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Educational policy analysis archives
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Educational policy analysis archives.
n Vol. 7, no. 16 (April 26, 1999).
Tempe, Ariz. :
b Arizona State University ;
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida.
c April 26, 1999
Race and policy / Ernest R. House.
x Research
v Periodicals.
2 710
Arizona State University.
University of South Florida.
1 773
t Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA)
4 856


1 of 15 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 7 Number 16April 26, 1999ISSN 1068-2341 A peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal Editor: Gene V Glass, College of Education Arizona State University Copyright 1999, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES. Permission is hereby granted to copy any article if EPAA is credited and copies are not sold. Articles appearing in EPAA are abstracted in the Current Index to Journals in Education by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation and are permanently archived in Resources in Education Race and Policy Ernest R. House University of ColoradoAbstract Beliefs about race have played a central role in Am erican history, literature, and education. Racial beliefs are embed ded in the national identity in complex and disguised ways. These belie fs attribute presumed character traits to African Americans and other min orities, who are thought of as different in character and ability, e specially the ability to govern themselves. These beliefs lead to education policies which separate, differentiate, and mandate different curr icula and treatment for minorities, policies justified as being fair and de mocratic. These beliefs influence not only curriculum content, but how the schools are organized, financed, and administered at a deeper l evel than is commonly understood. In his portrayal of the stark inequalitie s among American schools, Kozol (1991) reported a discussion of race and inequality with w hite teenagers in a wealthy New York suburb. These teenagers expressed three main belief s. First, fiscal inequalities among schools don't really matter that much, although los s of funds from their own school to equalize resources with poor schools would be damag ing. Second, any form of racial integration would be met by strong resistance in th eir community, especially by their parents, partly for fear education standards might decline. Third, achieving equity in funding would not make much difference since poor, minority children would fail


2 of 15anyhow. They lack motivation, parental guidance, an d a good environment. At this point in the discussion a frustrated boy exclaimed, "When people talk this way ... they're saying that black kids will never learn.... So what it means is—you are writing people off" (Kozol, 1991, p. 130). These beliefs are a pro duct of racism in American society and a major reason it continues. How is it that the se students come to hold such beliefs and what difference does it make for education? For a long time, I have been puzzled by t he connection between race and education policy. Despite attempts to ameliorate ra cism and raise the school performance of minorities, improvements have been m odest. Why does racism persist? How do race and policy affect each other? I want to offer a tentative explanation of this connection. First, Americans hold deep-seated belie fs about democracy, equality, and fairness. These beliefs are sincere, I believe. Sec ond, America is a deeply racist country in a particular way. Although many countries harbor racist beliefs, those in America are peculiar in some respects. Third, most "white" Amer icans don't fully comprehend that their country is racist, nor the extent of that rac ism, nor how that racism is embedded. These beliefs result in seemingly contrad ictory policies. Given these beliefs, I would expect that policies with racial import will often be invisible or disguised as nonracial. That is, the intents and consequences of some policies will be taken to be something other than what they are, even to those w ho espouse them. This disguise enables the policies to seem fair and democratic, e ven when the policies have racial overtones. For example, the sociologist William Jul ius Wilson (1987) contends that Americans will not support policies that are believ ed to benefit minorities primarily. They will support social security since that is see n as benefiting all Americans, including minorities. But they will not support welfare progr ams, which are perceived as helping mainly minorities. I have a corollary to Wilson's thesis. Am ericans will support policies that are harmful to minorities that they would not tolerate if those same policies were applied to majority populations. In education, for example, Am ericans are strongly in favor of retention—retaining students at the same grade leve l for another year—even though the research evidence overwhelmingly shows strong negat ive effects on the students retained. Retention programs are applied massively to minorities in large cities, but not to majority populations. Yet retention does not app ear on the surface to have racial implications. Other education policies that appear to have little to do with race also severely disadvantage minorities, including how sch ools are financed, how schools are organized, how standardized tests are used, and how students are grouped. In other words, we have organized ourselves educationally in ways to disadvantage minorities, even while maintaining appearances of equality in s uch matters. No other developed countries have organized their educational systems in this fashion. I would call our system one of institutio nal racism, racism not recognized by those participating in it because the way the institution s function seems normal to those growing up in them. Individuals need have no hostil e racist thoughts, only adherence to the system as it exists. I would not say that the w ay we have organized ourselves educationally is determined solely by racial concer ns, only that such concerns are one powerful causal factor. Other economic and social f actors also have had strong effects. Now these are strong claims, outrageous claims, som e will say. How can they be substantiated? No single attempt of this length cou ld conceivably deal definitively with the problem of American racism. In what remains of this attempt, I would like to explore explanations as to how racism affects education pol icy: first, how race has been constructed and used in America historically; secon d, how race is embedded in American identity; and, third, how these beliefs pl ay out in education policies.


