John Oliver, a comedian and political pundit, blasted what he called “racial segregation” in modern public schools. However, several school choice advocates took issue with the host’s rhetoric.
In a sketch on his Sunday show “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” Oliver said there is significantly greater racial homogeneity in public schools than there was 20 years ago, and argued that this lack of racial diversity has a detrimental effect on the educational outcomes of minority students.
Oliver pointed to a 2011 study by University of California, Berkeley associate professor Rucker Johnson showing a 22 percentage point decline in incarceration of black adults who had gone to racially diverse schools. He also pointed to several “wildly popular” bussing programs as blueprints to remedy a lack of racial diversity in public schools.
Some researchers suggest other means of improving outcomes for minority students than those proposed by Oliver.
“[Oliver] has to stop making videos spreading some of the biggest myths in education policy,” Mary Clare Reim, a research associate at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal in an email.
Reim noted that at no point did Oliver mention voucher programs as a means of alleviating disparate outcomes.
“As [he] pointed out, New York state has some of the most segregated schools in the country, but New York state also has very limited school choice options for parents.”
When parents do not have the option to move their child to a school of their choice, the racial makeup of schools simply reflect that of the neighborhoods. A recent paper released by [education reform organization] EdChoice actually found that school choice policies have improved racial integration in schools dramatically.
“[John Oliver] has to stop making videos spreading some of the biggest myths in education policy,” @Mary_Clare21 says.
Preston Cooper, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, also noted Oliver’s omission of education choice as a means to improve schools.
“The best way to fight the racially homogenous schools that arise from neighborhood segregation is to allow schools and parents to choose the school best for them, rather than arbitrarily force students to attend the school that corresponds to their ZIP code,” Cooper said in an interview with The Daily Signal via Facebook.
Gerard Robinson, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who specializes in education policy, took umbrage with Oliver’s particular connection between the state of American schools and segregation.
“Looping everything under a ‘segregation’ banner trivializes the discussion,” Robinson said in an email to The Daily Signal. “Yes, public schools today are definitely racially identifiable, and we should support local or state efforts that seek to diversify school buildings, but to call these schools ‘segregated’ keeps us locked to a past notion of equality and progress.”
Robinson noted that Oliver’s sketch did not include more diverse opinions on the topic. The American Enterprise Institute scholar said:
Oliver did not include in this story voices of black parents who want a high-quality school for their children independent of its racial makeup. There are good majority-black public schools in America … some are traditional schools, some are magnet or specialty schools, and others are charters.
In an op-ed he wrote for The Washington Post in June, Robinson concluded:
Given that all students require academic competencies to flourish in our knowledge economy, it is these efforts to leverage innovative solutions and foster creative partnerships that should be the enduring legacy of [civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education] and the Civil Rights Act of 1964—not perpetual desegregation plans that color-code classrooms.