A successful integrated school requires more than diverse students

Great Schools for All communications team member Marta Driscoll interviewed Clay Osborne recently. Osborne, a member of the Strategy Team,  is currently President of True Insights Consulting, which offers executive and performance coaching for businesses and other organizations.  Clay also worked as the Vice President for Human Resources at Bausch + Lomb, the Deputy County Executive for Operations for Monroe County and an assistant professor at Rochester Institute of Technology,

MD: What’s been your involvement with Great Schools for All?

CO: I went on the North Carolina trip in 2012. During that trip, I became convinced that desegregating schools is one of the many challenges in our community that needs to be addressed, among many others, to solve the plight of young people of color in the public-school system in Rochester. To me it’s important to emphasize that this is just one part of the solution.

We also need more teachers of color in the district. We need to have more engaged parents and students — the district is losing engaged parents to charter and parochial schools. Charter schools to be successful, what works is small classes, engaged parents, and engaged students. If you get those three, education works. I believe that that’s what will work for the public schools in Rochester.

In October, Nikole Hannah-Jones spoke to a large crowd about how Rochester came to have some of the most segregated schools in the nation and encouraged us to call on educational leaders for change. We’ve heard a wide range of reactions to that message, from “it was spot on in describing the problems here” to “it was way off base.” What was your reaction?

I would say I’m in the middle. I believe integration helps. It helps in the way that Hannah-Jones describes it. When you look across the country, the places with resources are either white school systems or integrated systems. The challenge comes in when you have segregation of people of color. The research shows that all students benefit from attending integrated schools — African Americans, Latino, and white students. Public schools should be a microcosm of the world students will eventually work in, and that world is increasingly diverse.

Others say that integration is folly, especially black people from older generations, many of whom attended segregated schools in the south and are very successful. There is a perspective that says the problem is the integration of schools. That’s how we lost black teachers.

At a recent speech by renowned researcher and author Dr. Joy Degruy, she explained that black communities tend to be more relationship centric than object centric1. When black children attend school, they expect to have a relationship with their teacher in order to learn.

One of the things kids learned when they attended black schools in the south was that the teacher loved them. Today, when they attend schools where they pick up that the teachers don’t love them, it makes it difficult to learn. Instead, they sometimes learn the teachers are afraid of them. Then there is a standoff. Teachers have a hard time teaching because you can’t teach students you fear. And the students don’t get the nurturing relationship they expect. The lesson is that no matter the new technology and other resources, if there’s a standoff between teacher and student, we’re not going to see the student make much progress.

So that’s another perspective and I can see both perspectives. Integration is the answer, because with integration comes resources. But you have to find ways, that in an integrated school, we can also increase the diversity of teachers and help some overcome fear of their students. So much about success in life stems from confidence and high self-esteem. This is especially important for people of color and people in any minority status. That’s why it’s critical black students have positive and empowering relationships with their teachers.

How do diverse education experiences impact adults as professionals? Can you talk a little about how you came to care about that?

At one time, individual contributors dominated companies. Today, people who are successful can collaborate, be part of teams, and lead teams. At Bausch and Lomb, I noticed that the people who came from communities where they engaged with many kinds of diverse people, performed better in teams and they grew more quickly into leaders.

If we think outside the corporate environment, to the community level, author Richard Florida found that communities which have seen sustained economic growth for 15 years were those that were most inclusive of diverse groups of people2. They embrace immigrants who start businesses and stabilize housing. They also have a high tolerance for gays and lesbians, which is a good proxy for overall tolerance in a community. These communities leverage diversity, rather than suffering from conflict stemming from it.

Why do you think our leadership seems reluctant to move forward on a school?

I think change requires a certain level of discomfort and I think people in this region are relatively comfortable. For those who aren’t poor, this is an easy place to live. Things are good. Meanwhile, there is increasing dysfunction in poorer parts of our community. I think that people are daydreaming if they think that their comfortable life is not at risk if we don’t address the challenges and dysfunctions right outside our window.

How do we get a more proactive and visionary mindset among our leaders? How do we get a community mindset that if my brother is in pain, then I’m in pain too?

