• Jan 25, 2012

What Would It Take to Close the Opportunity Gap?

  • 6:00 PM
  • Modern Theatre, Suffolk University, 525 Washington St., Boston, MA 02111

Join us in exploring the contours of the opportunity gap as three prominent legal and policy experts share tools and frameworks designed to help educators, policymakers, and community members reduce systemic racial and economic isolation and close educational resource gaps in our nation’s K-12 public schools.

The discussion draws principally on the recent work of Edwin Darden (Director of Law and Policy, The Appleseed Network) and Derek Black (Professor, Howard University School of Law). Both of these civil rights scholars recently developed different, but complementary, frameworks for assessing access to what Darden’s organization terms “learning-related education resources.” Such resources profoundly affect the quality and effectiveness of education, and are usually distributed by a school board’s approval, but are not “dollars” per se. (These resources might include curricula, qualified and motivated teachers, and building upgrades.) Appleseed’s research finds that school boards often make one-at-a-time decisions that, over years and decades, exacerbate resource disparities between schools in their districts. Cumulatively, such decisions tend to provide well-off students a better chance of academic success when compared with students from lower-income families. To ameliorate this, the Appleseed Network designed the Resource Equity Assessment Document (READ). This tool assists school board members in identifying and correcting disparities in learning-related education resources.

Meanwhile, Professor Derek Black’s most recent scholarship explores the benefits associated with exposure to middle income peers (which, he argues, should be thought of as an educational resource). Black’s research, published this month by the Boston College Law Review, “revealed a serious problem with racially unequal access to middle income peers within districts that stretches across all states.” Given the documented benefits associated with access to middle income peers, Black argues for a constitutional right to equal access to middle income peers.

The third presenter, Myron Orfield (Professor, University of Minnesota Law School) will discuss the READ tool and its implications on school board decision-making within the context of student assignment (an issue that is not explicitly addressed by the READ tool). He will explore the modern-day implications of the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Keyes v. School District No. 1, which was an important legal precedent in the Boston desegregation case (during which issues of “intent” were passionately debated). In Keyes, the Court held that when part of a school system is found to be segregated, a “prima facie case of unlawful [systematic] segregative design” arises, requiring a school district to prove that it operated without “segregative intent” on a system-wide basis. Keyes was one of the first cases in which the Court addressed segregation outside of the South, and the case played an important role in defining de facto segregation. The Keyes Court held that, even though there were no official laws supporting segregation, Denver’s Board of Education “through its actions over a period of years, intentionally created and maintained the segregated character of the core city schools.” Orfield will also provide an overview of the recently-issued federal guidance on school diversity, and how it might help school board members as they make decisions about student assignment. Drawing from his extensive experience in Minnesota, Orfield will also discuss the role state leaders can play in remedying racial and poverty concentration in K-12 schools.

Respondents Mariana Arcaya (Public Health Manager, Metropolitan Area Planning Council) and Donna Bivens (Boston Busing Truth Project Coordinator, Union of Minority Neighborhoods) will discuss the implications the presentation has on policy in Massachusetts and contemplate the possible challenges communities and policymakers may face in implementing the reforms presented.

Hosted by: Latin American Law Students Association, Suffolk Law School

Contributors: Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, TAG Boston, diversitydata.org