A tale of two schools

This  video, “A tale of two schools: Race and education on Long Island,” was produced a few years back by the Erase Racism project.

It is 26 minutes long, but I encourage you to stay with it to the end. David is a senior at Wyandanch High School, which is poor and lacks resources, not to mention high expectations. Owen attends the far more affluent Rockville Center High School, which is resource-rich and where he has become friends with many affluent students.

Their experiences clearly show why and how integration is so important to student success.


Integration not likely to happen by good will alone

Here’s a couple of  videos that explain how segregation happen today.
The first is from 2014, and explores how the schools in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, have been resegregated— showing how legislators and judges have permitted the slippage. Meanwhile, students from an earlier generation  of integrated schools talk about how their lives have been better for it.


In this interview from January 2016 PBS’ Charlayne Hunter-Gault talks with Pedro Noguera of the University of California, Los Angeles, about the ways to solve this problem.

Renewing an American Faith in Education

Every morning in my inbox I receive an email from something called www.delanceyplace.com. The email includes a summary of a book, a kind of a contemporary Reader’s Digest Condensed Version for people who only have time—or perceive they only have time—to read a paragraph or two. I look at the topic each day. Some I read. Some I delete. Some I save until later.

John Wilkinson is pastor of Third Presbyterian Church and co-convener of Great Schools for All

John Wilkinson is pastor of Third Presbyterian Church and co-convener of Great Schools for All

Just a few days ago I receive a summary of a book by Paula Fass called The End of American Childhood: A History of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child. It was published in 2006, so is already a decade old. I Googled Fass and discovered that she taught social and cultural history at UC Berkeley for more than 30 years.

Fass’ words captured my GS4A attention immediately. Without including the entire entry, here are some key passages…

“…The American faith in education was nowhere more pointedly ad­vertised than in the creation of the high school. The White House Conference on Child Health and Protection put this faith in ringing terms in 1934: ‘The school is the embodiment of the most profound faith of the American people, a faith that if the rising generation can be sufficiently educated, the ills of society will disappear. The con­stantly lengthening period of school attendance, the constantly en­larging contributions of money for the maintenance of the school, the rising standards of preparation of the teachers . . . these and many other evidences attest the faith of the people in their schools.’ …”

“Unlike the equivalents of high schools elsewhere in the West such as the lycée or gymnasium— places of exclusive higher learning at­tended by only a tiny fragment of the population— American high schools became democratic almost as soon as they became an im­portant part of the educational system.”

“American education was truly revolutionary in this re­gard, since it succeeded in enticing the majority of adolescents into a longer school regime and created a uniquely American institution to contain them. Nothing better expressed America’s new prominence in the world or Americans’ elevated expectations regarding the fu­ture. By the middle decades of the twentieth century, the vast ma­jority of adolescents, regardless of where they or their parents were born, were drawn into the ambit of the high school.”

I do not know if the “ills of society” will disappear if we achieve socio-economically integrated schools. What I do know is that we cannot continue on the path we are on, in Rochester, or other communities across the nation.

We are not making this up. It is in the best of our American history and is lodged deeply in our American DNA. Our task now is simply to seek to live into the legacy and promise of that history. That will take creativity and boldness and determination, which seem so very counter-cultural but which are essentially American. The good news is that we have history on which to base our efforts, if we simply remember it.



School integration is about more than grades and graduation rates

In the wake of last week’s police shootings in Baton Rouge and suburban St. Paul and the killing of five Dallas police officers, Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown University sociologist and author, wrote a fiery, angry commentary for the New York Times Sunday Review.

White Americans, Dyson wrote, can’t understand why black Americans are so angry over police shootings when those same African Americans never say a thing about “black-on-black” homicides all across urban America. Dyson says the charge is complete nonsense, but “nearly beside the point. Black people protest, to one another, to a world that largely refuses to listen, that what goes on in black communities across this nation is horrid, as it would be in any neighborhood depleted of dollars and hope—emptied of good schools, and deprived of social and economic buffers against brutality. People usually murder where they nest; they aim their rage at easy targets.

