Friday, November 30, 2012

The Rise of Voluntarily Segregated Schools: New Trend, Familiar Problems

I found a very interesting article from the Minneapolis Post about voluntary segregation in schools that have created programs catering to a particular culture or race (The Rise of Voluntarily Segregated Schools:  New Trend, Familiar Problems).  In this article, authors Beth Hawkins and Cynthia Boyd discuss the various advancements and gains that ethnocentric programs in the Minneapolis school district have created for students’ education.  While minority students who attend these programs with a curriculum tailored around their cultural background are given more opportunities to embrace and celebrate their culture, they are also more apt to have lower test scores than students in fully integrated schools.  With these issues in mind, school district leaders hope to find a solution for keeping minority students in the district as well as a way to foster students’ cultural knowledge and awareness in an academic setting.
Ethnocentric programs such as the ones in Minneapolis, including programs designed specifically for Asian, African American, and Muslim students, are permissible because they allow students of any race to attend, but their curriculums are designed for students of a particular race and cultural background.  These programs in Minneapolis were created in response to charter schools, which drew away about one-third of minority students from the main school district.  Because of these charter schools, the Minneapolis school district created culturally specific programs to entice more minority students to remain in the district.
One of the major reasons that ethnocentric programs have flourished in Minneapolis is because parents have endorsed their dedication to an environment focused on academics, not sports or extra-curricular activities.  In addition, parents of minority families embrace culturally specific curriculums because they give their children a chance to experience and appreciate their culture in a safe, constructive environment.  The Hmong International Academy, designed particularly for Asian students, even has several African American and white children whose parents also approved of the school’s goals and curriculum.  
Despite these advantages for minorities in ethnocentric programs, studies show that the academics in these schools do not always measure up to those of charter schools.  For example, only 20% of students were proficient in math in 2007-2008 at the Afrocentric Educational Academy in Minneapolis.  With many other ethnocentric programs showing similarly low test scores, there are some changes that need to be made to the implementation of the curriculum to better reflect the goals of these schools.
In the article, many of the Minneapolis school district leaders comment on the issue of culturally specific schools and the difficulties in choosing whether to completely integrate these schools or to try to modify them in order to improve test scores.  With more minority students choosing to attend charter schools, the district must choose which is more important:  a fully integrated school system or programs that celebrate the cultural niche of a particular race of people.  Which do you think is more important?  Do you think it is possible to combine both of these goals in public schools and do away with ethnocentric programs?  Furthermore, are these voluntarily segregated school programs as beneficial as they attempt to be or are they just contributing to the isolation and separation of races?


  1. This was a very interesting post, thank you for sharing.
    While I think that it is good that students are embracing their ethnicities, I am not sure that shifting towards ethnocentric programs is a good idea. I do not believe the long-term consequences will be positive. Any time you raise a child to interact with only one group of people, you are not adequately preparing him or her for the real world. For instance, I tutor a young black girl at a local (predominantly African American) charter school, and they are doing great work there in terms of alternative methods of teaching. Despite having great teachers for factual knowledge, she touches my nose and freckles in curiosity because she has not interacted with enough white people in her life to know they ways in which people differ. Segregating more schools may improve pride in culture, but I'm not sure it is worth the consequences of the greater problem of not understanding one another.

  2. I agree with Shelley. I realize that embracing ones ethnicity and heritage is a positive thing, however i do not believe that should interfere with the "real world." Choosing to have segregation in schools is, to me, just a bad as having segregation without the choice. Also, these children who are in these schools are not choosing whether or not to be in them, their parents are. Everyone is different, and children should grow up knowing that. Difference is not a bad thing or something to be scared of. In stead it is something to embrace. These children will not be able to embrace these differences and learn other world and cultural views if they are segregated.

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  4. Very interesting, I wonder what kind of backlash this sort of program has received...
    I agree with Shelley, however this post really got me wondering about the ways we address and define "culture" in our society. We define our culture as something that makes us different, something very personal and is usually grounded in our ancestral history. However, we define "being cultured" as someone who is well traveled and has experienced many different cultures. I think our school systems need to decide if they want to value an individual's culture over a cultured individual. To me, they practically mean the exact opposite but there must be a way that we can teach pride for one's own culture without fostering egocentrism. Before we teach pride, we need to teach tolerance and acceptance.

  5. Wow. I had never heard of such a thing, thank you for sharing. I agree with the comments that have been shared above. There is something to said about learning about your own culture and being surrounded by peers and those that look similar to you. However, something that I have learned through my classes and interactins at Rhodes is that there is a reason that colleges want to have diversity in their student bodies. I have learned so much about other cultures and even about myself by being surrounded by people who are different than me. I think that it is sad that these students may not be able to experience the same feeling because a school district decided to regress to an educational system that has already been proven not to work well.