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CNN PRESENTS: "The Gap: 50 Years After the Brown Ruling."
Aired May 16, 2004 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Carol Lin at the CNN Center. CNN PRESENTS is up next, but first these headlines.
The Pentagon has denied a "New Yorker" report that blames Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for the prisoner abuse scandal. Journalist Seymour Hersh said Rumsfeld secretly authorized a get-tough approach to interrogation of Iraqi detainees last August.
Al-Jazeera television has broadcast video of what it says are two Russian hostages in Iraq. A Russian TV network says they look like contractors captured in an ambush south of Baghdad. A group calling itself the Army of the Victorious Sect says it is holding the pair.
Massachusetts becomes the first state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriages tomorrow. A number of gay and lesbian couples are already in line for marriage applications. Some towns and cities in the state will start issuing them at midnight.
And tonight, at 10 o'clock, U2's Bono. Earlier today I talked to him about Africa, the war on terror and, on a more cheerful subject, the band's new CD. Join me at 10 o'clock Eastern for that.
Right now, CNN PRESENTS "The Gap: 50 Years After the Brown Ruling."
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In one of the nation's best high schools, white students getting most of the As and Bs, black students, most of the Ds and Fs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first reaction is one: I don't want to believe it, two: it's not there, three: it must be a lie.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a gap in grades, there's a gap in test scores, just like there's a gap in the entire country.
LOTHIAN: To close the gap, black America is taking a hard look at itself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you go into a classroom, you're going to see mostly black heads playing around, chilling. Look at the white kids. They're at attention, they're taking notes. It pains me, actually. Like all the obstacles we've overcome just to have opportunities to go to school and people just waste it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a catastrophe and I regard it as the number one educational issue, but also the number one civil rights issue today.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation in America's public schools was unconstitutional. The ruling in Brown v. the Board of Education sought to integrate schools and force open the door for equal opportunity. But 50 years later, African American students are still struggling to keep pace with their white c(r)MD-BOŻlassmates. On average today, black students graduate high school with test scores comparable to that of the average white eighth grader.
Welcome to CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown. When it comes to the education gap between black and white students, there are familiar complaints. Poor school funding, poor schools and poor teaching. But what, if any, responsibility does the black community share in this disparity. That is a much touchier subject, downright controversial, actually. Nevertheless, a grow`ing number of African American teachers and researchers and students are ta`ckling some very ugly stereotypes and some very valid fears. They're breaking down old taboos. It is a drama that is playing out in one of the most respected and integrated schools in the country. As CNN's Dan Lothian reports in "The Gap: 50 Years After the Brown Ruling."
LOTHIAN: Shaker Heights, Ohio, an integrated community of 30,000 people just outside Cleveland. People move here for the schools, which are nationally known for excellence. About half of the students are black, and like their white classmates, most attend college.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to Urbana University.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to The Ohio State University.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to Fordham University.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next year I'll be attending Georgetown University, majoring in business.
LOTHIAN: It's a big change from the 1920s, when some of Shaker Heights leading citizens, white citizens, amended their deeds to keep undesirable neighbors out of the community.
CATHIE WINANS, SHAKER HISTORICAL SOCIETY: I'm not saying they specifically wanted to exclude Jews and blacks and possibly Catholics from the community, but the idea that Shaker Heights has taken great strides in the integration movement I think will still come as a surprise to those folks.
LOTHIAN: Fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, the Shaker Heights schools embody the highest goals of that landmark case. Black and white students getting an equal and excellent education.
But Shaker Heights has a problem. A significant gap between black and white students.
MARK FREEMAN, SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT: There's a gap. There's a gap in achievement. There's a gap in grades. There's a gap in test scores. Just like there's a gap in the state, just like there's a gap in the entire country.
LOTHIAN: School officials say part of the gap comes with the territory. The median income for whites is more than $100,000, twice as high as for blacks. It's common for white students to grow up in families with two PhDs. On the other hand, the parents of a typical black student finished high school, or, at most, some college. One out of six black children lives in poverty.
FREEMAN: We have a pretty skewed white population if you do this-if you divide the kids by race.
LOTHIAN: Even so, there's a growing recognition that there's more to the problem than money and college degrees.
REUBEN HARRIS, JR., SHAKER HEIGHTS PARENT: We can't say all of the negative outcomes are attributable to poverty and low income. The numbers just don't add up. They don't make sense.