“It is not best understood as black-on-black crime; rather, it is neighbor-to-neighbor carnage. If their neighbors were white, they’d get no exemption from the crime that plagues human beings who happen to be black. If you want interracial killing, you have to have interracial communities.”

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

I’m sure that many of Dyson’s readers will see his remarks as “extreme” or “hysterical,” but there is a truth to his premise: You cannot understand people, let alone care about them or build community with them from afar.  The racial divide in America is the product of persistent segregation—separate schools, churches, neighborhoods. And distinctly different expectations—of success and happiness, or failure, hardship and early death—depending on where you come from.

If you are white (especially if you are affluent), ” you are given a pair of binoculars that see black life from a distance, never with the texture of intimacy,” Dyson says. “…Those binoculars are…stories, bad stories, biased stories, harmful stories, about how black people are lazy, or dumb, or slick, or immoral, people who can’t be helped by the best schools or even God himself. These beliefs don’t make it into contemporary books, or into most classrooms. But they are passed down, informally, from one white mind to the next.”

Most of us spend most of our lives with people who are like ourselves. We are tribal in many ways. But in a wide open free society like America, we need to build institutions and opportunities for meaningful interaction with those not like us. When we wall ourselves off, the promise of America dies—because the promise of  “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is meaningless when so many are denied access to equal opportunity.

We at GS4A advocate for school integration because we know, from decades of research, that diverse schools can dramatically improve the odds for success for children in high poverty segregated schools.  But integration is about more than good grades and higher graduation rates, as important as those are. Schools are one of the places where children should have the opportunity to interact with kids who are different from themselves.

Schools should be places where children can put aside those binoculars and experience the “texture of intimacy” that is so essential to their growth as human beings and as citizens. Schools should bring together rich and poor, white, African American, Hispanic, Asian, and refugees in an environment that will make them all better for it.

Segregation not only stokes the fires of bigotry and mistrust, it destroys community and deprives us of the creative problem solving that’s only possible when we learn to work together.

The good news is that young adults “get” all this in ways that their parents and grandparents may not. As our recent survey of city and suburban parents confirms, that vast majority of parents today (people in their late 20s to early 40s) want their kids to attend fully diverse schools, and they don’t care if that means traveling across school district to boundaries to achieve integration. Of course, they want those schools to have rich academic programs and to be safe. But they reject segregation without  reservation.

That means the door is open. We have the opportunity in Rochester and Monroe County to begin to remove the barriers that have for so many decades denied our children the gift of each other—and denied our community the chance to use our collective skills to build a more just, more prosperous, more vital society.

Finding common ground between charters and traditional public schools in the RCSD.

There are rarely simple solutions to complex issues. Students in my Leadership classes get used to hearing me say that we must look at problems “in context” and try to find some common ground.

The role that charter schools play in the Rochester City School District is one of those complex issues.

Jeff Linn is the chairman of the department of educational administration at the College at Brockport and a member of the GS4A steering committee.

Jeff Linn is the chairman of the department of educational administration at the College at Brockport and a member of the GS4A steering committee.

A recent article in Education Week (June 8, 2016) reported that charter schools started 25 years ago with the support of then president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Albert Shanker. The intent was to give teachers a chance to create their own experimental schools under the umbrella of the school district.

The rift between the traditional schools and the charter movement was created some years later when court rulings allowed charter schools to become unbound by district rules and teacher contracts. Some of us in the field saw these changes as another iteration of “teacher bashing,” a practice that has occurred with regularity since the advent of schools. We also worried about the “industrialization” of education. Indeed I remember reading an article in a business journal years ago that advised people to get in on the ground floor of the education industry since oil, steel and textiles were not going to be as good an investment.

