Published: July 16th, 2020 at 10:18 pm EDT
Last Updated: May 21st, 2021 at 7:30 pm EDT
It was 1954 when the United States Supreme Court ruled segregation in schools was unconstitutional. Justice Earl Warren delivered the unanimous opinion in the case Brown v. Board of Education: “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.”
“It is so ordered.”
Over the next few decades, states slowly brought law into practice. All managed eventually to prove some substantial degree of integration.
So why then, 66 years later, are only middle-income areas integrated at sight? Why then, are schools in upper-income and lower-income areas in this country still almost perfectly segregated?
Look no further than what you already know about suburbs and cities. The answer is simple: our communities are segregated.
In Howard County, Maryland, a recent battle over public school integration nearly tore apart a community once touted as happy, progressive and heterogeneous. Armed with purportedly logical reasons, parents took to podiums to protest against “reverse busing”: the transportation of largely white student populations to schools that were further away, exhibited lower test scores and were more populated by students with different colored skin than the average hue of those students on the buses.
The New York Times’ Dana Goldstein reported that the protestors, speaking directly to the board, “compared the freedom to choose a public school to the freedom to choose an abortion.”
“If the redistricting plan moved forward,” Goldstein summarized of the parents’ arguments, “students might die in car crashes driving to campuses further away. They might turn to suicide because of the increased stress of longer travel times. One speaker said the plan reminded her of the Communism her parents had fled in Romania.” Others cited the importance of local sports and rivalries.
“I know for a fact,” parent Dr. Hemant Sharma told the The Times, “that none of the folks I’ve met in opposition at all would be characterized as racist.”
The ability to move into communities with clearer skies continues to make “choice” for rich, largely white families a thinly veiled euphemism for white privilege.
It is impossible to prove fully that underneath parents’ surface-level rationales are implicit biases and racism, in the same way it’s impossible to prove the opposite, no matter what Dr. Sharma’s gut tells him.
If these Maryland parents have indeed holistically cured themselves of implicit biases, I would implore them to share their first-of-its-kind elixir with the rest of the species.
While we wait for them to disclose their miracle, let’s examine something we can prove in the here and now: white flight — and its close relative, socioeconomic flight — will not end any time soon. The ability to move into communities with clearer skies continues to make “choice” for rich, largely white families a thinly veiled euphemism for white privilege.
Do all families have such “choice”? An ability to pick any district or neighborhood in a given area, no matter the cost? Of course not. It wasn’t even until 1964 that all Black Americans could vote to empower leaders who might treat them actually equally or equitably. It wasn’t even until 1974 that Black American families could sue if they were denied a home loan based on the color of their skin. It wasn’t until… never, that Black American families finally might know what it would feel like to have every fellow American say to them, “You are not beneath us, but of us.”
So here they wait. Here we all sit. It’s 2020, and a metric ton of our public schools are still segregated. Segregation lives.
Is “community-based schooling,” given its goals of equity, not the most failed and redundant experiment in modern history?
Also alive in 2020 and possibly for quite a while is a virus that has pushed school districts nationally to brave distance learning, lessons learned from online summer schools and digital start-ups becoming worth their weight in gold. Teachers and students, in the second semester of the 2019–20 school year, adapted. Educators shared best practices, and Staff Development Teachers made tutorial after tutorial, scheduled one-on-one appointment after one-on-one appointment, to make online learning smoother.
Amidst all that effort, students who hate math, some legally considered adults, were still taking math. Students who overall like school, but are ready for more specialized classes, sighed and twiddled their thumbs, bored but still participating out of misplaced obligations and burdens of niceties their parents handed down to them. Some students found clever ways to beat the system and bail on their Zoom sessions without ever signing off.
The solution: secondary education should move to trial online learning organized at the county-level with specialized course offerings, routes of “majors” and “minors” — Secondary Ed. College.
When a hurricane blows a building down, do we rebuild the thing in the exact same way, ‘50s aesthetics and appliances in tow? Do we hunt down the exact same, peeling wallpaper pattern? How about the old holes in the roof? Do we drill new ones so that the leaks trickle all the same? Or the siding — do we nail in dated slabs having first scavenged them floating about in the waters?
Or maybe, just maybe, do we update the building from the ground up, its architecture, its capacity, stainless steel everywhere. A smart home.
