November 30, 2004

School Resegregation and the Exurbs

Stephen Darwall: November 30, 2004

My son Will has been writing a paper on school desegregation for his AP US History class, specifically, on the landmark (Metropolitan Detroit) case, Milliken v. Bradley (1974), which pretty much stopped active desgregation in its tracks and led ultimately to increasingly resegregated schools (data below).  So I have been thinking about what I've been learning from Will in relation to the growing exurbs, whose role in the Bush victory has been much discussed, for example, by David Brooks.

In Milliken, the Court struck down a plan imposed by a federal district court to desgregate schools in Metropolitan Detroit across district lines (i.e., by including suburbs) on the grounds that there had been no showing of multi-district de jure school segregation (notwithstanding substantial housing discrimination in the suburbs--Dearborn, for example, had maintained 0% African-Americans through particularly agressive means).  This stalled desegregation progress throughout the U.S. and led, ultimately, to a reversal.  In 1968, the year of Green v. County School Board, the first case to put teeth into Brown, 76.6% of African-Americans attended schools that were 50-100% minority.  By 1972, that number had decreased to 63.6%.  This progress pretty much stopped with Milliken--only 62.9% by 1980.  By 1986, the percentage actually began to climb, reaching 70.2% by 1998.  For an excellent discussion, see Gary Orfield's "Schools More Separate: Consequences of a Decade of Resegregation.)  As Orfield pointed out in a talk at the University of Virginia Law School last February (video here) even communities like Charlotte, North Carolina, find it difficult to maintain multi-district desegregation despite public support in the judicial climate spawned by Milliken and continued by an increasingly conservative judiciary.

What does this have to do with exurbia?  The fastest growing county in Michigan, Livingston County, is exurban.  It grew approximately 35% between 1990 and 2000, and has grown another 10% since then.  Much of this growth has been fueled by ex-suburbanites from Metropolitan Detroit (itself the most residentially segregated area in the country).  Although African-Americans represent 14.2% of citizens of Michigan (and a much higher percentage of Metropolitan Detroit), they are only 0.5% of the population of Livingston County.

So far as I can tell, there has been very little discussion of the increasing resegregation of American schools.  And from this perspective, a growing exurbia (indirectly public funded by cheap gas, Interstates, and tax incentives for home ownership) seems to be very bad news.

December 16, 2004

U.S. Education in the World

Stephen Darwall: December 16, 2004

Two recent items in the news about U.S. education should give us significant pause in thinking about the long-term health of the U.S. economy.  One concerns a substantial drop in the number of foreign students attending U.S. universities, especially, Ph.D. programs in science and technical areas, whose graduates will help drive economic activity at the cutting edge.  The other is about the continuing slide in performance in math and science by American high school students judged against their peers in other countires.

One place you can see the first worry is an op-ed piece in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago (11/30) by Joseph Nye.  Visa difficulties since 9/11 have made it more difficult for foreign students to the come to the U.S.  The Council for Graduate Studies reported a 6% decline in first-time foreign student enrollment from 2003 to 2004, with substantially greater decline in applications.  In October, the International Herald Tribune reported that European countries are eagerly stepping in to take up the slack, with Germany making substantial financial aid investments that have yielded almost 30 percent increases in foreign students each year since 2001 (most being science and math students from India and China).  And, increasingly, Chinese science and math students are finding attractive enough opportunities for advanced study in China for them to stay at home.  In my view, the ability to attract top international intellectual talent to universities that have become the envy of the world has been a crucial competitive advantage that the U.S. has enjoyed internationally.  From that perspective alone, not to mention the effects on continuously reinvigorating American culture, U.S. long-term prospects will be significantly dimmed unless our immigration policy and practice is changed.

The second worry stems from a recent report, for example, in The New York Times of 12/7, that in the most recent international comparison of high school students' skills in math, U.S. students were in the bottom half of industrialized countries.  And this despite the fact that American high school math students were towards the top internationally a generation ago.  Clearly part of the problem is grade inflation and diminished expectations.  72% of American students say they get "good grades" in math, whereas only 25% of students in Hong Kong think they do.  (Math students in Hong Kong are the highest performing in the world.)

Together, these two trends spell long-term worries for the competitiveness of the U.S. economy and for the economic prospects of our children.  Perhaps you don't have to worry so much about the farm system if you can continually bring in free agents, but if neither alternative is working, then you've got problems.

As I see it, there is enough blame here to spread all over the political spectrum.  Surely the Bush administration must bear much of the responsibility for post-9/11 immigration policy and other ham-handed policies toward science and universities.  But Democrats have also traditionally cast a blind eye at teachers' unions who have opposed measures such as merit pay and substantially greater teacher responsibility that, in my view, are necessary to improve public education.  I have never been able to see why the governance structures, mediated throughout by meritocratic judgment, that are so central to having made U.S. institutions of higher education so highly successful internationally, have been so fiercely resisted in K-12 education in the U.S.

