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.

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.

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.

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.

 

Putting the ‘public’ back in ‘public schools’

When we at Great Schools for All sing the virtues of school diversity to groups who have asked to hear what we have to say, we find a lot of heads nodding in agreement. You can almost hear the thoughts:

“Yes, children should be in diverse schools where they can learn to work with and appreciate children who are not like themselves. Yes, every child should have access to a great school. No, the quality of a child’s education should not be defined by the neighborhood his or her parents can afford to live in.”

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

But another line of thought also runs through some more affluent parents’ minds—one they are not always comfortable voicing in public. They wonder if attending a socioeconomically diverse school, despite the advantages they readily acknowledge, could deprive their kids of the undeniable benefits that accrue to them at academically elite schools where students have the highest test scores, graduation rates near 100 percent and which send their graduates on to elite colleges that pretty much guarantee high-paying careers.

I don’t mean to trivialize that concern for a minute. All parents want the best for their kids, and it’s easy to feel that if we fail to provide our kids with every advantage we can, to give them a leg up on the competition, then we’ve failed them. Yes, we know schools should help kids become “culturally competent” and good citizens of the world who understand and value other cultures. But what if diverse magnet schools don’t have the same reputation as elite suburban schools? What if,our choices for them somehow cost our kids a little future earning power?

I don’t think I can or would try to answer that question for another parent. But I encourage you to follow the writing of Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for The New York Times Magazine who writes frequently about the disastrous effects of school segregation, especially on the poor. She and her husband live in Brooklyn and decided to send their daughter to a neighborhood public school—a diverse, but still poor school—even though they could have enrolled her in a more affluent city school.

In a February 21 piece, Hannah-Jones says it’s important to put the public back in public schools, to stop working to get the most for our own kids out of a public school—even at the expense of other kids.

Betsy DeVos, the new U.S. Secretary of Education, Hannah-Jones says,” called traditional public schools a ‘dead end’” and “bankrolled efforts to pass reforms in Michigan, her home state, that would funnel public funds in the form of vouchers into religious and privately operated schools and encouraged the proliferation of for-profit charter schools. “

In truth, Hannah-Jones writes, “We began moving away from the ‘public’ in public education a long time ago. In fact, treating public schools like a business these days is largely a matter of fact in many places. Parents have pushed for school-choice policies that encourage shopping for public schools that they hope will give their children an advantage and for the expansion of charter schools that are run by private organizations with public funds. Large numbers of public schools have selective admissions policies that keep most kids out. And parents pay top dollar to buy into neighborhoods zoned to ‘good’ public schools that can be as exclusive as private ones. The glaring reality is, whether we are talking about schools or other institutions, it seems as if we have forgotten what ‘public’ really means.”

There’s more to public schools than public money, she says. “Public schools became widespread in the 1800s, not to provide an advantage for particular individuals but with the understanding that shuffling the wealthy and working class together (though not black Americans and other racial minorities) would create a common sense of citizenship and national identity, that it would tie together the fates of the haves and the have-nots and that doing so benefited the nation. A sense of the public good was a unifying force because it meant that the rich and the poor, the powerful and the meek, shared the spoils — as well as the burdens — of this messy democracy.”

This is tough stuff, but worth contemplating. It is a fairly recent idea that test scores and high-paying job opportunities are the only real purposes to public schools. Of course, academic achievement matters, but kids should (will) continue to learn throughout their lives.

What students learn from and about each other as young children will determine not what they learn later, but how well they will put their knowledge to the service of country and community and democratic values.

That’s why diversity matters.

 

Great schools for all, not for some

With the election of Donald Trump, the public school reform debate is about start over again, pushing the narrative back to where it was eight years ago—with a Republican administration  insisting that “choice” is the path to dramatically improving outcomes.

Never mind that that most of  America’s public schools are doing just fine, and never mind that the parents and students in the worst schools—high poverty urban schools—are not likely to get any real choices from the choice crowd.

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

The Obama administration hasn’t always been great on public education, but in the last year or so, Education Secretary John King has started to push incentives to promote socioeconomic diversity—finally putting a little federal muscle behind what the research has been saying for decades. Poor kids in middle class schools have a much better chance at success, and middle class kids in those schools are better off for the experience of diversity.

But with Trump’s nomination of Detroit billionaire Betsy DeVos to head the education department, you can forget about a push for diversity. DeVos is a longtime champion of “parental choice” in the form of vouchers and charter schools.

She has her supporters, for sure, and a large array of detractors. In a Nov. 25 story in her hometown Detroit Free Press, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder said her “appointment will mean great things for Michigan and for children around the nation as she takes her no-nonsense commitment to empowering parents to the highest levels.” In the same story, David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, said, “I can’t imagine a worse pick…she wants to dismantle public education.”