The coronavirus — and with it, remote schooling — may be here to stay for a while. We should ask: for secondary education, for our older students, is the potential of “remote learning done right” not an opportunity for growth?
The question is more than worth exploring.
In order for educators’ efforts in remote learning to render as successful, the content taught must first be engaging for students. What better way to engage students then, if possible, to give them more choice?
To the teachers reading, I want you to think of the two, three or four things you could teach in your sleep. Now imagine students in a digital classroom who all intrinsically desire to hear you speak and instruct on those topics.
For most of us, the scene is a dream come true, stifled normally by the outdated ‘70s paint of our schoolhouses.
Beginning as soon as possible, school boards should plan to trial a semi-permanent and potentially permanent shift to optionally full-time or part-time (as little as one day a week) of online secondary education for grades 7–12, organized into county-level “majors” and “minors,” classes similar in depth to those offered at colleges. The move may alleviate many of the as-yet unsuccessfully addressed problems American secondary education continues to face in the 21st century.
We might call it Secondary Ed. College.
Prior to our unpacking the details, note that in this vision, sports and clubs would still meet and play locally, by community, once deemed safe to do so. The social aspects of high schools have great value, but they are not mutually exclusive with remote learning. Quite the contrary: remote learning and library-like Learning Centers may be the near-future of secondary education classes while freeing up funds for avenues of in-person social bonding for before- and after-school programs. Importantly, the added specificity and choice of the proposed curricula would create greater student buy-in from morning til’ night, healthy communities of learners.
☑ Teacher concerns about lack of buy-in, student apathy.
☑ Parent concerns about lack of buy-in, student apathy.
☑ Parent concerns about teachers’ not being eager about their own content.
☑ Student concerns about lack of buy-in, their own apathy.
☑ District concerns about budgets.
☑ District, teacher, parent and student concerns about racial and socioeconomic homogeneity.
☑ Collegiate concerns about student preparedness.
Long and widely lamented are the forced paths of all subjects that students endure in secondary education.
Physical proximity, whether best practices called for uniformity in schedules and subjects or not, has limited education in more ways than we realize. Engaging nonlocal classrooms, often touted as the future of education, allow for more diversity in class offerings, providing a platform for expertise that would otherwise be lost. Well-made virtual-reality or more generalized digital-learning classrooms maintain a degree of humanity greater than that of previous school years’ online education and, most importantly, offer a chance for policymakers to rework how it is that students choose their paths in education, bolstering district-wide skill sets valuable to both students as future workers, and to our country’s economy.
…imagine what readers would graduate, what writers would graduate, what statisticians would graduate, if they were given choice and specificity in what they read, what they write and what data sets they analyze.
At universities, student choice and curricula specificity materialize as a result of increased enrollment and a greater leniency in smaller and smaller amounts of registered students needed to run a class as students approach graduate-level work. Only in district-wide remote learning is this degree of specificity in grades 7–12 curricula possible for public and private grade schools that are physically smaller than colleges, with smaller budgets as well.
A class on a specific philosopher or a specific war, important and interesting as they may be to some students or even our country, may never get the enrollment each would need to be funded in any given square mile range for a community’s high school, for example — yet the possibility of a full classroom of enrolled students increases tremendously in a digital landscape, as does the opportunity to hire or easily convert current teachers into highly specialized teachers and therefore offer highly articulated course paths to students.
Like university scheduling, secondary scheduling during forced or chosen remote schooling can for the first time accommodate proverbial “majors” and “minors.” Suggested, general education paths also will continue to be an option and be offered such that students who feel uncomfortable picking full-blown majors or minors will still have a well-rounded education, plenty impressive when applying as prospective students for colleges.
Critical thought and communication skill sets are universally important, the genuine point of schooling, and they therefore constitute the foundations of reasonable, achievable goals for students. How each secondary student arrives at that matriculation should be up in part to them, assuming we have the resources to allow for this new level of options.
The course offerings would not be a total “free for all.” We already know exactly what they’d look like: they’d look like college. (Given the higher standard of engagement and interest, they’d also, like college, come with a lot of A’s, B’s and C’s, and few if any D’s or E’s.)