3 of 15Our National Identity Reluctantly, I have come to believe racis m is deeply embedded within the national identity itself, built into the American character by history and experience. Jacobson (1998) traced in detail how the concepts of "race" and "whiteness" have been socially constructed and employed in the US. In his history of the concept of "whiteness" he showed how immigrants were assimilated through rede finitions of what "whiteness" meant. What were seen as separate "races" of people gradually came to be socially constructed as "white ethnics," but not without str uggle. Early colonial Americans defined themselv es as "white" and "free" in contrast to those who were not, especially slaves and Native Am ericans. As early settlers escaped the class systems of Europe, they redefined themsel ves along racial lines, yet another hierarchy of human worth. The first colonists were mostly English, and they held strong beliefs of Anglo-Saxon racial superiority, beliefs that the English displayed throughout their world colonies. The notion of different "races" with diff erent characteristics embedded in nature presumed many such "races"—Celts, Teutons, Poles, S wedes, Hebrews, Turks, and so on. Race was assumed to be hereditary, fixed, and c losely associated with character traits. Knowing people's race was a shorthand way o f knowing about their character. Race was also connected to one particular ly important attribute: The Anglo-Saxons saw themselves as uniquely equipped to govern by reason of their natural superiority, whereas other races were less well end owed. The idea that the ability to govern endowed its possessors with rights over othe rs had a home in the British upper classes, and this idea was generalized to foreign p opulations that the English contrasted with themselves, especially those colonized. Racism so conceived was "a theory of who is who, of who belongs and who does not, of who des erves what and who is capable of what" (Jacobson, 1998, p. 6). Belief in their natural, God-given abilit y to govern became a primary justification for appropriating land and resources that others co uld not manage properly, i.e., to take land and resources away from others so the resource s could be used productively. For the British these others included colonial peoples all over the world. For Americans these others included African Americans, Native Ame ricans, Mexicans, and Filipinos, all of whom possessed contested property at one tim e or another. In the beginning, being white meant being Anglo-Saxon. All others were of different races. Founders of the nation (southern g entlemen planters) wrote restrictions on these others into law, including their rights to hold property, become citizens, enter the country, and even be owned by whites. Race was closely associated in the courts with property rights. The very idea of "providing f or the common defense" in a country of slaves and frontier settlements was racially imb ued. The 1790 naturalization law was fiercely exclusionary, and the early statutes suggested that "whiteness" was the criterion for fu ll citizenship. Soon, this belief was challenged by the arrival of assorted immigrants. T he need for cheap labor for settlement and economic development opened up immigration to a ll kinds of "races." Large numbers of immigrants arrived, such as the Germans and Irish. These people were seen as different races ("Teutons" and "Celts") with the ir distinct physical features signifying different character traits. The Irish were seen as a physically dark race which was certainly not up to selfgovernance (as in coloniz ed Ireland). Their assimilation was problematic. Over decades each new immigrant group struggled to be defined in the "white" mainstream, and for what that portended for social and economic advantage.