The foundations and institutes that moved into chartering schools made no apologies or excuses for doing away with unions. They believed that that schools could and should be run more like businesses with a bottom line measured mainly by student test scores. They correctly pointed out that over the past decade 2/3 of people nationally supported charters and that, in their view, school choice was a civil rights issue.

The Education Week article reported that charter school students represent about 5 percent of the 50 million K-12 public school students in the United States. Charters in 14 cities, including Detroit and Philadelphia, enroll 30 percent of the schoolchildren in the district. Nationally African American students make up 28 percent of charter school enrollments. Overall they make of 15 percent of the public school population.Thirty-five percent of all charter school students are white, while 50 percent of all public school students are white. The article goes on to say that Latinos do not attend charters at the same rate as African American perhaps because they often hit a language barrier.

None of these data surprise anyone. Indeed closing the achievement gap for African American students is a priority for many charter schools. In Rochester, charters almost exclusively serve children who would otherwise be attending the Rochester City School District. Many of the students are poor and black. Some of these schools are to be commended for their work.

But charter schools have contributed to the maintenance of racially segregated schools. Few charter founders have advocated for or designed schools with programs or curriculum that would attract a middle class population with the exception of Genesee Community Charter School (full disclosure—my kids attended prior to being accepted to School of the Arts).

But to counter that argument a school choice advocate offers a defense of all black urban charters by stating that segregation is when the state forces people of color into inferior circumstances. Black people choosing to stay with schools that have a lot of other black people in the city is not segregation. This is an important point. Given the choice between a struggling public school in a poor neighborhood and a charter, families often chose charters.

So where is the middle ground between recognizing that the best chance for poor non-white kids to achieve is in more integrated settings and the reality that for many city residents the charters provide a viable alternative even though they may perpetuate segregated schools?

Here are some ideas:

  • Charters should allow teachers to sign a three- or five-year contract. This solves the problem of inept leaders firing teachers who disagree with them. It also addresses the charter agencies’ wish to do away with tenure. And while I disagree with eliminating tenure, this solution may be a “win-win” by offering some job security for teachers while incentivizing innovation, as was the original intent of charters. Teachers with job security will gain more ownership in the school and be more likely to stay for the 6 to 8 years it takes to start to master their craft.
  • Charters should sign contracts with parents promising that they will not give up on a child and return him to the public school system because he did not fit into their system. Then we can stop resenting charters for wanting it both ways. Everyone knows that this happens and if charters agree then we can put to rest the tired argument of “creaming students” that has driven a wedge between the sides. But to do this the charters need more resources and professional development on working with Special Needs Children. And that must come from the existing district, which could include them. Could this be another win-win?
  • Actively recruit and provide funding for existing charters to become magnet schools that develop unique programs and curriculums that attract an ethnically and socio-economically diverse We need both traditional schools and charters to innovate and design Technology, Health Care, Arts and Dual Language Schools that attract all socioeconomic classes and ethnicities.
  • Expand “choice” programs to inner ring suburbs. The GS4A legislative group continues to work with our political leaders to allow poor students more options in more affluent school districts. That is real choice.

Racially and socio-economically diverse schools still provide the most powerful path for poor and non-white kids to graduate from high school and college and join the middle class.

This has been our mantra at Great Schools For All from the start. And we have to find common ground to make this a reality. Charters are part of the solution. Our public schools in Rochester are also part of the solution. And our Monroe County school district neighbors are part of the solution.

You may not agree with my views on what our schools could and should become. And that’s ok. But I hope that you agree that the education of 28,000 students in the RSCD and the urban charter schools are linked to the health of our city and region and that we can learn from each other.



The tide is turning in favor of integration

Believe me, I know that school integration is a heavy lift, and often it feels like an impossible lift. I’ve been engaged in conversations around the topic for more than 30 years in Rochester, where conventional wisdom has it that nothing can be done because there is no support for any further programs to address the isolation of the poorest children in our community. That’s what Urban-Suburban is for, right?

