Education Reform and the New Jim Crow

Is education reform the next phase of the New Jim Crow? ( Read Michelle Alexander’s Book)

Here are some of the Jim Crow-ish characteristics of education reform:


  • Increased segregation. Almost universally, charter schools are more segregated than their public counterparts.  Most of the new charters in New York City are over 95% students of color and programs designed to integrate students ( like magnet schools/ busing etc.) are no longer part of the conversation.

The big one…

  •  Zero tolerance, military style discipline reminiscent of racially coded “law and order” and tough on crime rhetoric and policies of the 70s,80s,90s. It is so extreme that to outside observers many new charter and public schools actually feel like prisons.

Think schools full of black and brown children who are not allowed to speak during lunch, who are compelled to wear identical polo shirts and khakis, who have to sit with their hands clasped and whose “learning” consists of echoing chants and bubbling in practice sheets. These approaches have been seeping from charters into public schools, resulting in a an education system that disproportionately silences, regulates, suspends and expels students of color.

Meanwhile white elites continue to send their children to progressive private schools or wealthy public schools with the wherewithal to organize opt out movements and after school arts programs, and largely white politicians, corporate consultants, investors and publishing companies continue to reap all the benefits of the reform movement.

Children don’t need zero tolerance policies and enforced silence- they need caring, empowered teachers and even more important, they need services. Their families need housing, stability, food, health care and employment. Instead, in the name of “closing the achievement gap”, students of color are being systematically dehumanized, segregated and disenfranchised by education reformers while fewer and fewer services are available to their families.

And finally…

  •  Reform shifts the emphasis in education away from citizenship and toward the creation of obedient, debt saddled corporate cogs.  Remember when we used to want to teach children how to think?  Now we are preaching college and career readiness to a population for whom college means hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt while we champion the students who are good at taking tests and obeying orders.

Yes there are exceptions, but painting with a broad brush, education reform seems yet another way to control communities of color with the convenient bonus of making a bunch of CEOs and politicians richer in the process. The New Jim Crow phase two.