Is there anything that makes you hopeful for Great Schools for All, and that some of these other efforts you’ve discussed will succeed?

I think there are good people trying to address a lot of the challenges we just talked about. What’s needed is growing the amount of diversity in our leadership. We need to create opportunities for cross-race engagement and interactions. Our region’s leadership is relatively homogenous. We need younger, more diverse, broader leadership. We need to identify, develop, and listen more to emerging leaders of color in our community.

Their perspectives may be jarring to the older generation of leaders. What tends to happen in town, is if your perspective is too jarring, you don’t get invited back to the table. We need to open up our leadership core to people whose different experiences allow them to bring different perspectives and solutions to this challenge.

That’s definitely a long game.

It’s a long game, but we have to start. The mission of Great Schools for All is a long game too. We have to find ways to stay motivated and keep the pressure up.

  1. Relationship Approach, Epigenetics and Multigenerational Trauma, speech by Dr. Joy DeGruy, 11/30/17
  2. Rise of the Creative Class, book by Richard Florida, 2004

We can choose to end segregated schools; will we?

I’m still reflecting on the powerful words Nikole Hannah-Jones left with us at her Oct. 26 lecture:

“Whose children should be sacrificed?”

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Hannah-Jones, an investigative  journalist for The New York Time Magazine, writes often on civil rights issues, notably on the  changing shape of school segregation in America. She’s working on a book dealing with the history of school segregation.

Great Schools invited her to Rochester, not to tell us what a swell job we’re doing, but to challenge our community to do the right thing for all our children.

Hannah-Jones does not sugarcoat her message. She sees school integration as a longshot at best. “We as a country have never shown any interest in making things better when it comes to race,” she told Democrat and Chronicle reporter Justin Murphy. “It doesn’t mean people shouldn’t try, but that’s just my pragmatic view of the matter.”

Several people I spoke with thought she was too pessimistic. I disagree. She was just reporting the ugly facts of our history. She never said nothing can change. When she took to the pulpit at Third Presbyterian that night, she took a photo of the 500-plus people who filled the sanctuary and tweeted out with the words, “This many people can change a city, if y’all choose.”

But will we as a community make that choice? Surely we can. I hope we will. But we never have.

In Rochester, as in many other cities, we have accepted segregation as necessary, or at least as inevitable.  We do this with a system of school districts that lets the more affluent choose their own “public” schools—schools that are not “public” for the poor, for African American or Hispanic children who live on the other side of the boundary lines. This is what segregation looks like in the North in the 21st Century. And our schools in New York are the most segregated in the country.

Every single year our community sacrifices thousands of city children—children who drift out of schools that have never been good places for them, or who “graduate” unprepared for either work or college.

As our own GS4A survey data shows, most parents in Monroe County strongly support diverse schools, and see them as the best way to prepare their children for life in a diverse world. But the system hasn’t moved one inch toward that goal.

We know there are suburban superintendents who likewise believe diverse schools best serve all children—rich and poor.  But without public pressure for change, it’s very easy to settle for what is, rather than insist on what could be.

What we need now in our community is pressure to do the right thing. To treat all children as our children, not somebody’s else’s. We do not have to sacrifice some children so that others may succeed.

There are always reasons to do nothing.  On Nov. 5, the Democrat and Chronicle ran a collection of stories about the New York State School Quality Index, developed by the USA Today Network, of which the Democrat is a member. Rather than rate schools strictly on test scores and graduation rates, the new index looked also at intangibles—”teachers and administrators who care about their students; children and parents who take pride in the  community; high-quality instruction and an array of extracurricular activities.”

Using  that measure, four city elementary schools (two of them charter schools) and one high school are among the top schools in Monroe County. Good news? Absolutely. Never underestimate the way gifted teachers and principals can transform student lives, or the ways committed parents can lift their children up, or the way some children rise above the obstacles they face.

Education is about more than numbers; it takes place in the quiet interactions among students and between students and the adults who guide them. But these successes are not widespread; broad change requires new policies and new approaches.