As an aside, CW also once held that the Soviet Union would never fall, that Ronald Reagan could never be elected president, that our state Legislature could never pass an on-time budget, and that the Red Sox would never end the curse of the Bambino. In other words, conventional wisdom—like its kissing cousin, common sense—always holds that something that has not happened will never happen. This is neither wise nor sensible.

So take heart. We may now finally be at a breakthrough point. How so?

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Resistance can still be found to particular integration initiatives. As an April story in The Atlantic reported: “Pushback comes both from families at high-performing schools who are happy with the status quo, and from families at struggling neighborhood schools who want them improved instead of turned into a citywide series of magnet programs that might result in their kids trekking across town each morning. ”

There is, the Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg says in the same story, a “discrepancy between what science suggests and how politicians act.” The consensus of social scientists, he noted, “is that socioeconomic and racial integration is one of the best things communities can do for young people to help them succeed in school and in the workforce. But politicians are ‘scared to death of the issue.’ However, Kahlenberg said, he thinks there are signs that change is beginning to happen.”

As a recent Century Foundation report notes, at least 91 school districts now use socioeconomic status as a factor in assigning students, up from just a couple in 1996, and around 40 in 2007.

It always takes time for political change to catch up with changes in public opinion. Conventional wisdom is hard to reverse even when it’s so clearly wrong. But in Rochester, the new GS4A parent survey (link to it off this page), has shown that today’s parents of school age children do not object to integration at all—when it comes with new and exciting types of curriculum. Huge majorities of both city and suburban parents here now say they want (not just tolerate) much more diverse schools for their children because they believe that when schools look more like the world we live in, they will  better prepare children to succeed in that world.

Further evidence that the tide is turning: The Obama administration has proposed incentives to promote socioeconomic diversity as central to turning around failing schools. As a story in Education Week reported earlier this month, while the president’s proposed $120 million for diversity programs was rejected by a Senate panel, “the U.S. Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Transportation sent a letter to state and local leaders …asking that they put their heads together and figure out how to knock down barriers to diversity in housing and schools.

“The education department has also proposed giving projects that seek to improve socioeconomic diversity a leg-up in grant competitions. It has proposed funding projects through the Investing in Innovation program that would focus on diversity.”

This is how change happens. It’s never as quick as we’d like. And it is never easy. But the door is open. And the time is now.



Great schools for all require great public policy

At Great Schools for All, we know that socioeconomic diversity is the bedrock of any successful reform of high poverty segregated urban schools.

But I am always reminding myself that what we propose is not magic. For decade many urban school districts have played a huge part in the marginalization of racial and ethnic minorities, who are overwhelmingly poor.

And reversing the consequences of  bad choices is going be difficult.

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

First, there are institutional dilemmas. Rather than follow the evidence—integration is the building block of academic success and higher level creative and critical thinking skills—policy makers in most states, including New York, chose instead to believe that throwing money and resources at segregated high-poverty schools would lead to educational equity.

Instead, the poorest schools are in worse shape than ever and the proponents of more resources blame teachers (and teacher unions), school boards, parents and even the students themselves for the crisis at hand.

It is extremely difficult now to persuade the policy makers who have poured vast sums of public money into failed educational ventures that it’s time to try something else.

But parents, too, face dilemmas when it comes to integration.

If you are not familiar with the work of New York Times Magazine staff writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, you should be. She is without question one of the most compelling and knowledgeable journalists writing about the struggle for educational integration.

In a magazine story headlined,”Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City,” Hannah-Jones explains that she and her husband and daughter live in Bedford-Stuyvesant, “a poor but rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn.”

The schools in Bed-Stuy, like most of the schools in one of the world’s most diverse cities, reflect deep “racial and socioeconomic divisions.” Most middle class families send their kids to private schools or to one of a handful of diverse, academically exceptional magnet schools. The poor are left behind in schools that reflect the academic and social consequences of marginalization.