4 of 15Eventually, most groups were redefined as "white et hnics" who were different in "culture" but not necessarily race. In other words, their ethnicity was derived from their culture and might be remedial, as opposed to their "race," which was not. Just as the research of earlier times buttressed theories of "r ace" so too did later research support theories of "ethnicity" when their time came. Howev er, the assimilation of the "ethnics" (episodes portrayed as American success stories) de epened the chasm between those "white" and those not. If Jews, Syrians, and Turks were "white," where did this leave African Americans? In fact, the reason all these immigrants were considered white ultimately was that they were contrasted to African Americans, who were never considered white. The immigrants gained whiteness by African Americans be ing excluded. And it was to the advantage of immigrants to adopt beliefs and positi ons which were overtly racist in order to contrast themselves to African Americans. Hence, the racist dichotomy enabled the ethnics to become "Americanized" at the cost an d through the exclusion of others. What was conceived literally as many separate races early in American history was reduced to a white-black dichotomy in the 20th cent ury, complicated by a large influx of Latinos. Hence, in a sense the "white"—African Ame rican racial relationship is at the center of American national identity, though it is not recognized as such. Public policy swirls around it much of the time, even when its in fluence is not recognized explicitly. Typically, African Americans are portrayed as an un fortunate group which just happens to be marginal, a minority which has never quite ma de it for a number of reasons, (again) having to do with their character traits, e .g., lack of skills, lack of self-discipline, impoverished culture, low natural intelligence—and most certainly lack of ability to govern themselves. In a sense African Americans were never m arginal. They have been central to the formation of the American national identity in that they provided a primary touchstone against which "whites" defined themselves, though o ther "uncivilized" peoples such as Native Americans also played such a role. "Racism n ow appears not anomalous to the working of American democracy but fundamental to it (Jacobson, 1998, p. 12).The Formative Process The nature of this complex relationship i s difficult to untangle by those shaped by it, just as it is difficult for males to understand how they construct their own identities by defining females in certain ways. A glimpse into th e complexities of national identity is provided by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison's examinat ion of the national literature. In Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Ima gination (1992), Morrison noted that it is often the literary image that is n ot presented or which is presented obliquely that reveals distorted and repressed thou ghts and feelings about race. Race has become metaphorical—a way of referring to and disguising forces, events, classes, and expressions of social decay an d economic division far more threatening to the body politic than biologica l race ever was .... It seems that it has a utility far beyond economy, bey ond the sequestering of classes from one another, and has assumed a metapho rical life so completely embedded in daily discourse that it is p erhaps more necessary and more on display than ever before.... I remain c onvinced that the metaphorical and metaphysical uses of race occupy d efinitive places in American literature, in the "national character"... (Morrison, 1992, p.


5 of 1563-64). How is it possible that Americans could h arbor and repress racial images, disguising them even to themselves? The early colon ists located themselves in a vast continent far from European civilization, besieged by what they saw as threatening Nature and savage forces. Escape from the past was one goal, freedom another. In this environment unfree slaves served as surrogate selves for the colonists' literary meditations on human freedom, their terror of being European outcasts, their dread of failure, their fears of powerlessness, of nature without limits, of loneliness, and of internal aggression. "What arose out of collecti ve needs to allay fears and to rationalize external exploitation was an American A fricanism—a fabricated brew of darkness, otherness, alarm, and desire that is uniq uely American" (Morrison, 1992, p. 38). Nothing highlighted freedom like slavery. The explicit focus of much early American literature was the "architecture of the new white man" (Morrison, 1992, p. 15), the deliber ate construction of the new American. This new image was created by finding dif ferences with Europeans, as Emerson did, but also in contradistinction to those closer—slaves, Native Americans, and Latinos. The flight from the Old World to the N ew World was a flight from oppression and limitation to freedom and responsibi lity, but in a peculiar way. Morrison illustrates this developing nati onal identity in the character of an early planter slave-owner (taken from Bernard Bailyn's (1 986) Voyagers to the West an investigation of settlers becoming Americans). Will iam Dunbar was a young Scottish aristocrat educated by tutors and in math, astronom y, and belle-lettres at the University of Aberdeen. He became a London intellectual, an ex emplar of Enlightenment thinking. But after moving to the New World he suppressed a s lave conspiracy on his Mississippi plantation in 1776. He was astounded at his slaves' ingratitude after he had treated them so well, and he administered two runaways 500 lashe s on five separate occasions. Morrison cites Bailyn's assessment of Dunbar's char acter transformation: "...feeling a sense of authority and autonomy he had not known be fore, a force that flowed from his absolute control over the lives of others, he emerg ed a distinctive new man, a borderland gentleman, a man of property in a raw, halfsavage world" (quoted in Morrison, p. 42). Morrison takes these traits as prototypical of the new white American male, traits valorized and inscribed as themes in our national l iterature. The sense of autonomy was transformed int o themes of American "individualism." Newness was transformed into Ameri can "innocence." Distinctiveness was transformed into "difference" and strategies fo r maintaining difference. Authority and absolute power over others were transformed int o a conquering romantic heroism and masculine virility—and also into the moral prob lematics of exercising such power over others. According to Morrison, the major chara cteristics of our national literature—individualism, masculinity, social engag ement versus historical isolation, acute moral problematics, and themes of innocence c oupled with figurations of death and hell are responses to an Africanist presence—gu ilt, violence, alienation, power, freedom. American coherence of identity was organiz ed in part through a distancing Africanism. Hence, race functioned as a metaphor for the construction of American identity. "Deep within the word 'American' is its association with race." (Morrison, 1992, p.47). "What was distinctive in the New was, first of all, its claim to freedom, and, second, the presence of the unfree in the heart of the democrat ic experiment...." (p. 48). The image of bound, suppressed, and repressed darkness became objectified as an Africanist persona. "Africanism is the vehicle by which the Am erican self knows itself as not