Here’s how the Democrat and Chronicle editorialized on this new index:

“And, it is heartening to see that some schools in the Rochester City School District lead the way on these measures… But, the quality index and (Superintendent Barbara) Deane Williams’ attention to the good work that is nearly always overshadowed by the bad allows us, for just a moment, to be a little more optimistic. We can feel hope, instead of hopelessness. And, we can applaud those city educators and students who are succeeding against the odds. By tweaking the usual narrative, just a touch, fixing our city schools seems ever so slightly more attainable.”

Nothing wrong with feeling hope. But never does the local daily newspaper in this city—despite decades of supportive evidence—editorialize on the power of integration to turn lives and schools around. Never do the editors write that the best and most effective way to improve the odds of success for the poorest kids among us is to work together as a community, sharing educational resources so that every child can attend a great school and have great opportunities. Never do the editors say that segregated schools are unacceptable and represent the failure of our community to  truly care for the  children we are so quick to define as “our future.”

Despite my rant, I am hopeful that we are close to choosing a new course, a path toward integration that will mean every child in our community gets to attend a great school. We have a new generation  of parents who support change. The New York State Regents are calling socioeconomic diversity the key to improved outcomes. The city school board has committed to working with others to develop interdistirct magnet schools.

That is all good news. But we need to remind ourselves every day that we have a long history of sacrificing some children to avoid the hard choices we need to make. And that still gives me pause.

Attend a 30,000 Voices/Building the Path Forward listening event

Rochester City School District Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams is reportedly considering opportunities for the district’s future in a more comprehensive way. Deane-Williams, and members of her staff, will conduct a series of public engagement sessions throughout the community in October and November. The listening tour, called 30,000 Voices/Building the Path Forward is set to kick off at 2pm Thursday, October 12 at GEVA Theatre, located at 75 Woodbury Boulevard. Additional dates and locations include:

  • Oct 17, 6 PM David Gantt Recreation  Center at 700 Norton St
  • Oct 18, 6 PM, Edgerton R-Center at 41 Backus St
  • Oct 19, 6:00 PM, Phyllis Wheatley Library, 33 Dr. Samuel McCree Way
  • Oct 25, 6 PM, Ryan R-Center at 530 Webster Ave
  • Oct 26, 6 PM, Douglass R-Center at 999 South Ave

Please attend one and share your support for a future that includes diverse inter-district magnet schools in our community. 

These sessions are a great opportunity to voice concerns and present ideas directly to district representatives and help influence Deane-Williams’ future planning and priorities.  Any community member is welcome, urban or suburban, parent or non-parent.

Feel free to make any points you want. Our Great Schools for All communications team has a few thoughts that might help you organize and present your ideas. Don’t view this as a script, but simply as guidance. Use your own words. Your presence in support of diverse schools is more important than any arguments you can make.

  • Be brief and keep your message simple.
  • If you can, share a little about yourself that would help the superintendent and her staff understand why you feel strongly about diverse schools. Do you have children or grandchildren of school age? Are you hoping to have children at some point? Do you see diverse schools as tied to a better future for our community? Have you witnessed the struggles of children and families who are isolated in poor neighborhoods and schools?
  • Clearly state your support for socioeconomically diverse schools, and your reasons. Again, be simple and brief. Don’t offer statistics or quote books or research papers. The purpose here is to encourage the RCSD to act. Perhaps, just note that the evidence shows diverse schools improve academic outcomes for the poorest kids and improve critical thinking, creativity and problem solving for all.
  • Urge the RCSD to immediately begin working with other districts for the purpose of opening one or more diverse magnet schools that will open doors for students from all across our Monroe County community.
Thanks so much for your support in making the most of this unique opportunity.

School diversity and teacher diversity both necessary

 

For at least 25 years, I’ve been outraged at the way we have structured our public schools in Rochester, and across New York.

We have one system of schools (suburban) for middle class and more affluent kids, mostly white kids. In that system, nearly everybody graduates high school on time and goes on to college or work.