We’ve heard this all before.

The question isn’t whether some students will succeed in charter schools, or would be better off using a voucher to attend a private school.

The question is whether our country believes in public school systems that deliver the opportunity for an excellent education to every student—no matter, as we say at GS4A, what their Zip Code.

Neither charters nor vouchers can deliver the promise of a great school for all kids.

Trump promised in the campaign to shift $20 billion from other education programs to vouchers. DeVos is a huge supporter of vouchers. But this approach presents problems.

How big would the voucher checks be? $5,000 or $6,000 would be larger than almost anything ever proposed before—but that’s not enough money to help a truly poor family buy tuition in a top private school. It might be enough to help the few remaining city middle class families to flee—leaving the city even poorer than it is.

Second, there isn’t enough private school capacity in most places, including Rochester, to take large numbers of poor city kids.

A November piece in Slate reported that a Louisiana voucher program has failed to deliver many promising results. The best—and most expensive—private schools have been unwilling to except larger numbers of poor kids (for a $5,500 voucher). The private schools that have accepted poor students have done so in the face of declining enrollment, suggesting lack of “customer satisfaction.” Students have seen their math scores decline in these privates.

Despite that, it’s surely possible that some children have used vouchers to secure a better education. The same can be said of students enrolled in charter schools—some are surely doing better than they were doing in the worst-performing public schools.

But Trump’s nomination of Besty DeVos signals a return to the mistaken—and tragic—view that private alternatives can replace public education.

Even with generous vouchers, private schools will refuse to accept the students most in need of a better school—because those students require the resources that even the best private schools cannot afford. Likewise, charter schools will continue to find ways to persuade parents of the most challenging students to return to their public schools before their test scores can be recorded.

While choice schools may be beneficial for individual students, they continue to drain away the  most promising students, leaving behind a pool of students even less likely to succeed—undermining the mission of public education.

To enshrine “choice” as the future of public education is to disregard the structural changes (diverse schools) that can improve lives and outcomes and settle instead for a system that delivers great schools for some.

That approach deprives millions of poor kids of the education they deserve, and deprives our country of the educated adults needed to “make America great again.”

The right answer is “Great Schools for All.”

 

 

 

Sometimes ‘fake news’ is truer than ‘real news’

It’s easy to make fun of young adults who get their current events from so-called “fake news” on TV, notably Jon Stewart’s (and now Trevor Noah’s) Daily Show.

But sometimes, the fake news is truer, or at least more revealing than the “real news.”

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

An Oct. 21 New York Times op-ed by University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone asks whether Detroit’s highly segregated high-poverty schools effectively deny thousands of poor students the education they need to have a fighting chance to build good lives for themselves. Michigan state law guarantees them just that.

Fair question , obviously.

“At one Detroit school,” Stone writes, “just 4 percent of third graders scored proficient on Michigan’s English assessment test. At another, 9.5 percent did. Those students are among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed last month that asserts that children have a federal constitutional right to the opportunity to learn to read and write.”

Again, a fair issue to ask a court to review.

Stone goes on to say that, “in Connecticut, a state judge last month ordered sweeping changes to reshape the state’s public schools after concluding that ‘Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty’ to provide all students with an adequate education. The judge concluded that the state’s funding system had ‘left rich school districts to flourish and poor school districts to flounder.'”

Clearly, this discrepancy between rich and poor is evident in urban areas, including ours, all across the United States. We have one set of schools for the poor (schools that fail nearly all the children who attend them) and another set of schools for the rich (who generally succeed even when they are near the bottom of their classes).

These discrepancies are totally unacceptable. Stone notes that in 1982, the Supreme Court pointed out that “illiteracy is an enduring disability” that will “handicap” children “each and every day” of their lives and take “an inestimable toll” on their “social, economic, intellectual and psychological well-being” for the rest of their lives.

But the Detroit case, like so many others before it, essentially asks the court to require that the state equalize the resources available to rich and poor students.

Of course, resources are important, but as we’ve been saying at Great Schools, it’s not just about the money.

On Sunday night, “fake news” anchor John Oliver, host of the HBO’s Last Week Tonight did an 18-minute segment on school segregation, noting, among other things, that New York has the most segregated schools in the country.

Oliver explained that high poverty schools, which are also typically racially segregated, are the product of decades of discriminatory housing and zoning laws that have kept the poor isolated. Indeed, Oliver explains—in ways you almost never hear on the “real news” shows—that the 1964 Civil Rights outlawed the officially segregated schools in the South, but not the segregated schools in the North resulting from discriminatory housing patterns.