6 of 15enslaved, but free; not repulsive but desirable; no t helpless, but licensed and powerful; not historyless, but historical; not damned, but innocent; not a blind accident of evolution, but a progressive fulfillment of destiny (Morrison, 1992, p. 52). According to Morrison, racial themes are embodied throughout Ame rican literature, in spite of claims that American literature is raceless. In denying ra cism these matters were discussed in disguised ways. The consequence was a master narrat ive that spoke for Africans but not of them. One theme is the view of the Africanist ch aracter as enabler, somehow pulling free of claims of retribution, as in Huckleberry Finn. Another is how African American characters are used to limn out and enforce whitene ss and how they are used strategically to define the goals and qualities of whites, e.g., "to control projections of anarchy with the disciplinary apparatus of punishment and larges s." (p. 53). My suggestion that Africanism has come to have a me taphysical necessity should in no way be understood to imply that it has lost its ideological utility. There is still much ill-gotten gain to rea p from rationalizing power grabs and clutches with inferences of inferiority a nd the ranking of differences. There is still much national solace in continuing dreams of democratic egalitarianism available by hiding class conflict, rage, and impotence in figurations of race. Freedom (to move, to earn, to learn, to be allied with a powerful center, to narrate the world ) can be relished more deeply in a cheek-by-jowl existence with the bound and unfree, the economically oppressed, the marginalized, the silen ced. (Morrison, 1992, p. 63-64) Morrison notes that the presence of black people, along with gender and family, are inherent in the earliest lessons children are t aught regarding their distinctness. And that "It is no accident and no mistake that immigra nt populations (and much immigrant literature) understood their "Americaness" as an op position to the resident black population" (p. 47).Education Policy If such beliefs and images are built into the national identity, what ramifications would we expect them to have for educational policy ? Presumably policies would be based on maintaining separation, maintaining differ ences based on racist images of the Africanist persona's presumed character traits. Suc h policies would be consistent with race themes that reoccur in American history and li terature. The teenagers in the New York suburb beli eved that fiscal inequalities don't matter, that racial integration was hopeless since it would be resisted, and that equity would not help minority students since they are bey ond help. They lack motivation, parental care, and a healthy environment. They are throwaways, as the boy declared. The historical image of African Americans is recognizab le in the beliefs of these white teenagers. If such majority beliefs guide policies, what would the policies be like? First, the policies would keep African Americans separate and distinct from "white" Americans. Second, they would be based on the presumed charact er traits of African Americans, traits that differentiate them from whites; presuma bly, traits which mark them as inferior. Their education would be different from w hites in important ways because of these traits. Third, since they are not capable of self-governance they cannot be in control of their own education. Fourth, since Afric an Americans have limited potential,


7 of 15investment in their education should be modest: no need to over invest since what can emerge is limited. Fifth, such policies would attem pt to appear fair, to conform to the American Creed (e.g., Mrydal, 1964). In fact, these are the types of policies that have characterized the treatment of African Americans: exclusion, differentiated curric ula and treatment based on presumed inferior character traits, control by others, and m odest resource commitment, all justified as being fair. Similar policies have applied to oth er minorities as well—to Native Americans, Latinos, and others, though each group h as its own unique history and experience. I will illustrate these themes with thr ee examples (though the available examples are beyond cataloguing): the education of African Americans in the South after the Civl War, desegregation in Chicago in 196 7, and retention ("failing" grades) in Chicago in 1998.The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935 Anderson (1988) documented the history of black education in the South between 1860 and 1935. Contrary to popular belief, the ex-s laves were very keen on establishing an education for themselves and their children sinc e they saw education as the way to attain freedom and escape poverty. Once freed, they immediately set up schools for themselves. However, the southern planters, still i n control, resisted public education since it was a threat to their forced agricultural labor supply, which depended on child labor. Furthermore, educated African Americans were a threat to the myth of black inferiority since poor whites in the South had no p ublic education themselves. By contrast, northern industrialists saw basic educati on as aiding worker efficiency—provided it was focused on vocational tr aining, the only kind of work African Americans were capable of. While the ex-sla ves wanted teachers, managers, and businessmen trained academically to be leaders, the whites wanted vocational training for them. Hence, southern and northern whites suppo rted the Hampton Institute and Tuskegee model of training. Both the control and go als of African American education were imposed by whites. Hampton Institute trained t eachers, but the curriculum was focused on hard manual labor and on instilling the proper political and moral attitudes so that these teachers could train students for their proper role in society—disciplined, low-skill manual laborers. The founder and principa l, a northerner, saw African American voters as immoral and irresponsible; they should not participate in public life. Black masses were weak, and black leaders were "ign orant, immoral preachers or selfish politicians" (Anderson, 1988, p. 38). These ideas w ere embodied in teacher training throughout the South by philanthropist money and in fluence. By the early 20th century working class w hites finally had public elementary schools in the South—from which African Americans w ere excluded. During this period, African Americans built their own common sc hools with their own money and with contributions from local whites and philanthro pists. Again, whites insisted that African American high schools be vocational schools to train workers for jobs that African Americans held, not for jobs held by whites However, the Great Depression threw white workers into competition over previousl y black jobs, and support for even vocational high schools ceased. Anderson ends his b ook by noting the irony of scholarship which attributes low African American e ducational attainment to initial differences in cultural orientation towards educati on, and studies which blame black dialect, oral traditions, and cultural separatism f or preventing school success. Since Emancipation the ex-slaves had done everything they could to educate their children, and they were impeded vigorously at every turn by w hites determined to keep them in