Rather than a student taking American History, for example, as they would in college they might instead enroll in The History of the ’60s, or Wars and Their Impacts on Economies, two courses first pitched by already-capable and eager teachers and then filled by students across a county.
Even subjects that teachers may worry are in danger of getting few to no enrollees will simply mutate into stronger forms; Calculus splits into How Calculus Changed the Way We See the World and How Calculus Can Save a Small Business: a project-based classroom.
A more detailed schema of course options is no stranger to a plurality of Americans: college graduates. This secondary education class structure would be a slightly less rigorous version of that already in place at our colleges nationwide. Seminar courses of these styles are fought over, students with priority scheduling waving their log-in times for the online schedule system like they’re Wonka’s golden tickets, at once avoiding 7:00 AM classes and enrolling in only the most interesting offerings. The rigor would accrue, as is always the case, as students matriculate and head into formal, collegiate majors upon graduating from secondary ed.
Majors would fall somewhere between the current, largely rigid tracks of secondary education and the specificity of college. Rather than majoring in Biochemistry as one might in college, a student might major in Natural Sciences in Secondary Ed. College. Another, Social Sciences.
Should a student wish to “switch majors” there would be no concern whatsoever. Fulfilling credits, but split among two paths, they would of course still graduate, applying to college having varied their learning, and having learned about their own capacities and interests. Colleges would see their variety and trialing as emblematic of increasingly steadfast and resolved minds. Once each student arrives on their campuses, their vectors towards their futures would be sharp.
Teachers will be expected to differentiate assignments by level still, so that students who are at a higher reading level than others in the class will still be challenged within their Vygotskian Zones of Proximal Development, as will students at lower levels. Common to all, however, will be that shared interest in the course material.
Critical thought and communication prowess become the standards, and assignments the vessels. Linear pre-requisites will still exist, but will be less common than they currently are. Rigid, local curricula required them. A majority of extralocal curricula may jettison them.
The senior résumé and transcript of the future therefore should sprout and mature into a page visualized almost as a tree, foundations in all subjects in elementary school and increasing, branching specificity as a student moves towards grade 12.
Parents who feel buy-in has decreased in their children may too feel relief, as they watch their students eagerly choose from a schedule of high-interest classes that, only in remote education, would be possible. They’ll see at least some of their students’ mental health issues may dissipate some, at least to the degree that the issues were a result of feeling trapped by the current secondary school system, worsened of course by unenthusiastic Zooms.
Problems of in-community homogeneity in race and socioeconomics also ease naturally in this model, with students miles away from one another finding themselves in the same digital classroom with the same common interest.
And districts: We know that you already almost have the infrastructure to pull this off. Just look at the second semester of this past school year. Yes, amendments to scheduling software will be needed, but hiring a team of master schedulers who work for months full time on making the aforementioned “majors and minors” possible for our students by as early as the second semester of this upcoming school year is a small price to pay for student engagement and student mental health.
Our nation’s universities and post-graduate courses have trained school administrators and department leaders to observe secondary teachers regularly and advise in pedagogy both in and outside of each observer’s original content area. These leaders are supposed to be master teachers, chameleons of curricula, and thankfully, we’ve trained them to be so. The groundwork still to hold teachers accountable even in specialized courses, then, is already here.
This summer, my school system offered teachers a chance to pitch a brief summer course, write their own curricula and advertise to students at the close of the year. Assuming the course received at least 20 interested students, my school system offered to fund it. So I pitched a highly specific course on Eradicating Cognitive Biases for self and other, a self-empowerment curriculum that I believe, like Civics once was, will be integral for students of all levels for years to come. However, I also could have pitched a course on Nietzsche and the future of humanity; Philosophical skepticism and the impracticality of ‘rabbit holes’; Short-fiction as an efficient device for social change; Persuasive email writing; Conflict management in office debates; Trends in pop music and what they reveal about sociology; WordPress-based web-design or others. These are my personal specialties at age 33, and as students matriculate through secondary education, they should be allowed to tap into the specific expertise of their teachers more and more, and less and less be required or compelled to take a full-blown Physics class as opposed to a class on Black Holes, Dark Matter, and what their discoveries mean for us, for instance.
History and English curricula have already started a related trend in their stated objectives: each subject now primarily teaches critical thinking and communication skills over memorizing historical facts or studying novels, respectively. Memory-based quizzes are going the way of the dinosaurs, and teachers who adhere to such old methodology, the way of the lamplighter.