LOTHIAN: The numbers were impossible to ignore, when in 1997 the student newspaper wrote about a school sponsored study. 82 percent of the students who failed proficiency tests were black. 84 percent of the students getting Ds and Fs on their report cards were black. And the average SAT score for black students was 305 points lower than for white students.
HARRIS: It basically rocked my core when I saw the magnitude of the disparity.
LOTHIAN: Shaker Heights parent and businessman Reuben Harris knew something had to change. Many of his black neighbors, humiliated, had angry questions.
HARRIS: Are they out to destroy me? Are they out to embarrass me? Are they out to belittle me? Are they saying that I'm genetically inferior? Are they saying culturally inferior?
LOTHIAN: The black parents asked the school to consult with John Ogbu, a Nigerian-born social scientist from the University of California. Ogbu died in 2003, but not before publishing a controversial study of Shaker Heights. He came down hard on the black community, describing what he called a low-effort syndrome. "Black students in Shaker Heights do not work hard or to their full capacity," Ogbu wrote. As for black parents, "involvement with their children's education was dismal."
OGBU: They have a kind of what you call, "beer mug" model, why and how children learn.
LOTHIAN: Before his death, Ogbu spoke to the City Club of Cleveland.
OGBU: Here is the child. Here is the teacher. Here has a mug. Pour in knowledge into the child. I don't think that they see themselves as teachers, and that's one of the problems.
LOTHIAN: Reaction in the black community was fiercely intense. HARRIS: It ranged from saying, "This guy is finally saying what needs to be said," to, "This guy is Clarence Thomas, out to destroy black folk. He's worse than any white person could ever be to black people. He's destructive."
LOTHIAN: The issues in Shaker Heights are part of a growing national conversation about how to bridge the gap. It includes tough talk, even broaching a taboo, the notion that some African Americans are perpetuating a culture of anti-intellectualism. In other words, undermining their own chances for success.
STEPHAN THERNSTROM, CO AUTHOR "NO EXCUSES": Certainly, get over any possible argument that we expect less of you in your chemistry test because your great-great-great-great grandparents were slaves.
LOTHIAN: Stephan Thernstrom is a historian from Harvard and his wife Abigail from the conservative Manhattan Institute are authors of "No Excuses." They are alarmed by national data on TV viewing, which may affect study habits. 8 percent of white eighth graders watch six hours or more each day. For blacks? That number is 30 percent, nearly 4 times higher. And these are kids whose parents graduated from college.
ABIGAIL THERNSTROM, CO-AUTHOR, "NO EXCUSES": What kids themselves say, "We have to watch a lot of television because otherwise we wouldn't be part of the peer culture."
LOTHIAN: Black community leaders and academics are also touching raw nerves with hard-line ideas.
RON FERGUSON, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Even though it's difficult to say in public and particularly on television, I think there are racial differences in the outside-school intellectual climate that we need to face up to and to work on.
JOHN MCWHORTER, AUTHOR, "LOSING THE RACE": There is a cultural issue. Most black people know that a large part of the problem with middle-class black students is that a lot of middle-class black students teach each other not to do well in school. Among people who are rather extreme, there's a quiet sense that to do well in school is to embrace "the Man" too much.
LOTHIAN: Black students are also taking a tough look at themselves.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only way that they can get these stereotypes is if we put them in their minds.
LOTHIAN: When we come back, straight talk from Shaker Heights.
LOTHIAN: While Gawain Minor gets ready for school, his single mother is already working a 4:30 a.m. shift at the post office.
GAWAIN MINOR, SHAKER HEIGHTS SENIOR: I'm just fortunate that my mother, when she's working her long hours she at least has the time, she puts the time aside to tell me, "Well, you need to be doing better in this class," or "Do you need any help?" or anything like that.
LOTHIAN: Gawain, a star athlete, will soon graduate with a B+ average. Gawain looks cool, but he's also all business. Twice a month he dresses up to help lead the Minority Achievement Committee. The MAC Scholars. The MAC Scholars are high-achieving black seniors who mentor younger peers. One group for boys, one for girls.
MINOR: I also want to know from your point of view, what does average mean?
LOTHIAN: The MAC Scholars push others to set high goals. They are fighting a national problem.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (inaudible) I wasn't coming to school, now I'm coming to school and getting As and Bs. At the beginning of the quarter I had straight Fs and a C and a D. And I improved a lot and have more self-respect for myself.