Hannah-Jones grew up in Waterloo, Iowa, where, thanks to a court-ordered desegregation plan, she was able to attend a “rich white school.”

“I remember those years as emotionally and socially fraught, but also as academically stimulating and world-expanding,” she writes. “Aside from the rigorous classes and quality instruction I received, this was the first time I’d shared dinners in the homes of kids whose parents were doctors and lawyers and scientists. My mom was a probation officer, and my dad drove a bus, and most of my family members on both sides worked in factories or meatpacking plants or did other manual labor. I understood, even then, in a way both intuitive and defensive, that my school friends’ parents weren’t better than my neighborhood friends’ parents, who worked hard every day at hourly jobs. But this exposure helped me imagine possibilities, a course for myself that I had not considered before.”

After plainly explaining the benefits of integration, her thinking takes a turn:

“Integration was transformative for my husband and me. Yet the idea of placing our daughter in one of the small number of integrated schools troubled me. These schools are disproportionately white and serve the middle and upper middle classes, with a smattering of poor black and Latino students to create ‘diversity.’ ”

In New York, she says, just 15 percent of more than one million students are white, but they are clustered in just 11 percent of the schools, “which not coincidentally include many of the city’s top performers.”

She acknowledged that all the research says children like her daughter would be better off in one of the city’s integrated magnet schools, but she persuaded her husband (after many arguments) to send their daughter Najya to P.S. 307, one of Bed-Stuy’s poorer schools.

“One family, or even a few families, cannot transform a segregated school, but if none of us were willing to go into them, nothing would change. Putting our child into a segregated school would not integrate it racially, but we are middle-class and would, at least, help to integrate it economically. As a reporter, I’d witnessed how the presence of even a handful of middle-class families made it less likely that a school would be neglected. I also knew that we would be able to make up for Najya anything the school was lacking.”

Turns out that P.S. 307, led by a charismatic principal was a great fit for Najya, but within a couple of years, school officials redrew feeder boundaries to ease overcrowding in a largely white middle class school nearby—assuring that P.S. 307 would be more segregated than ever.

Hannah-Jones and her husband had done what they could to open P.S. 307 to a more integrated future, but the system seems likely to overwhelm their efforts—and those of a few other pioneering  middle class families.

Integration is a heavy lift in a country where it is no longer national policy.

Parents have a duty to make the best choices they can. We can admire middle class parents who commit to poor urban schools and work doubly hard to make sure their children get the educational benefits they won’t get in those schools. And we can understand why middle class parents who have the means, relocate to a suburban district that promises great academic outcomes.

But Nikole Hannah-Jones’ very moving story is a powerful reminder that even the most thoughtful parents cannot always find a great school for their kids.  The only way to make that a reality is through public policy that guarantees it.

Parents countywide say ‘Yes’ to diverse cross-district magnet schools

In a blog I wrote in April, I explored whether there was a positive response to doubters who may like the concept of diverse public magnet schools, but who wonder who’s going to develop such schools and who if they would attract socioeconomically-diverse students across district lines.

The conclusion was Yes—a number of such opportunities are either already in place or are in various stages of active conceptualization or development.

Don Pryor is a researcher for the Center for Governmental Research and a member of the GS4A leadership team

Don Pryor is a researcher for the Center for Governmental Research and a member of the GS4A leadership team

Now we have powerful evidence that “if you create it, they will come.” A countywide survey of parents of school-age children demonstrates keen interest among parents—across geographic, income, racial and ethnic lines—in considering socioeconomically-integrated magnet schools that would draw students across school district lines to access specialized academic offerings that even the most affluent districts cannot afford to offer on their own.

The survey is posted elsewhere on this GS4A website. The survey was conducted by Metrix Matrix, a respected local survey research firm, with the costs underwritten with the generous support of the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation. GS4A is grateful to both organizations for making this important survey possible.