8 of 15their place. This history embodies key policy themes o f African American education over decades: exclusion and segregation, based on images of African Americans as not very capable intellectually, as being immoral, and as be ing not qualified for political governance. Control over education was exercised by whites and resulted in differentiated curricula which trained African Amer icans for lower positions in society. Chicago Desegregation, 1967 Peterson's (1976) analysis of desegregati on of the Chicago schools examines policies in a different time and place. In 1967, Ch icago's schools were highly segregated. African American students were 52.3 percent of the public school population, but only 4.7 percent of African American students were in sc hools more than 50 percent white. Only 28 percent of white students were in schools m ore than 5 percent African American. The busing plan developed by the Chicago superintendent of schools was modest: to bus 1,000 African American students to schools i n two neighborhoods with white student populations of 10,000. This was part of a l arger plan of magnet schools, educational parks, and financial incentives to prom ote racial balance. Initially, the busing plan was approved by the school board "in pr inciple." But it was never implemented. African American leaders saw the plan as too modest. Whites in the affected neighborhoods were outraged by even this m uch integration, and they mobilized into an uncompromising resistance. Although those supporting the plan were a ble to gain the endorsements of civil rights groups, newspapers, the teachers union, and the Catholic church, opposing whites were able to enlist the support of the powerful pol itical machine itself, especially US Representative Pucinski, who represented ethnic nei ghborhoods. Demonstrations, picketing, and intense lobbying were part of the ca mpaign against the busing of African American students. Peterson (1976) labels the decis ion process of the school board "ideological bargaining." Opponents took "principle d" stands on issues which they were unwilling to compromise. They used public channels of communication to politicize the issues before the general public, so that outside p arties became involved. The school board members themselves voted the beliefs with whi ch they had started. Only one board member was moved to change sides, though his vote was critical in neutering the busing policy. The principle on which the opposition to busing rested was that of "neighborhood schools." Those in the neighborhood should be able to send their children to nearby schools and control those schools. Others should st ay out. Mayor Richard Daley left it to the school board to settle, but he indicated he fav ored neighborhood schools so that parents could "...see their children home for lunch and discuss what happened in school with them" (quoted in Peterson, 1976, p. 160). The overall guiding policy for the city w as "racial balance," which meant that policies should keep the racial distribution in the city as it was. Otherwise, it was feared, whites would move to the suburbs, thus making the c ity increasingly minority. Neighborhood schools were seen as facilitating raci al balance. But when plans were made to maintain this racial balance by introducing African American students into a few schools in modest numbers, the white population wanted none of it. Something similar happened in other cities. Again, the same f eatures apply as for policies in the South: exclusion from the mainstream, vigorous oppo sition by whites, and control of African American education by whites. Whether stude nts were subjected to a