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

In the other system, the city system, almost every child is black, Hispanic, or refugee; almost everyone is poor, and a whole bunch live in extreme poverty—in families whose incomes are well  below the poverty line. In the city system, only half the kids graduate on time, and the vast majority of those are neither ready for college nor for work (or work training).

In my 20 years as an editorial writer and columnist at the Democrat and Chronicle, and in the years since, I have written about the injustice I see again and again. This system, it seems to me, is morally indefensible and fundamentally un-American—a system that deprives the poorest kids of the right to a good school that will improve their chances for success.

But I believe that the crisis we face is complicated, not just a moral failure, easily corrected with a personal epiphany. Many good people in our community just do not see a viable solution.

At Great Schools, we have been focused on the importance of diverse schools—on a network of interdistrict magnet schools that will open the doors to success for the kids most likely to fail in our current system.

This is not an ideological crusade, but an evidence-driven proposal. Socioeconomically schools matter.

A 2016 report by The Century Foundation, found that:

  • Low-income fourth-graders in mixed-income schools were on average two years ahead in learning over poor students in high-poverty schools. Moreover, poor students in mixed-income high schools showed 30 percent more growth in test scores over four years of high school than poor students in poor schools.
  • Poor students in integrated high schools were 68 percent more likely to enroll in college than poor students in high-poverty schools.
  • Dropout rates are significantly lower for poor students in  mixed-income high schools than for those in high-poverty schools.

It is very clear that diversity dramatically improves the odds of educational success for the poorest kids. That’s why we support it.

But while diversity has been our focus, we have never suggested that magnet schools are a quick or easy solution or that other ideas are not worth pursuing.

We’re not generally pro-charter schools, but when we see a charter program that improves the odds for the poorest kids, we applaud it.

Likewise, it’s clear that minority teachers can have a powerful beneficial effect on the poorest African American students, especially boys.

As an aside, I recommend you listen to “Miss Buchanan’s Period of Adjustment from Season 2 of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. It’s the backstory of the Supreme Court’s landmark desegregation ruling in the 1964 Brown v. Board of Education case—in which the court concluded that separate schools for black and white students is inherently unconstitutional because the all-black schools were  always inferior.

Gladwell reports that Leola and Oliver Brown were not at all dissatisfied with the all-black school their daughter Linda attended in Topeka, Kansas. They felt the program was fine, the teachers were well-qualified and even more important, that teachers and administrators “took an interest” in the students. They just didn’t feel that the school board should be able to tell them they had no right to send their daughter to a school closer to home because the closer school was for white students.

The court ruled, correctly,  that segregated schools are always unequal. But it never looked at the question of the role of teachers in outcomes. Gladwell reports on the work of researchers at Vanderbilt University who found that when white teachers evaluate black and white students (of similar academic standing) for admission to gifted and talented programs, the black students are only half as likely to be selected as the white students. It’s not intentional racism, they conclude, just the effect of lower expectations shaped by racial stereotypes.

The truth is that black teachers matter. A study released this April by economists from Johns Hopkins, American University and the University of California Irvine found that, “Low-income black students who have at least one black teacher in elementary school are significantly more likely to graduate high school and consider attending college.”

They found that having “at least one black teacher in third through fifth grades reduced a black student’s probability of dropping out of school by 29 percent.”  For the poorest African American boys, the dropout rate fell by an even more dramatic 39 percent.

Black students who have even one back teacher in the early grades have better test scores, fewer behavioral problems in school and much lower rates of suspension.

Are we at Great Schools for All in favor or hiring more minority teachers? Absolutely. We’re for improving the odds.

One of the visceral arguments we sometimes encounter in our advocacy is that it shouldn’t matter who a child sits next to in school. Similarly people strongly object to the proposition that the race of the teacher factors into the performance of black students. People want to believe that equality of educational  opportunity arrived with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But that’s an ideological point of view, not an accurate point of view.

Any issue that intersects with race and poverty is sensitive and evokes strong emotions.

But the way forward is to embrace the evidence and act accordingly. That’s what we’re all about at Great Schools.