LOTHIAN: Over the years there have been hopeful signs. In the 1970s, the education gap was shrinking, perhaps the payoff from anti- poverty programs, smaller classes, black families moving to the suburbs. But by 1990, something changed to widen the gap. The rate of African American students cutting class went up. Their leisure reading went down.
FERGUSON: You've got some shift in youth culture, apparently, at the end of the 1980s that seems to have affected black students more than whites.
LOTHIAN: The national average SAT score for black students is more than 200 points below the average for white students. And even when the parents make $100,000 and finish graduate school, the gap is still 141 points.
ABIGAIL THERNSTROM: We're not going to close the earnings gap in America, we're not going to have racial equality without closing the educational gap. It really is that simple.
LOTHIAN: Many experts say closing the gap means counteracting a barrage of negative forces, including a tendency for black students to sabotage themselves.
The MAC Scholars are trying to change the mindset of fellow students.
WINSTON WEATHERSPOON, SHAKER HEIGHTS SENIOR: At Shaker, a lot of the times African Americans, they don't see school as a means to an ends of success, so they don't take it as seriously and they might think, oh, white kids are just going to be smarter than me.
LOTHIAN (ON CAMERA): So you've had other black kids, some of your peers, say to you, "The reason I didn't do as well as the white kids is because they're just smarter than me."
WEATHERSPOON: Yeah. I'm sad to say it but it is true.
LOTHIAN (VOICE-OVER): Every day the MAC Scholars see black adolescents facing the same teenage turbulence as their white classmates, but with an added twist.
But those who think getting good grades means they're acting white, rap music's gangstas and thugs offer an alternative to be authentically black.
JOCK WILLIAMS, SHAKER HEIGHTS SENIOR: A lot of black students, we want to be athletes and rappers because we only see that sweet part. We're seeing the cars, the houses, the girls, the money, the clothes. We're seeing all that good stuff.
MINOR: But they don't really know what they're doing now is like a step is gone from whatever you're doing in the future.
LOTHIAN (ON-CAMERA): Is there a legitimate excuse that a black student has to not succeed?
JEREMY MAYORA, SHAKER HEIGHTS SENIOR: No. Excuses in my opinion are just a reason for you to fail.
FERGUSON: I follow problems.
LOTHIAN (VOICE-OVER): Ron Ferguson is studying Shaker Heights and more than a dozen similar districts around the country. He found that white and black students actually have similar goals and spend about the same time on homework. But many of the African American students with parents new to the middle class transfer to Shaker Heights after years in lower quality schools. Ferguson says their achievement gap is routed in a skills gap.
FERGUSON: The same amount of time on homework does not produce the same results in terms of completed homework. And you also have the levels of competence where even if I did try, could I? Could I really do that? Am I smart enough?
LOTHIAN: Ironically, a generation of parents raised on the optimism of the civil rights movement may inadvertently be raising their children with pessimism.
SAM FULWOOD, COLUMNIST, "CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER": We have seen among middle-class blacks what I describe as integration fatigue.
LOTHIAN: Sam Fulwood, a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Shaker Heights parent.
FULWOOD: A family will come home for dinner and sit around the dinner table and talk about how tough it was at work, how "the man" was keeping them from being able to get ahead at work. Well, Junior's sitting there, or Missy is sitting there, listening to this kind of conversation and can draw some conclusions that would say, "Why would I want to do that? I'm going to become a rapper."
And rappers don't have to study. LOTHIAN: Add to all these forces a history of discrimination. The experts say it's as though students are running a race in which one team had a head start. Black America is behind when the race begins. Whatever caused the gap, closing it means running faster. Gawain Minor says it can be done. He plans to be the first person in his family to graduate from college.
MINOR: You just have to put your mind to it and you have somebody backing you up, like somebody in your corner, you can do anything.
LOTHIAN: The MAC Scholars at Shaker Heights offer that support. Literally extending a hand to younger students and a pledge to close the gap.
UNIDENTIFIED MALES: I am an African American man. I must uphold the name and image of African American men.
LOTHIAN: When we continue, classes in black and white. From Advanced Placement to CP.
WILLIAMS: CP, you know what I'm saying, we call that "Colored people," you know what I'm saying, because...