Metrix Matrix completed telephone interviews with 602 parents of school-age children, 301 from the city and 301 from the suburbs. The survey results were weighted to reflect the distribution of households with children across the county. The survey findings reflect a representative sample of the county and city population in terms of economic and racial/ethnic makeup.

For detailed findings, see the report. But just a few headlines to capture the most salient findings:
• Almost 90 percent of the parents indicated that they would consider enrolling a child in one or more of 7 potential magnet school options identified in the survey. Most of those selected three or more magnet options of interest.
• About 70 percent would consider magnet options with a mix of 50 percent low-income and 50 percent middle-class students. Research over the past 50 years has consistently demonstrated that such a mixture of students from different socioeconomic backgrounds contributes to improved outcomes for both poor and middle-class students, both in terms of academic achievement, graduation rates and critical thinking skills, creativity and the ability to learn to collaborate together.
• Almost two-thirds of all parents would be willing to have their child transported to a magnet school if it were no more than 30 minutes from their home.
• Furthermore, three-quarters of all parents indicated that they would consider sending their child to a magnet school on a voluntary basis, even if it were outside their home district, if transportation needs were met and it provided opportunities not available in their home district.

So, what’s the takeaway from all this? As we have discussed our ideas throughout the community we have heard considerable support for the concept of diverse magnet schools, but also skepticism about how much interest there would be from parents in having their children attend diverse magnet schools.

This survey shows clearly that, although generally satisfied with their current educational offerings, parents overwhelmingly say that they want a richly diverse educational environment for their children and that they do not want to limit their children to the programs available in their home districts if better alternatives exist elsewhere in the community.

Of course what people say on a survey does not necessarily predict what they would do in real life. But the evidence is so strong and compelling from the survey that it is hard to ignore: that there is a large critical mass of parents throughout urban and suburban segments of the county who value the opportunity to provide their children with academic options not currently available to them, and to expose their children to the types of cultural diversity that will characterize the increasingly-diverse society and workforce of the future.

The results challenge the skeptics who have long said parents would reject even voluntary integration across district lines. Indeed, the results suggest strongly that significant numbers of parents of today’s school-age children support the concept of more diverse schools, even if it means crossing school district lines, and even more specifically want their own children to at least have the opportunity to consider options created by such specialized, diverse schools.

For additional discussion of the implications of the survey findings, and to hear more about specific magnet options in various stages of consideration and development, please plan to join GS4A in a community event open to everyone, on Thursday, June 9 at 7pm at Third Presbyterian Church at the corner of East Avenue and Meigs Street. We hope to see you there.

Use It or Lose It: Slowing ‘Summer Slide’

(Guest Blogger)

It goes by many names—summer melt, summer slide, summer slump—but no matter what you call it, the tendency for students to lose academic skills over the summer vacation is an undeniable problem. What’s worse, it’s a problem that disproportionately affects children of low socioeconomic status.

Take reading, for example. In one local high school, a 2015 study found that 51 percent of incoming freshmen tested at lower reading levels than they had at the end of eighth grade just two months earlier. And, while the “summer slide” in this case seemed to affect students of all reading levels, 61 percent of the students experiencing the drop qualified for free or reduced lunch.

Emily Wemmer is an English teacher at Charles D'Amico High School in Albion, NY.

Emily Wemmer is an English teacher at Charles D’Amico High School in Albion, NY.

For many of our most vulnerable students, in other words, education is a “two steps forward, one step back” process. Over the two months of summer vacation, students from poverty are more at-risk than their wealthier counterparts for losing valuable academic traction, further widening the opportunity gap they face when back in school.
There is no single, clear-cut reason for the “summer slide” or its disproportionate impact on children in poverty, but there are several factors that contribute to it. For one, as educator Zaretta Hammond in Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain (2015) would argue, low-income children are less likely than their more affluent peers to be taught a challenging curriculum based on the higher-order thinking skills that build and expand brain capacity. Children in poverty are often misguidedly “taught to the test” in an attempt to close the gap in standardized test scores between impoverished and affluent school districts. The unfortunate result, however, is that students in high-poverty districts receive a shallower education—the kind of education that is less likely to “stick,” and less likely to inspire a personal commitment to reading outside of the schoolhouse.