9 of 15differentiated curriculum is not discernible from P eterson's analysis, nor are we told the presumed traits of African Americans. Finally, this neighborhood policy was seen as fair since any people could have their own neighborhood schools in principle. Chicago Retention, 1998 Thirty years later, Chicago schools were more than 80 percent minority. The racial balance policies had not kept whites in the city, n or white children in the public schools. Whites had fled the city or put their children in p rivate schools. What also had occurred was a radical restructuring of the schools, a decen tralization to the local school forced by the Illinois legislature, which had become frustrat ed by the inability of the Chicago schools to stay within their budget. Acting on the ideas of Designs for Change, an educational activist group, each school became gove rned by a local school council. This decentralization was an attempt to wrest control of the local schools away from the central bureaucracy, an idea that would appear to c onform closely to the "neighborhood school" principle, the presumed basis for blunting desegregation years before. However, what happened in the late 1990s was that Mayor Richard M. Daley, son of the former mayor (Richard J. Daley), took contro l back from the local school councils. New legislation gave the Mayor control ov er the schools. Daley recentralized the schools and appointed his aide as head. The maj or educational reform policy became "retention," making students repeat a grade if they did not attain a specific cut-off score on a standardized test. More than 12,000 elementary students were retained in grades 3, 6, and 8 in 1996 and 1997. Schools with the highest rates of failure were 69% African American, 27% Latino, 3% white and 94% low income. In the 1997-1998 school year, Chicago's Transition Centers (special high schools for the retained) enrolled 929 African Americans, 330 Latinos, and 34 whites. Furthermore, a new curriculum consisting of more than 4,000 lesson plans based on the standardized achievement tests was implement ed, and teachers were monitored to ensure that they taught these lessons. Such practic es are far removed from the "neighborhood schools" principle. Again, the idea o f minorities running their own schools did not seem viable to white authorities. Retaining students has proved to be one o f the worst educational practices. The research evidence against it is overwhelming. Retai ned students do not achieve more academically and are much more likely to drop out o f school later (Shepard and Smith, 1989). Often they become stigmatized by their failu re. In one study, flunking a grade increased the chances of an African American male d ropping out of school by 38 percent and a white female by 17 percent, all other factors being equal (Grissom and Shepard, 1989). Those being retained are mostly minority mal es. New York City had a similar retention pro gram in the 1980s in which the school district held back twenty-five percent of students in fourth and seventh grades. The program resulted in no greater academic gain and in higher dropout rates for those students retained, who were more than 80 percent mi nority. Nonetheless, in the late 1990s retention was the popular program of choice f or minority students in large cities across the country. The Chicago program was praised as exemplary by President Clinton in his 1999 State of the Union address, and Clinton proposed similar retention policies all across the country enforced by federal sanction s. Massive retention policies display featur es similar to other educational policies for minorities. First, students are excluded from the m ainstream. Second, they are taught a differentiated curriculum. In the case of Chicago, the curriculum is based on the standardized test being administered to retain them Unfortunately, teaching a particular


10 of 15test often does not generalize to other forms of ac ademic achievement (Linn, 1998). The differentiated curriculum is based on the presumed characteristics of those retained, i.e., their low achievement levels and it is justified by objective test scores. Third, the process is controlled by whites running the system. While William Julius Wilson suggests that Americans will not support policies seen to benefit minorities primarily, Americans do seem to support policies which are detrimental to minorities. They would not support m assive retention if it were applied to majority populations. The Chicago suburbs fail less than one percent of their students. If one looked at the explicit rationales for Chicago's neighborhood schools and Chicago's later retention program, one would be puzzled by ap parent contradictions. Yet both sets of policies are fully consistent with the underlyin g beliefs about minorities and with the education policies applied to minorities.The Current Educational System Although American racism has improved dis cernibly over the past several decades and minorities have more rights than they used to, basic beliefs remain in place. In a national survey of racial attitudes, Schuman, Steeh and Bobo (1985) concluded: Relations between blacks and whites in this country have been based since the beginning on a conception of two socially disti nct groups defined largely in terms of physical characteristics....There is no evidence that this virtually absolute differentiation of the American population has been reduced by any of the changes of the past four decades. Indeed, it may even have increased.... America is not much more color-blind today than it ever was.... (Schuman, Steeh, and Bobo, 1985, p. 201). Carmines and Stimson (1989) demonstrated how race became the major domestic partisan issue in American politics after 1964. It was not a partisan issue before because whites were agreed about the place of African Ameri cans: African Americans were disenfranchised. However, economic change led to th e development of a new African American leadership class and the Civil Rights move ment. Beginning with the 1964 Johnson and Goldwater Presidential contest, race be came a major issue separating Democrats and Republicans, albeit in disguised form The issue was expressed in the form of whether the federal government should take steps to alleviate racial problems or whether this task was beyond its proper scope ("The government cannot solve all our social problems".) It would be amazing if such deep-seated b eliefs did not affect education policy. In fact, I believe that education policy has been prof oundly shaped by these beliefs. Americans have defined their educational system in such a way as to ensure that African Americans (and often other minorities) are treated in an exclusionary way—which is to say that they are saddled with an education which i s inferior, and this inferior education contributes to whites seeing them as having undesir able attributes and as being unable to govern themselves. Here are some education policies that pro duce these outcomes, even though the policies may have been implemented from motives oth er than racial ones: School organization—Schools are organized into sepa rate governing entities which effectively encapsulate and isolate African A mericans and other minorities in large numbers. Large school districts are overwh elmingly minority, and these