LOTHIAN (ON CAMERA): You call it what?
WILLIAMS: Colored people. Because when you go into a CP class, what are you going to see? A lot of colored people. So that's what you're generally going to call it.
LOTHIAN (VOICE OVER): Graduation day. Shaker Heights seniors march in celebration, eagerly looking forward to their futures. Many are heading off to some of the most selective and competitive colleges in the country. How they get there is no secret. Actually, it's an open book.
TERRY POLLACK, SHAKER HEIGHTS TEACHER: College admissions counselors first look at the level of difficulty regarding a high school program.
LOTHIAN: Such as honors classes and Advanced Placement, or AP. Demanding college-level courses with a big payoff.
POLLACK: A C in an AP or an Honors course is worth more than an A or a B in a lower level class.
LOTHIAN: Who takes the upper level classes? It's as clear as black and white. White students almost exclusively fill the AP and Honors classes. While black students are the overwhelming majority in the standard track, College Prep, or CP classes.
FREEMAN: It's a different course of study. It's a high school course. The other one's a college course.
LOTHIAN: Sounds perfectly fine. Except that for the kids CP has taken on a whole new meaning.
WILLIAMS: You know, CP, you know what I'm saying, we call that "Colored People," you know what I'm saying, because you go...
LOTHIAN (ON CAMERA): You call it what?
WILLIAMS: "Colored People." Because...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colored people's classes.
WILLIAMS: Because when you go into a CP class, that's what you're going to see, a lot of colored people, so that's what you're generally going to call it.
LOTHIAN (VOICE-OVER): Many black students believe CP classes carry a stigma and that CP teachers don't expect much from them. The level of teacher expectations effects how well students perform. The research is clear. At the same time, no one knows if the lowered expectations are the results of the students own behavior.
WILLIAMS: You're going to see most of the black kids playing around, chilling, talking, not taking notes. You look at the white kids, they're at attention, they're taking notes, they're asking the teacher questions, and that has a lot to do with how the teacher respects you, how the teacher treats you.
LOTHIAN: It's a vicious cycle Shaker Heights is trying to break.
FREEMAN: More tutoring for kids, more parental participation, more understanding on the part of the faculty about how to deal with this, how to improve teaching.
LOTHIAN: The small number of minorities in AP and Honors classes is not unique to this school. It's part of a national pattern. But in Shaker Heights, where the average black student often outscores the average Ohio student, black or white, the disparity is especially glaring.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you made a little bit of progress is that better than none at all?
LOTHIAN: That's why teachers like George Harley work so hard to get qualified African American students into Honors and AP.
GEORGE HARLEY, SHAKER HEIGHTS TEACHER: I've had students that I've actually taught at the CP level their junior year have opted to take my class the senior year and they say "I'm going to take it at the college prep level," and I said, "No, you're not. You're taking it at the honors level," because I clearly knew that they had the capacity to perform at that level.
LOTHIAN: With all the push to interest black students in the most challenging classes, teachers walk a fine line. If they push to hard, they risk intimidating the very students they are trying to attract.
That's what happened with Amanda Fulwood when she signed up for AP Modern European History.
AMANDA FULWOOD, SHAKER HEIGHTS STUDENT: And I was really excited going into the class because it was going to be my first AP class.
LOTHIAN: It was a bold move for a sophomore. But Amanda, always a super achiever, believed she was up to the task.
FULWOOD: When I got there the first day, the teacher told me, he told all of us that it was going to be the hardest class we had ever taken up to this point in our high school careers and it scared-it petrified me completely.
LOTHIAN (ON CAMERA): Did he single you out?
FULWOOD: No. It was just, I don't know. I think it affected me more than it affected anyone else.
LOTHIAN: How come?
FULWOOD: I was the minority in the class? I was one of two black people and it was kind of like-it's not said, but I think it's kind of expected that we won't achieve as much as everyone else because of our race.
LOTHIAN (VOICE-OVER): Amanda ended up with a C and chose to drop down to the CP level for her next history class.
FULWOOD: I figured it was just easier to not try then to fail.
LOTHIAN: Some researchers believe African American students are more vulnerable to what teachers think of them, while white students are more likely to respond to teacher demands, black students are more motivated by encouragement.
FERGUSON: Because of racial stereotypes they aren't so sure the teacher thinks that they can do it. Sometimes they aren't so sure that the teacher really wants to invest to the degree that they'd have to to help them do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going from the integral to negative 2 to 2.
