Segregation Forever

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Robert L. Green, a nationally recognized expert on desegregation--professor of education at Michigan State, deseg consultant to districts and courts in Detroit, Norfolk, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Memphis and Prince George's County, Maryland--told the court: "Dallas has made tremendous strides in the last nine years in closing the achievement gap, especially in reading and math, the two building-block areas."

He said: "I could assert with some caution that the gap in reading and in math might be closed in a short time, in the next two or three years."

He's not talking about the few white kids left in the district vs. the black and Latino kids. He's talking about teaching minority kids up to or beyond the state and national achievement levels of white kids. It's huge news. If and when he's right, the Dallas school system is ready to play Carnegie Hall.

Dr. Herbert J. Walberg of Chicago, an educational psychologist, consultant to the governments of Israel, Japan, Sweden and the U.K., examined the Dallas schools to see what progress had been made in recent years: "I concluded in my report that Dallas was doing a really outstanding job...The conditions and programs and policies they have put in place make Dallas the most impressive large urban school district I've ever worked in."

Dr. George A. Gonzalez of McAllen, a bilingual expert who serves as a consultant to the governments of Mexico and Saudi Arabia, said: "I work with many districts throughout the state and the nation, and I have yet to find something this well done."

In an interview at school headquarters after the hearing, Moses described the district's recent successes with his own East Texas blend of salesmanship and self-deprecation. He talked about the fact that Dallas schools not only have climbed out of the cellar of urban education in Texas but have closed the gap with the other big Texas districts.

"We've had the largest two-year gains in reading and math of any of those other districts. We've had a 10-point gain in reading and a 14-point gain in math, and that has surpassed all of the other urban districts. So we have closed that gap between ourselves and our peer group. But I'm still certainly not satisfied that we've done all we could do. We've still got more work to do."

Moses said a major part of his challenge as the new boss was to simplify and streamline. "I think there just needed to be a clear direction. Big districts, big bureaucracies like this one, tend to make things so complex and complicated that nobody out in the field really knows, 'What is it we're supposed to be doing?'

"I said, 'reading and math, reading and math, reading and math'--the blocking and tackling of education. We've got to do more than that, but let's be really good at that."

The plaintiffs at the hearing, with Gilliam very much in the lead, tried to persuade Sanders that two and a half years of stunning progress is not enough. They suggested we might need as long as five years before it will be safe to send the district out the courthouse doors for good. Pointing to the chaos that had preceded Moses, they suggested he could leave in a year and things might return to abnormal.

I'm sure I was not the only one who saw irony in Gilliam warning the court that if Moses left, the district might slide back into the mess it was in when she was on the board. That was the period when white board members were involved in insurance scams and got caught on illegal phone bugs using the "n" word; black board members were accused of making school district personnel work in their homes; the board was racially split on everything with everybody trying to slam-dunk everybody else; and, in the end, it should be noted, Gilliam was defeated for her board seat by a younger, more conciliatory opponent. But bad as it may have been then, now that the district is firmly on the wagon, I don't think the court will agree to prevent backsliding by keeping it locked up in the drunk tank.

At several points in the hearing the plaintiffs, speaking through Cloutman and a series of witnesses, asked a legitimate question: Given that it was so bad so recently, how do we know this good stretch will last? The one with the best answer, I thought, was Moses.

During most of the hearing, even when his presence wasn't required, he sat in the back of the room kneading his large hands and turning first one ear, then the other, soaking up every word. When it was his turn in the dock, his plainspoken response to the trust question was that the district itself--the teachers and administrators, the kids and the parents out in the schools--had never been in on the big wobble. Without pointing explicitly to his predecessors, he said it's possible to take a basically sound institution, give it good leadership and help it perform a whole lot better.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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