Teachers who are feeling increasingly boxed in by standardized tests and common curricula that doesn’t speak to their students’ more immediate concerns and interests may finally feel relief, teaching what they know well, and teaching it to students who are certainly interested in learning it.
Teachers who don’t feel confident in their own expertise in specific courses may optionally take on the ideas of others in peer learning communities of their own, co-planning.
Teachers who find themselves prioritizing and walking their young children through distance learning earlier in each day would have a new opportunity with Secondary Ed. College to hold later courses, at times they are actually free to work.
The senior résumé and transcript of the future should sprout and mature into a page visualized almost as a tree, foundations in all subjects in elementary school and increasing, branching specificity as a student moves towards grade 12.
Districts will save money in the long-term, saving on power and maintenance costs at secondary buildings. The buildings and fields will still hold prominent use by way of assemblies, plays, clubs, social events and sports when each is safe to bring back into our culture.
The idea that secondary students are not increasingly by each year they advance more and more ready to pick or at least trial concentrations of study is nonsense — off-yellow appliances in our education kitchens. Students readily pick which clubs and other extracurriculars they engage in, based on interests that they’ll follow up on via college. These clubs and athletics may all continue in full with afternoon programs once our country gets a genuine handle on the pandemic.
Four-day school weeks, experts will likely offer to combat Zoom fatigue, will allow for fifth days of pro-social, community building, school organized or otherwise. The fifth days and slightly longer weekends offset the social loss of remote school and encourage socialization explicitly. Clubs, big games, plays, dances and other school functions will continue as traditionally scheduled in late weekday afternoons and evenings, but especially on the fifth day of each school week will these events fall.
We can be creative and dynamic, responsive and adaptive. We will leave behind the days of rigidity. School culture may thrive still in sports especially, perhaps even increasing. Absent the cohorted cliques, we may find even greater community and peer attendance at sports games, diversity in interest respected, celebrated and symbiotic instead of directly juxtaposed and tribal in halls. Digital classrooms become a great equalizer, giving voice to every type of human who logs in.
The idea that only through the study of classic literature in a traditional English classroom will students be able to engage meaningfully in discussions of theme and rhetoric, or be able to interact with writing mediums authentically is of course incorrect. The opposite is true. Introducing authentic applications via specific classes — for example, Introduction to Writing Speeches, Modern Fiction and its Thematic Applications to Teens — solves student and teacher concerns all at once.
The idea that only through the study of gradated math courses will students be able to engage meaningfully in our world’s greatest mathematical advancements is also of course incorrect. Imagine course titles like, What Calculus Teaches us about race in America: an examination of data sets, The Numbers in a Modern Family’s Budget, Cryptocurrency and how it works and Best of Pew Research Center: An examination into some of the most important data-based conclusions this century.
We should embrace this opportunity and steer into the skid for secondary education. Freeing teachers to pitch classes on skill sets and topics they know well, and freeing students to pick them, will naturally create a healthier, more fostering environment for learning.
Free WiFi programs and device loans are necessary and should already have existed, and open, local cafeterias in our school buildings are also a must. Teachers will also remain accountable, subject to student and parent complaints as much as they always were, and subject to observations from their superiors. Most school districts would elect to require teachers submit an outline of curricula to be approved prior to the start of a course.
In this new, major-based model, we would change nothing about the observation method nor the master teachers who observe. “Drop-in,” random observations are already standard practice, and the administrators and department leaders who conduct them are all trained in observing not just their own subjects, but any. The principles of teaching, pedagogy, are universal, and will remain so in highly-specific classes for which teachers are complete experts as much as the ambiguous ones of old.
Classes with sufficient local enrollment could be held locally post-pandemic. A community’s or school’s local journalism program, for instance, will likely populate enough to warrant some in-person work. Similarly, courses that show wide value will have high enrollment in each locality. Consider health or nutrition courses.
Those more specialized classes will not, or they optionally may come to inhabit hybrid online & in-person models with single, weekly evening sessions, longer than typical classes but formalized with the teacher present. Students would have the opportunity to meet and stay in touch with both like-minded and cross-over interest peers around the county, while the class still streams online for those who cannot meet physically.