LOTHIAN: Jory Carver(ph) was encouraged by teachers until he got to a ninth grade Honors class.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My teachers in the middle school had always told me that I was pretty good at math and that I should really consider stepping it up to maybe the honors or AP level. I took their suggestion and I took the class because I thought I could do the work.
LOTHIAN: Even though he was struggling on tests and was the only African American in the class, Jory(ph) wanted to stay on the Honors and AP track.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My dad called the teacher up, it was probably when I was getting about a C minus in the class and he asked what else can I do. And the teacher said, "Actually, I really don't think your son can do the work."
LOTHIAN: He says he was deeply hurt by his teacher's vote of no- confidence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I'm not going to have the teacher's support and I'm already struggling in the class, what else can I really count on?
LOTHIAN: Jory(ph) stuck it out and this year he's taking AP calculus.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a really good teacher who is supportive. I'm making it through, it's a real hard class, I think it's the second hardest math class in all of school. I'm making it through but I like it.
LOTHIAN: And he just got word on his big payoff. A full academic scholarship to Ohio State University.
FULWOOD: ...remember like last year when it was why you put A to the X...
LOTHIAN: Amanda has also rebounded nicely. Next year, as a senior, she's taking AP Calculus, AP Literature and AP Government. Shaker Heights is making progress. Since 2000, the number of African American students taking honors and AP classes has increased more than 50 percent to 322.
But it has barely changed the look of the classroom.
FREEMAN: We're doing better than most school districts in the country, which is dismal. I mean, we're not doing a good enough job.
LOTHIAN: Up next, did the Supreme Court make a mistake when it outlawed separate but equal schools?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE WALLACE, LATE GOVERNOR OF ALABAMA: I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny. And I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: The defiance of the old order gave way to the optimism of the new on May 17, 1954.
Thurgood Marshall and a team of lawyers from the NAACP led the fight, as the Supreme Court delivered a crippling blow to racial segregation, starting with the nation's public schools.
DERRICK BELL, AUTHOR, "SILENT COVENANTS": Mainly, black schools had inferior facilities, didn't pay the teachers as much. Sometimes they were God-awful.
JOHN MCWHORTER, AUTHOR, "LOSING THE RACE": The idea that you could have an all white this and an all black that.
This is something which Brown was the first step in dismantling.
LOTHIAN: Brown v. Board of Education was a pivotal moment in civil rights history. But 50 years later, has it done what it was supposed to do?
In liberal-minded Shaker Heights, the plan was for white families to voluntarily bus their children to Moreland Elementary School, which was nearly 100 percent black.
Here there was no violence, but the transition was far from smooth.
MARK FREEMAN, SUPERINTENDENT, SHAKER HEIGHTS SCHOOLS: I think people moved because of it. There were all kinds of forecasts that, you know, this would be just awful.
MARY LYNNE MCGOVERN, SHAKER HEIGHTS PARENT: That's ninth grade.
LOTHIAN: Mary Lynne McGovern was one of the first volunteers.
MARY LYNNE MCGOVERN: In discussing it with my husband, he said, we need to do this. We're going to put our money where our mouth is.
LOTHIAN: She believed in integration. Still, the idea of making her son - her first child - part of this social experiment seemed radical.
MARY LYNNE MCGOVERN: The first week I went over and parked in the parking lot and watched what was going on on the playground. My son was walking around by himself carrying his lunchbox. It made me very sad, and it made me cry.
LOTHIAN: By the time her daughter Julie started school two years later, all that turmoil was a distant memory.
JULIE MCGOVERN, FORMER SHAKER HEIGHTS STUDENT: The most remarkable thing about being a student there was that it was unremarkable. These kids were my friends.
I went to their birthday parties. They came to my birthday parties, and I just didn't think that that was unusual.
LOTHIAN: That colorblind camaraderie ended abruptly with the onset of adolescence.
JULIE MCGOVERN: I remember distinctly going into the cafeteria early on in seventh grade, and all the white kids were sitting at one table and all the black kids were sitting at one table - all my friends.
And I stood there with my tray of food thinking, I don't know what to do here. I don't know where I fit in, in this new order of things. And it was a very - it was a lonely year for me.
