baby laying down reading
Donnie Ray Jones / Flickr CC / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

As the week winds down, many of us are looking forward to a little rest and relaxation. I thought I'd share some recommended reading – and listening – for you to check out if you have some free time this weekend:

1. How Segregated Schools Built Segregated Cities

Mike Blank / Michigan Radio


When we talk about segregated schools, we need to look no further than Detroit. Census figures from the Michigan Department of Education tell us Detroit is a city where more than 82% of its students are African-American, just 2% are white and only 0.24% are multi-racial.

A new charter school on Detroit's east side, in the Indian Village neighborhood, is working hard to change that.

Detroit Prep is a free public charter school authorized by Grand Valley State University. Right now, it's got kindergarten and first grade students. 

Its founders were determined that Detroit Prep would be the city's first intentionally diverse charter school. So they set out by casting a wide net in recruiting students and in offering strong academics.

Clipping courtesy of Ray Litt / via Detroit Free Press

Sixty-two years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, many school districts in Michigan and throughout the country remain deeply segregated.

In the Detroit City School District, for example, just 2.18% of students are white, while more than 80% are black. In many of the city’s suburbs, the numbers are reversed. In Utica Community Schools (which includes Sterling Heights), about 86% of students are white, while fewer than 5% are black.

Integrated Classroom
By Leffler, Warren K., photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Today marks 62 years since the landmark Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education. The Court ruled that "separate but equal" public schools for black students and white students were unconstitutional.

The case inspired education reform everywhere, and formed the legal means of challenging segregation in all areas of society.

Integrated Classroom
By Leffler, Warren K., photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Last weekend, This American Life ran a powerful, heart-wrenching story of how segregation continues to haunt the American education system. If you haven't yet heard it, you should definitely make some time to listen. TAL billed it as the first of two stories they have on the topic. So, while I was sitting around waiting for the second part to come out, I decided to dive a little deeper into some of the research behind last week's story. 

Sarah Alvarez

Teacher Josh Nichols is corralling a group of fifth-grade students into a classroom where there are PVC pipe, five-gallon buckets and ropes piled on tables, all arranged around two large cow troughs full of water. It's a makeshift laboratory, where the kids from this Stockbridge, Michigan elementary school make robots that function underwater. 

The students are getting their remotely operated underwater vehicles, or ROVs, ready for a Saturday trip to Albion, Michigan, a town about 35 miles away. "The ROVs will travel in the buckets," Nichols reminds them. "We need every piece." 

Nichols has been planning what some of the kids call a "geekend," for several months. He and Albion teacher Jason Raddatz met and connected over the ways they try to provide high-quality STEM (science, technology, education and math) education on a shoestring budget. 

They also want to combat the geographic, and in many ways demographic, isolation of the two rural mid-Michigan schools.

"A student could stay in a school system like this, and if they aren't involved in sports, they could go for six, eight, nine years without really leaving the town and having interaction with other students from other schools," Nichols explains.

Outtakes: How race shapes Detroit

Nov 7, 2013


For a few months now, I've been working on a series about the end of the neighborhood school as most people know it in Detroit . The stories will air next week. 

My question going into this work was how much a failed plan to racially integrate Detroit's schools contributed to changes in the educational landscape. I came away thinking the impact of that case was profound, but in many ways I didn't expect.

User: woodleywonderworks / Flickr

Michigan has a lot to be proud of - top universities, the Great Lakes, a (now) thriving car industry. Having some of the most racially segregated schools in the country? Not so much. 

When it comes to racial segregation in schools, Michigan tops the charts.

True, Michigan doesn’t have any actual segregated schools on the books, those went out a long time ago. But de facto segregation is very real. And it’s hard to argue that we’re moving toward a post-racial society in Michigan when black kids mostly go to school with other black kids, Latinos with Latinos, whites with whites.

Gary Orfield directs the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. He says one thing people need to understand is it's almost never just segregation by race or ethnicity. "It's almost always what we call 'double segregation.' So high concentrated black or Latino schools tend to have concentrated poverty as well, so there’s a double level of segregation."

And for a lot of Latino students, Orfield says it’s triple segregation: segregation by race, poverty and language.