like the other crime in the fact that the States promised a free quality education, and then when it was denied, they didn’t do anything to protect Black citizens.
Amy H-L: [00:44:30] Daarel, why is a more complete understanding of history so essential, both to ethical allocation of education resources and to ethical treatment of Black and Brown students?
Daarel B: [00:44:48] You can’t talk about policy in a vacuum. So all has origin. There’s a reason why we do the things that we do.There’s a reason why people act the way they act. And I think in order to deconstruct a lot of the inequities that we have in our school system today, we have to understand its origin. And Black history is so much a part of American history. It’s so much a part of. I guess I pointed out, you know, Black people established a public school system in the South. So much of Back history has constructed the ways that our economy works today that it’s hard. You can’t disentangle the two things.
And so as a school funding reporter, I’m constantly writing about taxation, about revenue. This Coronavirus has caused all these schools that happen to be Black and Latino to lose a ton of money, and White schools are gaining. Not only is their budget stable, but in some instances it’s increasing. And why is that? That’s because we have the system that is inequitable. Why is a system inequitable? It’s because we set it up, we set up this racist system to deny Black families access to quality education. So understanding its origins and trying to attempt to deconstruct it. And that’s why I call Prince Edward’s efforts just abbreviated, because they only went like 25 to 30% of the way of understanding, of actually repairing the harm done. They actually did not fix the policies that were instituted to keep Black families from getting all the education.
Amy H-L: [00:46:31] Thank you so much, Daarel Burnette of Education Week.
Daarel B: [00:46:35] Thank you guys. I really appreciate this.
Jon M: [00:46:37] And thank you listeners. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend or colleague. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and give us a rating or review. This helps other people to find the show. Check out our website, ethiclschools.org, for more episodes and articles, and subscribe to our monthly emails. We post annotated transcripts of our interviews to make them easy to use in workshops and classes. And we work with consultants to offer customized social, emotional learning with a focus on ethics for schools and youth programs in the New York City area. Contact us at email@example.com. We’re on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @ethicalschools. Our editor and social media manager is Amanda Denti. Till next week.