LOTHIAN: Today in the cafeteria, the separation of the races is still the order of things, as it is in the classroom, and on the sports teams.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see two different groups of people polarized every day in the cafeteria, in the hallways.
LOTHIAN: Since 1984, the Student Group on Race Relations - SCORR - has spent Sunday nights in faculty advisor Marcia Jaffe's (ph) living room.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone at Shaker realizes that we are lucky to have a diverse community.
LOTHIAN: Year after year, members of the group change, but the tough issues don't.
UN: I wish I can, you know, sit here and lie to you and say it's not, but, I mean, it's a natural instinct to go towards your race and go, you know, when you first enter an uncomfortable situation.
UN: Right now, I think a lot of the white kids in our school have their stereotypes, which are brought upon by the media, reinforced by the segregation of classes in our high school.
LOTHIAN: Yes, there is a color line. But they say it is outweighed by the long-term benefits of being in a diverse school.
For black students, it can be a reality check, and a reminder for some that they may have to adapt to a majority white society.
UN: When you go into a business setting, you can't go in there dropping the N bomb every five seconds, and go in there, you know, with your do rag on and your pants sagging.
LOTHIAN: For white students, it's a chance to step outside a sheltered existence.
GAL: You're going to go out into the work force, and you're going to be working with people that are different from you. And you have to learn how to handle those situations.
LOTHIAN: Apart from the social benefits, diversity may also have academic benefits. Some research finds that disadvantaged students, who are more often black, tend to do better in classes with a majority of middle class students - typically white.
GAL: And your novel, ...
LOTHIAN: Middle class schools tend to have better-educated teachers, higher expectations for the student body and more academic role models for kids who don't have them at home.
Those benefits may be dangerously close to disappearing. The typical white student attends a school where four out of five children are white, and one-third of all black students are in schools that are 90 to 100 percent minority.
BELL: You sometimes ask, why are we - all of this celebration of Brown and its 50th anniversary, when the schools are as segregated now as they were before, perhaps more?
LOTHIAN: New York University law professor Derrick Bell argues that the watershed Supreme Court case actually caused the problem by triggering a white backlash and white flight.
Far better, he now believes, to have made the separate school systems truly equal, with equal resources.
BELL: It just seems to me that before long, you would have had the school boards saying, why are we keeping these two sets of schools? Why don't we see can't we merge them, because everybody would do better.
But it would be coming from them, not coming from the court in Washington, not coming from us hated civil rights lawyers coming down there, filing suits and causing trouble.
LOTHIAN: John McWhorter says there may be another downside to school integration.
MCWHORTER: Unfortunately, we have this notion that to have an all-black school is a bad thing, because black kids can only learn when there are white ones around. I shudder at that thought.
LOTHIAN: The reality of integration may not yet rise to the ideal of Brown.
JULIE MCGOVERN: And here's my friend Kelly, and ...
LOTHIAN: But to those who have experienced it first hand, the positive forces of diversity have a magnetic pull.
JULIE MCGOVERN: Ooh, that's a good one.
LOTHIAN: Julie McGovern is a classic example. After leaving for college, she's back in Shaker Heights, hoping her kids will grow up believing it's normal to have both black and white friends.
JULIE MCGOVERN: Would you show us what your favorite page is in this book?
LOTHIAN: And she knows she has an ally in the classroom, one who will make sure her son Jacob (ph) develops the same values she had.
UN: My teacher is the one that my mom had for first grade.
LOTHIAN: Learning begins at birth, and often, so does the achievement gap, because the home environment is powerful, shaping a baby's intelligence.
How much do parents read to their children? What do they talk about?
Some homes are more like school than others - differences tied, in part, to race.
Ron Ferguson analyzed a federally sponsored survey of parents and children.
RON FERGUSON, LECTURER IN PUBLIC POLICY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: The leaning among the black community is toward the notion that preschool was a time to be joyous, to be part of the family, to experience love, to fit in. When you get to school, you'll do school.
On the other hand, it's like the leaning among the white community is, well, it's a competitive world out there. We've got to give you a foot up as early as we can and as often as we can. So we're going to try to build in all these extra supports.
LOTHIAN: While part of the achievement gap may be linked to race, many experts say a bigger factor is economic class.
Children in poor homes are typically exposed to fewer books, simpler vocabulary, less give-and-take conversation.
