Do Arne Duncan and Eric Holder understand what they are suggesting when they talk up civil rights and race as part of the push for universal preschool?
The newest release of the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection is turning the argument for universal preschool into a dialogue about civil rights, race, and opportunity. Duncan and Holder are raising an unspoken question, though, and they don’t seem to realize it. If kids are being disciplined because of their race, does that mean they are suffering racism at the hands of their teachers, or are children of color, especially African Americans, more likely to be bad kids?
There is no high-quality public anything, including universal preschool.
Whether Obama’s vision is a perfect health care system or access to high-quality universal preschool,1 if it comes from big government quality is a misnomer. Obama Press Secretary Jay Carney recently talked of preschool development grants for cities and states in the president’s 2015 budget and more millions tucked away for “high-quality infant and toddler care for 100,000 children.”2 Even if it was approved, the funding in Obama’s budget is scarcely enough to scratch the surface of what Duncan says we need to accomplish.
What high-quality universal preschool can be is the newest election year fix for inequality of opportunity that now seems to stretch from the cradle to the grave. There is a problem with the concept of universal preschool, though. It is part of the public school system, which means it can only be good to a point and will fall victim to the same pitfalls as public school for older kids.
Fortunately, the new civil rights data from Duncan’s agency means a convenient shift in the argument for preschool and school funding in general. It’s not just about money any more. Now we are talking about the opportunity gap, civil rights, and racism without having the courage to admit what we are saying.
Is this about access to preschool, racist teachers, or bad kids?
On one hand, the Department of Education argues that we have a problem with children’s access to preschool. On the other, the civil rights data shows that when kids are lucky enough to get into preschool African Americans, in particular, tend to be disciplined and even suspended more often than other kids.3 We have to wonder, if so many kids are being suspended because of their race, who is doing the suspending and why? Are we talking racist teachers or bad kids?
Universal preschool argument resorts to civil rights, discrimination, and racism.
Obama administration officials have a new reason to level charges of inequality in America:
“This data collection shines a clear, unbiased light on places that are delivering on the promise of an equal education for every child and places where the largest gaps remain. In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said.4
Duncan couldn’t resist bringing up the real problem he wants to deal with, how to pay teachers more money when unions demand it and state don’t have any more to spend:
… black and Latino students are significantly more likely to have teachers with less experience who aren’t paid as much as their colleagues in other schools.5
Are these the same underpaid, deserving teachers who are suspending minority kids hand over fist? Does lower pay mean racist teachers and how is universal preschool supposed to fix the problem?
Eric Holder gets involved with preschool civil rights.
It’s seldom a good thing when Eric Holder finds a new cause. Calling reported racial differences in school discipline shocking, astonishing, and unacceptable,6 Holder warns that mistreatment of school kids starts young:
And some of the racial disparities in the administration of school discipline that are well-documented among older students actually begin as early as preschool.7
Resurrecting Brown vs. Board of Education, Holder raised the stick of Justice Department involvement:
As we speak, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is collaborating with school districts and states to ensure that they’re meeting their obligations under federal civil rights laws.8
Or we could set the civil rights posturing aside and admit the simple truth everyone already knows. Kids from disadvantaged areas have problems and Obama hasn’t done much for the disadvantaged, including African Americans. He still can’t understand that opportunity and equality are not things the government can purchase, no matter how early the money starts flowing.