11 of 15districts are rarely controlled by the minorities. White politicians and policymakers effectively control the fate of minori ty children. School finance—Schools are financed through local s ources in large part, which ensures resources are hugely unequally distributed among school districts, with minority schools faring particularly poorly financi ally. Kozol (1991) has illustrated these inequalities dramatically. Curricula—Schools with large numbers of minorities receive educational curricula unlike those in majority schools. These curricula a re geared to "slow" students and are repetitious and boring, based on presumed lesse r abilities of minority students (Levin, 1993). Ability grouping—Within local schools students are separated into differentied groups, and the low-ability groups contain dispropo rtionate numbers of minorities (if there are any) who receive differentiated curri cula (Oakes, 1985, Wheelock, 1992). Retention—Flunking students on a massive scale is d one in districts with large numbers of minorities. Being retained does not incr ease learning but rather significantly increases the student's chances of dr opping out of school eventually (Shepard and Smith, 1989). Testing—Achievement tests legitimate these activiti es to make differentiation appear fair. Students are selected for ability grou ps and retained in grade by test scores. If students are selected by objective asses sments, how can the practices be unfair? The way tests are used contributes much tow ards legitimating racial policies, even as test publishers publicly deplore such uses (Haney, 1993). Each of these educational practices can be explaine d and justified without reference to race. Local schools, local financing, standardized testing, ability grouping, retention, and differentiated curricula can appear to have little to do with race. They could stem from American beliefs in autonomy, freedom, and meritocr acy. But a prolonged examination of how these policies function together—and who the y are applied to—reveals that the policies effectively segregate, differentiate, and provide minorities with an inferior education. The operation of the system as a whole h as racial consequences even if those administering it do not have that in mind. No other developed countries incorporate all these practices in this fashion. Most countries have common curricula, much more equitabl e funding, and central distribution of resources. Few countries employ ability grouping at the primary levels, and no developed countries that I know employ massive rete ntion based on single test score cutoffs. The structure of our entire educational s ystem has been strongly influenced by the beliefs that people hold about minorities, particul arly about African Americans. No doubt there are other contributing causes for these policies as well. No policy ever results from a single cause. Nonetheless, American education as a whole functions as a racist system, whatever its virtues might be.ReferencesAnderson, J. D. (1988). The education of blacks in the south 1860-1935. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.Bailyn, B. (1986). Voyagers to the west: A passage in the peopling of America on the eve of revolution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.


12 of 15Carmines, E. G. and Stimson, J. A. (1989). Issue evolution: Race the transformation of American politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Grissom, J. B. and Shepard, L. A. (1989). Repeating and dropping out of school. In Shepard, L. A. and Smith, M. L. (Eds). Flunking grades: Research and policies on retention. London: Falmer. 34-63. Haney, W. (1993). Testing and minorities. In L. Wei ss and M. Fine (Eds.). Beyond silenced voices. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. 45 -73. Kozol, J. (1991). Savage inequalities. New York: Crown. Levin, H. L. (1993). The economics of at-risk stude nts. In E. P. Hoffman (Ed.), Essays on the economics of education. Kalamazoo, MI: W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employme nt Research. 11-33.Linn, R. L. (1998). Assessments and accountability. Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing, Boulder: University of Colorado. Morrison, T. (1992). Playing in the dark: Whiteness and the literary ima gination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Myrdal, G. (1964). An American dilemma. 2 volumes. New York: McGraw-Hill. Jacobson, M. F. (1998). Whiteness of a different color: European immigrants and the alchemy of race. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Oakes, J. (1985). Keeping track: How schools structure inequality. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press.Peterson, P. E. (1976). School politics, Chicago style. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Schuman, H., Steeh, C., Bobo, L. (1985). Racial attitudes in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Shepard, L. A. and Smith, M. L. (Eds.). (1989). Flunking grades: Research and policies on retention. London: Falmer. Wheelock, A. (1992). Crossing the tracks. New York: New Press. Wilson, W. J. (1987). The truly disadvantaged. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.About the AuthorErnest R. House Email: Ernest R. House is a professor in the School of Edu cation at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Previously, he was at the Center for In structional Research and Curriculum