Because black families are three times as likely as whites to live in poverty, black children are more often at a disadvantage, especially when the economic gap follows them to school.
Deborah Moore (ph), a single parent from Shaker Heights, wants her children to be ready for kindergarten.
Because she was laid off from her job in a customer service call center, Cameron and Shelby are eligible for the federally-funded Head Start program for three- and four-year-olds.
GAL:: There is spelling, and there is math. They teach them with their coordination.
GAL: To the right, to the left ...
GAL: I mean, there are things that I can do, but they know early childhood development. I know what mommy thinks.
LOTHIAN: Head Start began in 1965. Signed into law as part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty to help close the gap.
PEGGIE PRICE, COUNCIL FOR ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES IN GREATER CLEVELAND: Most of our families who are poor are also very stressed. And the survival and meeting the very basic needs of food, shelter - those take precedence over going to parenting classes or learning what the most appropriate, age-appropriate book might be.
UN: I can count one, two, three, four, five, six.
GAL: How many do you have?
UN: Six. LOTHIAN: Head Start has served 21 million children at a cost of $66 billion.
But even after four decades, a question plagues policymakers. Does Head Start make a difference?
Most studies find Head Start kids gain important skills for reading and math.
But many achievement gains seem to disappear, especially among black children, as they remain in poor neighborhoods and enter poor quality schools.
WADE HORN, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: The idea that it takes three years for the benefit of Head Start to fade out, is not an indictment, in my view, on head start. But it is an indictment on the systems into which they graduate.
GAL: Where's the motorcycle?
GAL: Right here.
LOTHIAN: In 1995, Head Start began trying to close the gap at an earlier age.
UN: I'm learning to make my name.
LOTHIAN: Working with infants, toddlers and their parents in a program called Early Head Start.
The idea of taking kids so young was inspired by groundbreaking research at the University of North Carolina, an experiment that began in the 1970s. It was called the Abecedarian Project. It means, "one who learns the alphabet."
The project provided daycare to 57 poor children, almost all of them black. It was the Rolls-Royce of preschool - a year-round, full- day program with experts supervising a well-trained staff.
They worked with the parents and children for five years, starting as young as six weeks old.
FRANCES CAMPBELL, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA, CHAPEL HILL: It was pretty radical. There were very few people in the country who had the idea to start with infants.
LOTHIAN: Following up 21 years later, the average IQ gains of the Abecedarian kids were modest, but their average reading and math scores were almost two years ahead of similar kids who did not have the enriched daycare.
They were also three times as likely to attend college.
CAMPBELL: They got an early boost that somehow gave them an advantage that they didn't lose. GAL: Damon, no kissing the camera.
LOTHIAN: It's too soon to know if Early Head Start programs like this one near Shaker Heights will produce long-term gains.
GAL: What are you drawing?
LOTHIAN: Intense early intervention can make a difference. But money could be an issue. The Abecedarian Project spent nearly twice as much as Head Start.
But if the federal government doesn't foot the bill, can African- Americans close the gap?
With a lesson from New York's Chinatown.
LOTHIAN: A typical day for Lydell and Deborah Carter begins with carpooling their daughter and two sons to school.
The Carters, both educators, place a high premium on schooling. But they know they're up against a harsh reality.
LYDELL CARTER, SHUANG WEN PARENT: It's not like we don't know the statistics that, you know, the amount of African-American men who are going into college every year, that number is shrinking.
So, you have to double the effort. You have to try as best you can to put them in a situation where they're going to have the best possible opportunity to take advantage of everything this country has to offer.
LOTHIAN: They live in Brooklyn. But when it was time to choose a school for their kids, they cast a wide net across New York City, searching for a place that meshed with their beliefs and had proven results.
They found it an hour-and-a-half away in an unexpected place.
GAL: (IN CHINESE)
LOTHIAN: Shuang Wen Academy is a small, public elementary school in Chinatown featuring a rigorous dual language program in English and Chinese.
If you look at the school's track record, the reason families of all races are clamoring to get into this school becomes clear.
LING-LING CHOU, PRINCIPAL, SHUANG WEN ACADEMY, NEW YORK: I think we did pretty well on the city-wide and state tests.
LOTHIAN: A bit of an understatement. Out of 1,200 New York City public schools, Shuang Wen ranked number three in math and almost 97 percent of the students passed the reading test, compared to the city- wide average of only 33 percent. CHOU: To us it's really not something we are - in American culture, we say we are very proud of. But in Chinese culture, we say it's nothing. We should have done this.