Save the date – An evening with Nikole Hannah-Jones

Please join us for a community event on October 26 featuring Nikole Hannah-Jones, a nationally recognized investigative journalist who covers civil rights for The New York Times Magazine.

This event is an important milestone in an ongoing community conversation on how we can dramatically restructure education in our community so it works for all students. Hannah-Jones provides a compelling case for school diversity, and has decades of experience studying segregation in education to back it up.

Our city and suburban districts are actively moving forward with plans to form socioeconomically diverse schools. The time is now to bring more people into this movement to create long-lasting, systemic change in Monroe County schools. So please RSVP and invite a friend or colleague.

RCSD resolution, Regents’ policy statement are groundbreaking

As you know by now, at its June 27 meeting, the city school board passed a resolution that commits the district to an “exploration of possible regional schools, as envisioned by Great Schools for All coalition, and the impact that a regional school (or several regional schools) might have on existing facility and zone capacity.”

So what exactly does that mean?

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Representatives from GS4A worked for several months to find a way to bring the district into conversations about socioeconomically diverse interdistrict magnet schools as part of a strategy to address the consequences of concentrated poverty in city schools. We appeared before the board’s Student Achievement Committee in March and later met individually with most board members to help find a path forward—one that would commence the interdistrict conversations needed to develop diverse schools while not disrupting Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams’ critical work to restructure the district’s administration and programs.

Since the district’s planning process includes assessing its future facilities needs,  the board’s resolution seeks to consider the possibility of interdistrict schools in light of their potential impact on the district’s future space needs.

That’s the legislative sausage-making process that led to the resolution. GS4A and BOCES leadership had earlier identified several suburban districts willing to be a part of a conversation on interdistrict diverse schools, and we expect that shortly these  conversations will begin.

GS4A will do whatever we can to facilitate and support these discussions,  including drafting agenda items and soliciting help and advices from educators in other communities with a long of history of maintaining diverse schools.

This resolution and the dialogue to come are especially timely. This summer the state Department of Education and the Board of Regents are considering strategies to increase socioeconomic diversity in order to improve outcomes and help school districts meet the requirements of the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The Regents’ “Draft Policy Statement on Promoting Diversity: Integration in New York State” is particularly powerful and on point. I want to share a bit of it with you.

An introductory referral attached to the draft statement notes that “the proportion of New York State schools considered intensely segregated doubl(ed) between 1989 and 2010.”

The draft statement then explains:

“In 2010, over half of Black and Latino students in the State attended schools with fewer than 10 percent White enrollment, and the typical Asian student in the State attended schools in which a little over 30 percent of their peers were White.  In that same year, the average White student attended schools in which close to 80 percent of his or her classmates were White.  Further, in 2010, the average White student attended a school in which 30 percent of his or her classmates were low-income, while the average Black and Latino student attended a school where 70 percent of his or her classmates were low-income.”

The Regents’ paper goes on to reference recent research showing  “that socioeconomic and racial integration leads to higher academic outcomes for all students, closes the achievement gap for students of different racial and economic backgrounds, fosters critical thinking skills and the ability to communicate and work with people of all backgrounds, reduces racial and ethnic prejudice while increasing cross-cultural trust and relationships, decreases the likelihood of teenage pregnancy and interaction with the juvenile justice system, and increases the likelihood of college going and success.”

This is a powerful endorsement of the arguments we and other diversity advocates have been making for years. In response to the findings, the board “commits to promoting increased integration within New York State’s public schools.”

The statement then says that “promoting socioeconomic and racial integration is a powerful mechanism for achieving” the Regents’ longstanding goal of educating all children in the state.

The draft policy paper further commits the Regents  “to the development and support of educational programs that promote the values of socioeconomic, racial, cultural, and other kinds of diversity. The Board of Regents encourages districts and schools, to the greatest extent possible, to adopt integration plans that result in schools that reflect a diverse mix of students—of different races and ethnicities, abilities, home languages, and socioeconomic status—to ensure that schools, programs, and services reflect—and thus obtain the full educational, instructional, and developmental benefit of—the diversity of the district and/or surrounding districts.”