13 of 15 Evaluation (CIRCE) at the University of Illinois, U rbana-Champaign.He has been a visiting scholar at UCLA, Harvard, and New Mexico, as well as in England, Australia, Spain, Sweden, Austria, and Chile. His primary inte rests are evaluation and policy analysis.Books authored include Evaluating with Validity (1980), Jesse Jackson and the Politics of Charisma (1988), Professional Evaluation: Social Impact and Politica l Consequences (1993). His most recent book, Schools for Sale was published in 1998. He is the 1989 recipient of the Harold E. Lasswell Prize presented by Policy Sciences and the 1990 recipient of the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Aw ard for Evaluation Theory, presented by the American Evaluation Association. He was edit or of New Directions in Program Evaluation (1982 to 1985) and columnist for Evaluation Practice (1984-89). Major studies he has directed or particpated in include e valuation of the Illinois Gifted Program for the Illinois legislature (1968-1972), assessmen t of the Michigan Accountability Program for the National Education Association (197 4), critique of the National Follow Through Evaluation for the Ford Foundation (1977), audit of the Promotional Gates Program evaluation for the Mayor's Office in New Yo rk City (1981), assessment of environmental education policies in Europe for OECD (1992), and evaluation of science, engineering, and technology education programs acro ss federal departments for the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineeri ng, and Technology in Washington (1993).Copyright 1999 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesThe World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is General questions about appropriateness of topics o r particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, or reach him at College of Education, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-0211. (602-965-96 44). The Book Review Editor is Walter E. Shepherd: The Commentary Editor is Casey D. Cobb: .EPAA Editorial Board Michael W. Apple University of Wisconsin Greg Camilli Rutgers University John Covaleskie Northern Michigan University Andrew Coulson Alan Davis University of Colorado, Denver Sherman Dorn University of South Florida Mark E. Fetler California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Richard Garlikov Thomas F. Green Syracuse University Alison I. Griffith York University Arlen Gullickson Western Michigan University Ernest R. House University of Colorado


14 of 15 Aimee Howley Ohio University Craig B. Howley Appalachia Educational Laboratory William Hunter University of Calgary Richard M. Jaeger University of North Carolina--Greensboro Daniel Kalls Ume University Benjamin Levin University of Manitoba Thomas MauhsPugh Green Mountain College Dewayne Matthews Western Interstate Commission for HigherEducation William McInerney Purdue University Mary McKeown-Moak MGT of America (Austin, TX) Les McLean University of Toronto Susan Bobbitt Nolen University of Washington Anne L. Pemberton Hugh G. Petrie SUNY Buffalo Richard C. Richardson New York University Anthony G. Rud Jr. Purdue University Dennis Sayers Ann Leavenworth Centerfor Accelerated Learning Jay D. Scribner University of Texas at Austin Michael Scriven Robert E. Stake University of Illinois--UC Robert Stonehill U.S. Department of Education Robert T. Stout Arizona State University David D. Williams Brigham Young University EPAA Spanish Language Editorial BoardAssociate Editor for Spanish Language Roberto Rodrguez Gmez Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico Adrin Acosta (Mxico) Universidad de J. Flix Angulo Rasco (Spain) Universidad de Teresa Bracho (Mxico) Centro de Investigacin y DocenciaEconmica-CIDEbracho Alejandro Canales (Mxico) Universidad Nacional Autnoma Ursula Casanova (U.S.A.) Arizona State Jos Contreras Domingo Universitat de Barcelona


15 of 15 Erwin Epstein (U.S.A.) Loyola University of Josu Gonzlez (U.S.A.) Arizona State Rollin Kent (Mxico)Departamento de InvestigacinEducativaDIE/ Mara Beatriz Luce (Brazil)Universidad Federal de Rio Grande do SulUFRGSlucemb@orion.ufrgs.brJavier Mendoza Rojas (Mxico)Universidad Nacional Autnoma deMxicojaviermr@servidor.unam.mxMarcela Mollis (Argentina)Universidad de Buenos Humberto Muoz Garca (Mxico) Universidad Nacional Autnoma deMxicohumberto@servidor.unam.mxAngel Ignacio Prez Gmez (Spain)Universidad de Daniel Schugurensky (Argentina-Canad)OISE/UT, Simon Schwartzman (Brazil)Fundao Instituto Brasileiro e Geografiae Estatstica Jurjo Torres Santom (Spain)Universidad de A Carlos Alberto Torres (U.S.A.)University of California, Los