LOTHIAN: High expectations are typically the norm for Asian- American children. But when you consider the demographics of the community served by the school, the accomplishments stand out even more.
CHOU: We are Title I school with 70 percent population under poverty level. The majority are labor workers. A lot of new immigrants. They're working at the restaurant or garment factories.
LOTHIAN: Isen Tarn sends her daughter, Jennifer, to Shuang Wen. She's an executive at a bank. But she believes her educational philosophy is shared by most Asian parents, regardless of what they do for a living.
ISEN TARN, SHUANG WEN PARENT: Asian parents probably require the kids at least to do well when they are in school, because that's the kind of basic responsibility for kids.
LOTHIAN: That sense of responsibility has put Asian students at the top of the academic food chain, even outscoring white students.
Now, the formula for success used by this minority group is being touted as an antidote for the academic failings of another.
MCWHORTER: Many, many, many, many of these immigrant families do not read "Harper's." They do not discuss the issues of the day. They do not eat kalamata olives.
These are working class people. And yet, as is known, their children disproportionately do very well when it comes to grades and testing and getting into top schools.
We're brought back to the simple and obvious fact that there is a cultural difference here.
LOTHIAN: Howard University law professor Frank Wu says, it's an unfair comparison.
FRANK WU, LAW PROFESSOR, HOWARD UNIVERSITY: Well, obviously, the history's different. Asian-Americans were never enslaved as a group. I'm not just talking about on average.
To my knowledge, there is no example of an Asian-American in the 19th century being held as a slave. No example of anyone of Asian descent having their family sold on the auction block.
LOTHIAN: Plus, he believes holding Asian-American students up as a paragon has a downside that is often overlooked.
WU: There's a serious problem with Asian-American students committing suicide, and doing so, in part, because of the pressures of living up to this model minority myth, because of the pressures imposed by their parents, by their teachers, by their peers and by the overall culture.
That if you're not a straight-A engineering or a science major - and you're Asian - there's something wrong with you. You're not authentically Asian.
LOTHIAN: At Shuang Wen, there's a growing understanding that kids need time to be kids, without the constant pressure of their futures bearing down on them.
But make no mistake. At this school, the culture of high expectations still applies.
GAL: You need to explain exactly what you're doing in order to ...
LOTHIAN: Students are in class every day for nine hours. Teachers are all certified and have a master's degree or higher.
Parents are required to volunteer at the school at least four hours each month.
And did we mention the six weeks of summer school?
DEBORAH BARTLEY CARTER, SHUANG WEN PARENT: The result is that, you know, this is a continuation of their learning. And they never get a down time to say, oh, I forgot how to do that.
LOTHIAN: Even her son Jelani, once skeptical about going to a school in Chinatown, is now a convert, who one day wants to visit China.
JELANI CARTER, FIFTH GRADER, SHUANG WEN ACADEMY: I know the language. Nobody's going to be looking at me like a chicken with its head off, all running around.
They'll think that, hey, he's black, but he knows Chinese. So I can talk to them and, you know, and communicate with them and ask them stuff.
LOTHIAN: The joy of learning. That's key to closing the gap, experts say, in New York's Chinatown, Shaker Heights, Ohio, and school systems across the country.
GAL: Where's the motorcycle?
GAL: Right there.
LOTHIAN: There's still no consensus on what caused this national problem. There's no question, fixing it will be a huge endeavor.
It requires a team effort that involves changing the culture of homes and schools.
LYDELL CARTER: You'd have to go almost child by child, having high expectations, setting high standards, developing a work ethic, and ensure the kids have the skills to compete. Then you're going to resolve it regardless of what the causation is.
But the trick is, how do you make those things happen?
BROWN: So, just how important is a good education for any student, black or white?
The jobless rate is a pretty good indication. For workers with a four-year college degree, the rate is three percent - well below the 5.5 percent for high school grads and the 8.5 percent for high school dropouts.
That's it for this edition of CNN PRESENTS. Please join me tomorrow for a special edition of NEWS NIGHT, on the 50th anniversary of the historic Brown ruling.
We'll be reporting live from Topeka, Kansas, where the Brown case was filed.
That's NEWS NIGHT, 10 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. We'll see you then.
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