December 21, 2004

U.S. Education in the World Redux

Stephen Darwall: December 21, 2004

Just a quick update of my earlier post ("U.S. Education in the World").  The New York Times has a very interesting article today along similar lines ("U.S. Slips in Attracting the World's Best Students.")  Among the most interesting statistics: the number of students from Indian and China who took the most recent administration of the Graduate Record Exam dropped by half.  That is an utterly amazing decline in the number of students from two of the worlds' major suppliers of intellectual talent in math, science, engineering, and computing who are even putting themselves into a position to apply to American graduate programs.  (The GRE is the major exam for almost all U.S. graduate programs.)  Also, foreign applications to American graduate programs declined 28 percent this year.  That also is a very big drop.  (Imagine if demand for some other important economic product, say, U.S. automobiles, were to drop by that much in a single year.  GM and Ford are in the tank because of declines that are roughly a third of that.  (Yes, I know that American postgraduate education is not a product in the same sense.  Most graduate research-linked education is heavily subsidized by financial aid.  But that is because it is a major engine of future economic development.  And that is the problem: our goose is laying fewer golden eggs and may continue to do so.)

The article goes on to develop much further a point I made in my earlier post, that a post-9/11 immigration lockdown (however hard or soft, e.g., long visa delays) has coincided with intensive efforts by many developed countries (including Germany, Canada, Australia, and the U.K.) to increase significantly their recruitment of foreign students, and, in the case of countries like Singapore and China to develop their own quality graduate science, math, and engineering programs. 

I suppose it is a hopeful sign that this issue has made it as close to the public radar screen as an article in the New York Times

January 09, 2005

Kidnapping, Renditions, and Torture

Stephen Darwall: January 9, 2005

Today's New York Times has an article relating to the U.S. post-9/11 policy of "irregular" or "extraordinary renditions"  that everyone should read: German's Claim of Kidnapping Brings Investigation of U.S. LinkThis is the policy, in place in principle since the early 1990s but whose use vastly increased in the aftermath of 9/11, under which "high value" detainees have been transferred, without extradition proceedings, to other countries that are known to practice torture.  In this case, it seems (read the article to see how persuaded you are) that a German citizen, Khaled el-Masri, who apparently shares the same last name (with a variant spelling) as a man wanted in the 9/11 attacks, was kidnapped by Macedonian authorities when attempting to enter Macedonia while on holiday and was "swept into the C.I.A.'s policy of renditions."  The Times was able to interview el-Masri and check his story against both an Amnesty International report and documents such as his stamped passport and bus tickets.  As el-Masri describes it, after being detained for several weeks in Macedonia, he was flown to a prison in Afghanistan where he was held for months and subjected to beating and forced feeding to break his hunger strike.  Ultimately he was flown back to Albania near the Macedonian border and released, whereupon the border officer returned his belongings, which had been taken from him when he was first apprehended.  When he found his way to his home in Germany, he discovered that his wife and family, who had no idea what had become of him, had moved to his wife's home in Lebanon. 

According to the authors, "Mr. Masri's allegations bear similarities to the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian born in Syria who was suspected of being a Qaeda operative. Mr. Arar, who was detained in New York in 2002, says he was sent by the United States to Syria, where he says he was repeatedly tortured during 10 months in prison.  A second detainee, Mamdouh Habib, an Australian, has asserted in court papers that he was tortured in an Egyptian prison for nearly six months in 2001 before being transferred to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The allegations were contained in a motion filed with a federal court recently. Mr. Habib's lawyer has asked the federal district court in Washington to block the Bush administration from sending him back to Egypt, asserting that he would be tortured again there."

In thinking about whether the policy of extraordinary renditions can possibly be justified on security grounds, it seems important to have vividly in mind the kind of unintended side effects that will expectably occur and that, it seems, have actually occurred.

January 30, 2005

The Vote in Iraq

Stephen Darwall: January 30, 2005

Michael Ignatieff's piece in today's New York Times strikes the right tone concerning today's vote in Iraq.  Whatever one's view about the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, we should unite in admiration of Iraqis who have stood up to attacks on democracy of unparalleled violence to participate in today's elections.  According to the Times's early reports, voting in Baghdad is higher than expected.  If these reports hold up, this is very good news from a country that has had significantly more than its share of bad (for which we bear great responsibility).  Whatever happens, Iraqis who are participating deserve enormous admiration and respect.

March 06, 2005

Renditions Redux

Stephen Darwall: March 6, 2005

See "Rule Change Lets C.I.A. Freely Send Suspects Abroad to Jails" in today's New York Times for an account of the administration's program of renditions, which gives the CIA broad authority to send individuals suspected of terrorism to foreign countries for "interrogation".  The human rights concern, of course, is that this is done without any legal process and that there is good reason to think that the interrogations conducted in these countries amount to torture--indeed, that the suspects are sent to these countries because they are likely to be tortured there.  I discussed this a bit in an earlier post--"Kidnapping, Renditions, and Torture"--which referred to a Times article earlier this year describing the fate of Khaled el-Masri (also referred to briefly in today's Times piece).  El-Masri is a German citizen who was apparently caught in our renditions net when he was apprehended (mistaken identity, it seems) by Macedonian officials while he was on vacation.  By his account (largely confirmed by the Times), he was taken to Kabul for several months where he was subjected to beatings and forced feedings.