To achieve these ends, the Regents suggest several strategies, including:

  • Creating partnerships or regional districts or consolidating with nearby districts to address socioeconomic or racial isolation across districts;
  • Re-drawing school zones, strategically selecting new school sites, and creating unzoned schools with weighted enrollment (e.g., enrollment preferences or weighted lottery) to increase integration; and/or
  • Providing transportation and other logistical support to ensure that segregated housing patterns do not prevent students from attending integrated schools.

The Regents conclude with “A Call To Action” that says they will work with “districts across the State to support their integration efforts…and encourages districts to consider integration as a cost-effective strategy for raising student achievement.”

As an old journalist, I know it’s important to never get ahead of the facts. But this statement, still to be revised and finalized, represents a huge step forward, even committing the Regents to the concept of interdistrict collaboration to achieve socioeconomic diversity. This is new ground, and essential to building an educational system that serves the needs of all children, including the poorest among us.

Stay tuned.

A breakthrough: RCSD to consider interdistrict schools

On Tuesday June 27, the Rochester Board of Education approved a resolution that commits the district to working with wiling suburban partners to investigate the development of regional magnet-type schools that would offer students the well-known advantages of a truly diverse education.

We see this is as an important step forward and worth celebrating by all of you who support the goal of socioeconomic diversity as a key to reversing the devastating effects of high-poverty schools on the educational achievement of the poorest children in our community.

The board approved the resolution on a 5-0 vote, with Commissioners Malik Evan and Cynthia Elliot absent. The resolution was sponsored by Commissioner Willa Powell who says this is a perfect time to begin conversations on regional schools because the Rochester City School District is assessing its long term capacity needs and magnet schools could well effect the districts’s future needs for space.

Great Schools For All applauds the city school board for this action. We have earlier reached out to suburban superintendents and found several willing to discuss with the city ways they might work together toward diverse schools.

This is just one step. We understand there is a great deal to be done. But we hope that these conversations will arrive at agreements on the types of magnet schools that could appeal to city and suburban families. We hope they will also result in a framework for interdistrict collaboration, with an emphasis on using existing buildings and funding streams wherever possible. We hope they will also identify changes in state law or regulations needed to make interdistrict collaboration possible and successful.

Adding to our momentum at the local level is increased interest from the Regents in making school diversity a statewide priority. The Regents and New York State Education Department (NYSED) are currently leading two strands of work that directly complement and align with the goals of Great Schools for All.

First, NYSED included school diversity and integration in their draft state plan required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The state ESSA Plan, which will be finalized in September, lists school integration as a potential school intervention strategy and recommends that schools be able to use their Title I school improvement funds to support integration efforts. Additionally, the plan discusses using school integration as a potential accountability indicator that schools would have to measure and report on to the public.

Second, the Regents are developing a Policy Statement in support of school diversity and have created a Working Group to facilitate that effort. The current statement specifically mentions interdistrict partnerships as a strategy to address concentrated poverty, which aligns with our efforts in Monroe County.

GS4A is actively involved in these discussions and are hopeful it will create the state-level changes necessary to create diverse schools in Rochester and across the state.

Dallas schools seek diversity; time for Rochester to do the same

For all its charms and its rich history, Rochester is not known for being bold when it comes to social change—not since the abolitionists and suffragists called our city home in the 19th century.

A lot of people here recognize the need for change if we are to reverse the effects of decades of concentrated poverty on our neighborhoods and our city schools. But when it comes to giving up bad old ideas for better new ideas, we freeze.

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

At Great Schools for All, we see and hear this all the time. Most people now agree that socioeconomically diverse schools are the best tool for improving the odds for academic success for the poorest  kids —and the best tool for teaching all kids, including those who are pretty affluent, how to collaborate in an increasingly diverse world.

But when it comes to taking that first step…

Here’s a little encouragement. On June 19, The New York Times ran a story under the headline: “Dallas schools, long segregated, charge forward on diversity.”

Yes, Dallas. My colleague Don Pryor wrote a blog on the Dallas initiative last September, noting its early successes and noting that our Great Schools parent survey from last spring found strong support among city and suburban parents for diverse schools. There is every reason to believe that Monroe County parents would welcome the discussion of interdistrict schools—if our leaders would take that first step.