Grade levels will be less restrictive in these models, just as they are in college where a lecture course would include students of several ages — but grade or age-level tracking will not disappear completely. We may conflate several ages for the sake of a course, but not all secondary ages. Seventh-grade students will not be in classes with twelfth-grade students.
Lastly, reading classes will need to be mandatory until students can pass a basic assessment. The capacity for learning in all other classes diminishes severely for students when their reading Lexile scores are weak. All subjects, by the way, can have this effect, including math and music, but reading’s is the most significant, a basic foundation on which other subjects build.
Counties can create basic assessments with simple assessments that require students to read out loud without stumbling to meet the criteria to begin one’s major. This light at the end of the tunnel will make students work hard to earn that right. Note: Educators who become part of these tests will need equity training to rid themselves of implicit biases — for, say, accents — much as possible before they begin their efforts.
We’ve had it backwards: student interest should dictate class availability, not the other way around. With remote learning, the high school buildings of the future can and should be Learning Centers that look not unlike libraries, with a cafe and comfortable furniture everywhere, students completing the class assignments they actually are eager to complete with the help of aides, tutors and librarians. Exploration in digital playgrounds will become the norm, actualizing each individual’s interests. Post-pandemic, study groups will arise, too, the meeting place already available.
Be wary of your thoughts if they immediately jump to the defense of an old system you yourself possibly didn’t enjoy, or one that was fitting for another year, but not for 2020.
If you find yourself asking, “Why didn’t we already do this?” know that shooling has been physical and therefore hyper-local, so a shift of this kind was never plausible prior to the internet, and never so obviously the right move to trial until the coronavirus crisis necessitated mass remote schooling anyway.
We also had fewer community specialists available. Now, county-wide, there are likely many, each modern human teacher having had time, energy and resources to investigate academic or research pursuits all their own.
Research and confirmation of the likely efficacy of this shift should be as simple as asking high-school-age kids what would they want, and likewise, asking any former high school student (all of us), “What would have motivated us to do more?” The students of America could organize such a survey themselves should they wish to.
Is there any sane American who would want to bet against teenage students trying majors while still maintaining the option of navigating a relatively general path if they feel unsure?
Secondary Ed. College is the path towards desegregation and all student advancement alike. Officials believed their work in desegregation finished. It isn’t. White flight rendered desegregation efforts weak or completely failed, whether the intentions of those fleeing were either honest or heinous. Recent physical efforts have grown intensely combative in some areas, even progressive ones. The option of online learning marks another path forward.
Secondary Ed. College, too, is the path towards our students’ loving learning again, as curious as parents know they once were.
At the end of the road for many students will still remain a standardized test, yes, in the form of the ACT or the SAT. Colleges will continue to be interested in overall reading, writing and statistics (math) skills.
But imagine what readers would graduate, what writers would graduate, what statisticians would graduate, if they were given choice and specificity in what they read, what they write and what data sets they analyze.
This is an opportunity. We’d do well not to miss it.
The future jobs market will be one of hybrid experts and synthesis, imaginative overlappings and specialists finding their unique place in a company or organization, be it their own or another’s. We must prepare our future team of Americans and humans to occupy spaces that machines and artificial intelligence cannot, spaces of synthesis and ingressions of creativity.
In an analysis of both former and current job postings, an almost billion-point data set, analytics software company Burning Glass found that “One in eight job postings is now highly hybridized.” Business-consulting company Deloitte brands these incoming jobs superjobs in their advisings. Forbes , Fortune and The Wall Street Journal alike are publishing features and how-to’s that aim to help readers navigate the incoming superjob market.
The future jobs market will be one of hybrid experts and synthesis, imaginative overlappings and specialists finding their unique place
Students aren’t reading those articles — at least, not enough of them — and school boards, future-proof as they may desire their decisions to be, are hindered by truncated budgets, conflicting interests and a litigious culture.
Secondary Ed. College deserves real estate in the conversations school boards nationally must have about remote schooling. We owe it to our kids to allow for the recognition that it is possible to steer into this skid, and to wind up not just back on the road, but moving forward together, no one left behind, common in love of learning to the core.