This evening, Sixty Minutes is scheduled to cover the same story.  The show will feature the first American interview with el-Masri and an investigation of CIA rendition flights.  It bears watching.

A Dan Wasserman political cartoon, also in today's Times, makes a (black) humorous connection with the recent promising potentially-liberalizing developments in the Middle East.  One CIA man says to another: "If the dictatorships in the Mideast really go democratic, where are we going to send suspects to be tortured?" Whether or not the administration should get credit for recent liberalizing developments, a matter on which reasonable people may disagree, I hope no one will suggest that the policy of renditions has helped lead to them.  To the contrary, it encourages cynicism, that we don't really mean what we say and that we are relying on some of the most repressive aspects of the regimes to which we send suspects.

May 15, 2005

Class and Politics

Stephen Darwall: May 15, 2005

Today's New York Times begins a three-week series of articles on "Class in America" that will lay out the results of recent research on the "greater role" that class plays "in American life."  Class is prominent also in David Brooks's column for today: "Meet the Poor Republicans."  The juxtaposition is especially interesting.

Brooks has consistently identified and insightfully analyzed recent Republican success in attracting lower-income voters.  Here he notes that George Bush "won the white working class by 23 percentage points" and asks "why so many lower-middle-class waitresses in Kansas and Hispanic warehouse workers in Texas now call themselves Republicans?"  His answer, supported by recent Pew Research Center data, is that "they agree with Horatio Alger," they believe in socioeconomic mobility, that "most people can get ahead with hard work."  According to the Pew study, although only 14 percent of lower-income Democrats have that belief, 76 percent of lower-income Republicans do.  This is surely a remarkable difference.

This is where "Class in America" comes in.  It has been well known that economic inequality began to increase in the mid-1970s.  People disagree about how bad this is in itself, but those who think it isn't usually do so because they believe there is sufficient socioeconomic mobility, that people can overcome their socioeconomic birthplace by hard work.  There was a time when research might have seemed to bear that out.  In 1987, Gary Becker "summed up the research by saying that mobility in the United States was so high that very little advantage was passed down from one generation to the next."  Many researchers believed that the effects of socioeconomic birthplace tended to wash out over two generations.

The problem is that the past research turns out to have been deeply flawed, and more recent research has shown significantly less, and significantly decreasing, mobility.  So much so, indeed, that the Times quotes my Michigan economist colleague, Garry Solon, as saying that the argument that  inequality doesn't matter because of socioeconomic mobility is not "respectable in scholarly circles anymore."  A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, for example, found less mobility in the 1980s than the 1970s, and less still in the 1990s.

None of this should be surprising to my generation.  (I'm fifty-eight.)  The opportunities for parental investment in our children's "skill set"--SAT preparation, music lessons, organized sports activities (of a dizzying variety), and exotic travel, educational, and even community service opportunities--certainly goes well beyond anything we ourselves experienced.  And for their part, elite colleges and universities compete ever more feverishly for students with the most impressive portfolios (never mind legacy admits).

It is interesting to contemplate the possibility that the phenomenon of increased lower-income Republicans is based (even partly) on a belief in socioeconomic mobility that is, at least increasingly, a myth.

To his credit, David Brooks notes that "when you look at how Republicans behave in office, you notice that they are often clueless when it comes to understanding the lower-class folks who have put them there."  And Brooks spends half his column arguing that Republicans should be doing significantly more to level the playing field and less to protect corporate interests.  Might there be an opportunity here for Republicans and Democrats who are concerned about obstacles to socioeconomic mobility to make common cause?

September 06, 2005

A BBC Rescue Boat in New Orleans

Stephen Darwall: September 6, 2005

Yesterday I saw the most amazing BBC video coverage from New Orleans, which spoke volumes about the character and focus of even our belated relief efforts there.  You can find it at the BBC News site (Thanks to Ciaran.)  What you will see is footage from a small boat that a BBC reporter and crew took into one of the poor African-American neighborhoods in New Orleans.  Winding their way past floating dead bodies, they find their way to a house with five children and their dead mother, whom they rescue.  "It seems quite incredible to me," says the BBC reporter, "that we are the only boat in this neighborhood.  And in every neighborhood we have gone into there are so many people with so many needs."  After taking the family to an evacuation point, they return to the neighborhoods and find two middle-aged African-American brothers still holding on in their house because they don't want to leave their deceased mother, whose body hangs above the water level in a sling.  Presently, the report turns to the relief effort itself and to the high proportion of military/police to medical support.  "When the authorities do come to these streets, it's more often in pickup trucks with guns, more guns than medical workers."  Dr. Greg Anderson is interviewed and says, "There are a lot more cops ... and guns than doctors.  For a long time, I'm sorry to say, I was the only doctor down here in central New Orleans."  An equally distressing proportion is the ratio of  human needs met by that small BBC crew to those met by the enormous US news and "news" operations, not to mention, the national guard and other national support, considered in relation to their relative size.