The Dallas superintendent, Michael Hinojosa, is a native who lived through a failed integration campaign in Dallas in the early ’70s. But the experience did not sour him one bit.

Hinojosa has inherited a plan developed two years ago by his predecessor. The goal is to open 35 new schools by 2020, drawing a 50-50 mix of poor and more affluent students and enticing some wealthier families back into the city.

It’s a heavy lift and progress is slow. But the commitment is real.

“Every major city in America has to find some way to deal with this issue,”  Hinojosa told the Times.  “When you have a mix of kids, the affluent kids don’t suffer and the children of intergenerational poverty do better.”

Dallas has launched “innovation schools,” which try to improve neighborhood schools with new curriculum such as International Baccalaureate. Test scores are up somewhat in these schools, but the districts hasn’t had much luck attracting middle class families to poor neighborhoods.

More successful are “transformation schools,” magnet schools, using popular themes—arts, sciences, etc.—to attract interest.  Admission is by lottery and a socioeconomic balance is the goal.

This spring, the Times reports, 1,705 students applied for 613 spots in five existing transformation schools—and one in four applicants is coming from a charter or private school, olives outside the district.

The district has posted on its website a five-page concept paper on socioeconomic diversity as part of its aggressive effort to market these new schools.  It reads in part:

“But no matter the lever which creates the diversity in schools, the positive student results remain the same. The takeaway is that economic diversity matters a great deal and more districts are taking note.”

If Dallas can take this step, surely Rochester can, and should.

 

Let’s not talk about diversity as a ‘win-lose’ proposition

In a previous blog I wrote about win-win thinking and the need to look beyond the data and stereotypes (or generalizations if you prefer a less divisive term) on poverty and race to think critically about how socio-economically and racially diverse magnet or county wide schools could benefit children from both urban and suburban families. I want to return to this idea and specifically the term win-win as it relates to the need for more diverse school districts and magnet schools.

Stephen Covey coined the term win-win in his popular book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It is habit #4. The term has become ubiquitous in our culture including education. But Covey writes that there are pre-requisites to getting to win-win solutions. The first two are maturity, which he defines as the balance between courage and consideration, and integrity. The third element, which is the most important and appears to be lacking in many of the discussions on equity in education, is an abundance mentality.

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

This he defines as a way of thinking based on sharing. He contrasts this with a scarcity mentality such as a belief that if a group gains something—such as entry into a higher achieving school—it will mean fewer resources and opportunities for the children and families already associated with the school. A scarcity mentality is poison to seeking any win-win solutions and can only lead to win-lose results.

This concept is reflected in our current thinking on area schools. People who view life through a win-lose mentality believe that there is only so much to go around. They compare their schools’ “test scores” to those of city schools and declare themselves the winners because they got out or chose to live somewhere with good schools. They surround themselves with people like themselves, mostly white and middle class, and view those different from themselves with mixture of distrust, pity and disdain.

They could have gotten out like me, they think. They made their own breaks and others can too.

If urban kids mix with our kids we will create a lose-win. We lose our ranking as a top 100 school because we have diluted our student body.

This despite the fact that in many suburban districts 25-50 percent of the kids are “opting out” of the state assessments making that data  invalid. But they believe that other measures, like the number of kids enrolled in Advance Placement (AP) courses and the percentage accepted to 4-year colleges would drop and so would their coveted ranking and that would not be fair to them or their kids.

Win-lose thinking does have its place in our culture. Businesses, states and regions win and lose in their competitions for grants and contracts. Rooting for sports teams would be pretty boring without win-lose thinking. And not everyone can or should get into Harvard.

Still, the question is, do we want the social contract of our country and our region to be based on an abundance mentality, in which we share resources for the benefit of all? Or do we want to continue to embrace win-lose thinking that keeps the poor in their lane and crushes the American dream that should be built on cooperation and a level playing field for all children?