Conclusions and Takeaways
We should all share the dream that soon, our nation’s children will all be so prepared for our nation’s future, that tests to determine their capacity for their own edification are unnecessary. All would get the perfect score, so gone are the reasons to test. We should all share the dream that soon, colleges will be chosen for the culture of their town or for their convenience, rather than their historical prestige or to gain an advantage over other American students. We should have shared these dreams long ago, with the intrinsic motivation of student interest supplying the fuel.
Allowed to log into these specific digital-learning classrooms from anywhere within a county, students, no matter rich or poor, no matter the hue of their skin, would all be able to pick classes offered by expert teachers an hour away, even.
In specialized courses, any concern about deficits that so-called progressive parents feel great concern over their students’ inheriting as if by airborne contagion, becomes moot when every student who takes a class wants to be there, and is interested in engaging with the content regardless of their writing or reading levels.
For centuries, community-based schooling constituted the only experiment we could run. Not anymore.
The diverse perspectives in the digital-learning classrooms of the future suddenly render themselves assets, even to the anti-busing crowds.
De facto segregation would ease. Students would pick their courses and in turn their default classmates based on interest, not their parents’ zip codes.
In one eerie premonition to the coronavirus pandemic and American districts’ plans to reopen schools amidst virus spikes, one woman protesting de facto integration in 2019 at River Hill High School in Howard County, held her sign up high: “No Experimenting With Our Kids!”
Is that not what we’ve been doing in our school buildings since 1954, experimenting with models of public education that have done next to nothing to solve the achievement gap, or motivate students in increasingly effective ways?
Was “community-based schooling,” given its goals of equity, not the most failed and redundant experiment in modern history? Why are we still running the experiment?
We have the results: community-based schoolings’ efficacy is directly proportional to the income of the community in question, a common-sense hypothesis but one still unaccepted en masse.
Affected by income are dozens of factors that impact the success of each student in lower-income households regardless of their race:
- the economic stability and job security expressed within each household;
- healthcare coverage that’s spotty or non-existent;
- the nutrition content of their kitchens, in a country where buying healthy breaks the bank and requires frequent trips to the grocery store, hours cooking and doing dishes, requiring sufficient income and sufficient time off;
- the access or lack thereof to digital resources for students, including WiFi and laptops or Chromebooks; and
- the resulting moods within the walls of a community’s homes, because of all of the above and other exponential accruings of disprivileges.
It’s a sickening reality to accept, and a sickening reality to live.
Even figures as simple as property tax revenues shed enormous light on why community-based schools’ success have been, are and always will be directly proportional to income. When a whole county’s housing market is tepid or under-engaged, the county’s public school budget is small. The effect of white flight has always meant damage to vacated housing markets. Think of the school budgets, then, as proportionally vacant; lack of funding will plague a district’s budget before balancing ever begins.
For centuries, community-based schooling, burdened by these damning constraints, constituted the only experiment we could run. Not anymore. The coronavirus pandemic has forced us down this alternate, shared route. We riders on the storm weather it together, even as we do so from different vessels.
Stick a laptop in front of every kid whether they’re in a yacht or a canoe.
Let’s move forward with what many educators will likely view as an obvious next step in amending secondary schooling formats, a new experiment whose likely results are maybe such a given that Vegas wouldn’t even bother to accept bets: student choice will breed student interest, and student interest will yield the most educated and specialized generation of new, creative Americans this country has ever seen. This is not hyperbole; it’s common sense.
America, it’s time: for myriad reasons, we must move to online classes by county, leaving clubs and sports to each local high school’s fields, premises and ultimately, to each community. There is no stopping white flight. So bring the diversity, in classes at least, to everyone’s doorsteps — no matter where they move.
It’s okay and inevitable that de facto segregation occurs in our communities.
Online secondary education provides students with a chance to finally take the types of courses they genuinely are interested in, and a corresponding chance for secondary educators to teach their most engaging ideas, to deliver their best instruction. Remote schooling just so happens to be a novel way to desegregate our schools as well, even as communities remain segregated, white flight powerful and real.
For a more detailed look at “majors and minors in secondary education,” check out the “Supplement” section in our sister article, “Schools in September and the rest of the century: Errors, omissions and solutions.” And for more information on prejudices and from where they arise, see “Prejudice is hardwired into our brains for a reason — but that doesn’t mean the reason still exists.”