The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, By Jonathan Kozol, Crown, 404 pp., $25
A half century after the Supreme Court demanded integrated schools, segregation thrives not just in the South that once gave us Eugene ''Bull" Connor but in the North of John Kerry as well. Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the 21st century. School integration, once considered a virtue next to cleanliness and godliness, has become, even for some liberals, an ineffective tool for opening the promise of America to underprivileged students of color.
Did the Supreme Court blow it? No, says Jonathan Kozol in his passionate, provocative, and partially persuasive ''The Shame of the Nation." His numbers are stark: In the 2000-01 academic year, 87 percent of Chicago's public school students were black or Hispanic; Los Angeles (84 percent), New York (almost 75 percent), Philadelphia (78 percent), and the District of Columbia (94 percent) had similar numbers.
Kozol damns this color divide not just on moral grounds but educational ones. He says black students' success in narrowing the achievement gap with their white peers hit a wall once desegregation efforts lagged. Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights hero, tells Kozol that most of the black schools of his youth ''were not good schools, and most of them are not good schools today."
Schools are segregated mainly because the neighborhoods from which they draw students are segregated. Kozol runs through possible solutions, among them requiring suburbs to accept publicly subsidized housing. The problem with this, according to his critics, is that in a country where people are free to move wherever they want -- or file lawsuits to block others from moving into their neighborhoods -- integrating communities is chasing a pipe dream. Kozol nods appreciatively to those who try to make the current, segregated system better. In one case, New Jersey, he says the state has made ''far more than incremental gains" in boosting funding for impoverished school districts.
He neglects to mention that New Jerseyans are still waiting for students' performance in those schools to rise. That brings us to the book's weakest part. At least since ''Savage Inequalities," Kozol's 1991 manifesto on school funding disparities, his philosophy of funding poor schools has been more, more, more. In ''Shame," he asks a legitimate question: If money doesn't matter, as some conservatives contend, why do rich communities shower cash on their kids' schools? But even liberals have noted that, absent strategies for spending the money wisely, dumping more dough on corrupt or incompetent school systems is senseless.
Catholic schools, themselves often hungry for resources, have had much-reported success educating underprivileged kids, with some research suggesting that those schools succeed with a core curriculum and strategies for school governance that differ from those in public schools. A reader yearns in vain for Kozol to plumb Catholic education for any relevant lessons, or to offer reasons for dismissing it.
After logging decades in schools as both a teacher and researcher, he has the role of moralizing prophet down pat. He would better serve his audience by expanding the horizon of his gaze at possible fixes.