Building relationships between urban and suburban schools is win-win thinking. It is the third alternative that will benefit all parties and we can reach it if we embrace an abundance mentality. We are good enough for that. Aren’t we?

 

 

Taking steps to shape new initiatives with diversity

I recently sat in on a Rochester Board of Education committee meeting that focused on approaches to improve student outcomes, particularly graduation rates.

You know the context: Despite board priorities and the efforts of a parade of superintendents over the past several years, the district has struggled to move four-year on-time graduation percentages above the mid- to upper-40s.

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

Ongoing approaches and promising new and modified initiatives were discussed at this meeting. The back and forth between board and staff reflected a sense of, “this time it will be different,” that these efforts and the dedication of board members, administration, teachers and principals, parents and students will combine to move the needle toward significantly improved student achievement and graduation rates.

I’m a believer in “the promised land,” and the potential of numerous encouraging initiatives throughout the district, under goals set by the board and being carried out under the promising leadership of new superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams. And yet…and yet, concentrated poverty levels remain high, and no school in the district has a poverty population below 60 percent. Our local history—reinforced by consistent research findings across school districts throughout the country—strongly suggest that there are limits to what any of these internal promising initiatives can do to overcome the insidious effects of concentrated poverty, unless accompanied by other systemic interventions.

Great Schools for All strongly supports the district’s laser-sharp focus on a variety of actions to strengthen internal standards, structure and operations; to strengthen individual schools; and to improve achievement levels and academic and support programs for children. But GS4A also believes that this is a “Yes…And Also” proposition: That it is also important to simultaneously develop community-wide plans, shaped by all the existing research, to launch a network of socioeconomically diverse cross-district schools that are most likely to result in dramatic improvements in student achievement and graduation rates for the poorest children in our community.

While efforts of the district, and of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI), focus appropriately on ways to strengthen supports in individual schools and neighborhoods, national research makes clear that these important efforts will be enhanced and that the ultimate goal of “lifting children out of poverty” will be more rapidly attained if the concentration of poverty in individual schools can be minimized. While, of course, there will always be individual kids who defy the odds, overcome the effects of poverty, and excel, research demonstrates that diverse schools can improve the odds for the majority of city children who, through no fault of their own, are being taught in schools with high concentrations of poverty.

Cross-district, socioeconomically diverse magnet schools have demonstrated their success in numerous communities across the nation. Not only do they improve the performance and graduation rates of poor students, they also improve critical thinking and problem-solving skills for all students, poor and more affluent/middle class students alike. Voluntary magnet schools can offer cutting-edge academic opportunities that not even the most affluent school districts can afford to offer on their own, and in so doing draw students from both urban and suburban school districts. Local parent survey data, and the experience of other communities across the country, indicate that there is strong support for such opportunities.

Several encouraging developments are under way locally that could lead to such schools in Monroe County.

GS4A is having constructive conversations with leadership in the City School District and with leadership in several suburban districts to explore these possibilities. Discussions are in very early stages, but offer the potential to create diverse educational opportunities to benefit students throughout Monroe County.

Simultaneously, GS4A’s Magnet Schools Committee has developed a process that will soon seek proposals from parties interested in collaborating with school districts or other community partners in the development of one or more socioeconomically diverse magnet schools.

Related plans are also being finalized for a series of community gatherings designed to bring together interested parties from various sectors throughout the county to develop ideas for diverse cross-district magnet schools that would respond to student and parental needs and desires by offering opportunities not currently available in any school district.

More details will be announced about these initiatives in the near future, so stay tuned. Efforts are also underway to expand Great Schools’ community engagement, outreach and advocacy efforts in all sectors of the community; to strengthen ongoing communications; and to expand diverse summer learning programs throughout the community. If you are interested in learning more about, or participating in, any of these efforts, please let us know by emailing Lynette Sparks, the Great Schools co-convener at lsparks@thirdpresbyterian.org

We say Yes to RCSD and RMAPI efforts to strengthen existing schools and neighborhoods, but lasting change must also include collaborative efforts across districts that will improve outcomes for students living in poverty, sharpen the cultural competencies of all students and strengthen the workforce of the future.