Additionally, as Paul Gorski points out in Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty (2013), children in poverty face a gamut of institutionalized disadvantages that have nothing to do with their individual academic abilities or, as is often argued, with their parents’ belief in the value of education. Children in poor neighborhoods are less likely to have access to well-resourced public libraries, and if there are libraries available, they are less likely to have access to safe, free transportation to reach them. Similarly, children living in poverty are less likely to have books in their homes to continue practicing their reading over the summer months. While children in wealthier situations may spend their summers in enrichment opportunities including academic camps, book clubs, and cultural experiences, students in poverty lack access to these forms of “shadow education,” due to expense or simply because they are needed at home to supervise younger siblings.

In reading as in exercise, the guiding principle could be “use it or lose it.” When students spend a significant amount of time away from academic practice, including reading, they inevitably lose skills they have gained throughout the school year. Children in poverty, lacking access to many of the enrichment opportunities of wealthier students, are more likely to be adversely affected by the summer slide. Let’s take a step toward closing the opportunity gap by increasing the availability of quality summer education programs for all students.

Focus on the ‘norms’ not the educational outliers

Today’s blog comes to us thanks to an email blast from retired School Without Walls principal Dan Drmacich, who sent us a May 4 blogpost by New York City education reformer Diane Ravitch, who referenced a response from a South Carolina professor to an April 29  New York Times story.

Blogging on blogs.

But this is good stuff and well worth sharing with you.

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

The Times story, “Money, Race and Success: How your school district compares,” lays out a variety of charts showing how clearly race and income are tied to educational outcomes:

“What emerges clearly in the data is the extent to which race and class are inextricably linked, and how that connection is exacerbated in school settings.

“Not only are black and Hispanic children more likely to grow up in poor families, but middle-class black and Hispanic children are also much more likely than poor white children to live in neighborhoods and attend schools with high concentrations of poor students.”

Well, yes, all that is well known. But the story also notes, “The data was not uniformly grim. A few poor districts — like Bremen City, Ga. and Union City, N.J. — posted higher-than-average scores. They suggest the possibility that strong schools could help children from low-income families succeed.”

Hold on, says Professor Paul Thomas, of  Furman University in South Carolina (see his full post here): “Let’s stop trying to find the ‘miracle’ in a rare few schools where vulnerable students appear to succeed despite the odds against them. With time and careful consideration, we must admit, those appearances almost always are mirages.

“Let’s instead put our energy in eradicating the poverty, racism, and sexism that disadvantages some students, vulnerable populations easily identified by race and social class, so that we can educate all students well.”

He goes on, and I like this analogy enough to steal it, “Education reform…is obsessed with playing the hero by seeing who can pull the most babies out of the river. And then examining the ones who survive the potential drowning in order to ‘make’ all babies survive the trauma of being cast down stream. But no one seems interested in walking upstream to stop babies being thrown in.”

I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating. We should celebrate these outliers, marvel at them, even look for  aspects we can replicate and learn from. But anecdotal success is not success when it comes to school districts.

When we discuss the idea of Great Schools for All—the principle that every child deserves equal access to a great school, that a socioeconomically diverse school environment makes all kids smarter and dramatically improves the odds of graduating high school for the poorest students—we often hear about how Charter School X helped some kids improve reading scores, or how Super Teacher Y changes her students’ lives and gives them hope where there was none before.

Yes, that does happen. We should never underestimate the power of very gifted and dedicated adults to change lives. It is truly inspiring. GS4A doesn’t deny that; we cheer it.

But the job of public education is to develop structures, policies and strategies that result in nearly every child—90 percent or better—graduating on time and ready for work, work training or higher education.

Thanks to Professor Thomas for making that point so well.