Oliver showed some footage of diverse schools in Charlotte, N.C., where a former student says that as soon as poor schools started seeing middle class students, suddenly, there were new gyms and swimming pools and upgraded cafeterias. Of course, Oliver says, “funding tends to follow white people around.”

Yes. And as his “fake news” show also reports—correctly—when poor kids attend racially and socioeconomically diverse schools, they have much higher graduation rates and much lower rates of incarceration. By the way, in diverse schools, white kids show much less racial bias, according to Last Week Tonight.

Of course, modern facilities, state-of-the-art computers, comprehensive libraries, new athletic facilities and exposure to the arts are important.

But this week, only the “fake news” guy  seems to ask, “What if the most important resource we can give to poor and affluent children is the gift of each other?”

Lancaster starts talking about school integration

When it comes to moving toward school integration, do the facts really matter?

Yes and no. (I know, not the answer anyone wants to hear.) As my GS4A colleague Jeff Linn wrote last week, people acquire attitudes over time. Our thinking does evolve based on our own experiences  and on how the people closest to us think about various ideas. It’s complicated.

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

But rarely do we see a major attitude change, let alone public policy changes, based simply on what the evidence—however abundant—tells us.

But Rochester is not the only place struggling to find a fact-based solution to high poverty schools when people show little inclination to change.

Jeff Hawkes, a reporter for LNP, a daily newspaper in Lancaster, Pa.,  and Lancaster online, posted an August 28 story that sounds like what we’ve seen in Rochester. (An aside: Hawkes interviewed GS4A co-convenor Lynette Sparks, W. Irondequoit superintendent Jeff Crane and me for a sidebar story on our work here.)

The Lancaster school district is smaller than Rochester’s, but it has the same poverty and racial isolation issues we have.

Hawkes lays out the case for socioeconomic diversity:

“Integrating schools to restore economic balance boosts achievement levels among poor children without negatively impacting other students, researchers say.”

And, he wrote, there is local experience to support those findings going back four decades.

“Poor children at Manheim Township, Hempfield and other schools got an academic boost where they’re outnumbered by more affluent children…Specifically, at the 10 most affluent elementary schools in the suburbs, 60 percent of the disadvantaged children pass the language arts test. But at the 10 highest-poverty schools, all in the city, only 40 percent pass.

“The 20-point gap raises questions for the Lancaster region: what would happen if every school was economically integrated, assuring that poor kids from the city learned with middle-class kids from the suburbs?”

Seven years ago, in 2009, David Rusk, a Washington, D.C.-based urban policy consultant (and author of Cities Without Suburbs and several follow-up books), “recommended Lancaster County rethink its tradition of neighborhood schools. He wrote a 51-page report called ‘Classmates Count’ showing how the segregated nature of Lancaster County’s neighborhoods reinforced educational disadvantage,” Hawkes reported.

” ‘Where a child lives (in Lancaster County) largely shapes his educational opportunities, not because of what the school board does but because of who his classmates are,’ Rusk wrote in a report that the that the county planning commission authorized but never followed up on. In the seven years since Rusk issued his report, the concentration of poverty at most of the city’s schools has only deepened, and poor students continue to fall behind their peers.”

Whatever the merits of integration, it’s a very challenging goal. Hawkes cites Jonathan Betel, who runs a Pennsylvania statewide education advocacy group, as saying that you can’t separate socioeconomic diversity from race.

Because the obstacles to integration in Pennsylvania appear so daunting, Cetel said he prefers to focus on strategies that lift up inner-city children in their neighborhood schools. Makes more sense, he says to build “high performance schools” in the poor neighborhoods the students come from.

Except that it won’t work for the vast majority of kids.

 

Likewise, Lancaster superintendent Damaris Rau said she and her staff are hoping to overcome the consequences of poverty by using learning strategies intended to “help kids reach their full potential.”

“It might work, but I don’t know,” Rau said, referring to integration. “We have to focus on the here and now. We can’t sit around and hope something like that is going to happen when we have children sitting in front us today.”

Sound familiar?

It takes years, maybe decades, for legislators and school officials to catch up to the reality that high-poverty schools can never yield the opportunities that more affluent students experience in middle-class schools. It takes even longer for them to believe (as the GS4A parent survey clearly indicates) that today’s parents are more than willing to consider integrated schools that are open to kids from a variety of socioeconomic and racial backgrounds.

So no, I don’ think studies will lead directly integration—no matter how compelling the evidence. What we need first and foremost are pioneers—a few school superintendents, boards, principals and innovators who are willing to lead by example. We need folks who will launch an integrated school and let the outcomes and word-of-mouth build support for broader change.

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.