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.

The national trend toward integration is gathering momentum

Unlike every fresh Donal Trump insult, the push to re-integrate American schools has not gone viral. Yet.

Most Rochesterians, like most Americans, have no idea that in numerous think tanks, state houses, and at the U.S. Department of Education, integration—along socioeconomic lines—is a very hot topic.  Slowly, policy is catching up to the research.

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

At GS4A, we hope to place Rochester at the forefront of this essential change to the way we improve public education. (Click the link to our proposal for Breakthrough Schools on this page.)

According to a recent article in The Atlantic, at a panel last month, U.S. Secretary of Education John King (previously the New York State commissioner of education), said that “the need for ‘urgency’ when it comes to making classrooms more socioeconomically and racially diverse is sometimes thwarted by communities who see the current lack of real integration as a fact over which they have no control. That, he argued, is simply not true.”

At the same forum, according to The Atlantic, Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and a champion of school integration, “suggested…that one reason for the lack of momentum is 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.”

Kahlenberg, who has supported and helped guide the work of GS4A, noted that at least 91 school districts now use socioeconomic status in assigning students to schools.

Indeed, President Obama has called for a $120 million in grants for the purpose of increasing socioeconomic integration, and GS4A submitted a brief position paper during the USDE’s open comment period on the grant proposals.

In a new blogpost on the Shanker Institute website, Kara Finnigan, associate professor at the University of Rochester and Jennifer Jellison Holme, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin,  argue that the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) “could be used to reduce segregation is by incorporating diversity into school turnaround strategies. ESSA requires states to intervene in three categories of schools: those graduating less than one-third of their students; the lowest 5 percent of schools receiving Title 1 funds; and schools where subgroups are struggling. States are allowed to set aside up to 7 percent of funds for ‘evidence based’ interventions.”

Finnigan and Holme also note that “another way to address between-district segregation is through inter-district magnet schools, like those implemented in Hartford, Minneapolis, and Omaha. These schools promote diversity by drawing students from multiple districts across a region, and they have been shown to yield improvements in academic achievement for students who participate.  ESSA reauthorized and increased funding for the $96 million Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), and for the first time allowed MSAP funding to be used for magnet schools created by a collaboration of multiple school districts (i.e. city and suburban districts joining together). ”

We have a long road yet to journey. But every grant, every initiative, creates opportunities for success—and those successes in ordinary schools, in ordinary communities will slowly build support for the using the power of integration to create new opportunities where few now exist.

 

 

And now, a pause for these brief announcements…

Instead of our regular blog post, this week, we want to call your attention to a couple of opportunities:

  • You are invited to attend the second annual ROC Teen Summit! 

The purpose of this event is to feature the perspectives of young adults through 10-15 minute “TED Talk” style presentations that showcase “ideas worth spreading” as it pertains to social justice issues that impact our community. Each talk will be focused on social constructs that adolescents face (racism, segregation, misogyny, adultism, etc.) as well as thoughts on how we might come together to deconstruct and resolve these issues and make our community a better place.

Last year, this event outgrew the venue in Nazareth College’s forum, so there is a new location to match the magnitude of the event! This year’s young people will give their “TED Talk” style presentations at the Lyric Theatre, 440 East Avenue in downtown Rochester on Saturday April 23, between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm!

Registration prior to the event is required but admission is free of charge. Please share widely with your networks. For more details and to register online, click here.

  • Share your stories as part of a GS4A social media campaign

This spring, Great Schools plans to launch a series of videos on our website, on Facebook and perhaps on other forms of social media. these videos will be personal stories that can help put a human face to our message—that would underscore the chronic problems in high poverty schools, and/or highlight the benefits, for both poor and middle class of students, of  truly socioeconomically and racially diverse schools.

We are looking for parents, teachers, students and others with stories to share. These videos will be short—typically just two to three minutes—and tightly focused. If you think you have a story that would help us better tell our story, please contact Mark Hare at mhare@rochester.rr.com.

Send a brief biography and a short summary the story you’d like to share.

Integration improves more than test scores and graduation rates

The headline in the February 12 Washington Post shouldn’t surprise anyone who has looked carefully at the consequences of segregating low-income and minority children: “How segregated schools turn school kids into criminals,” it said.

The story looks at what happened when a lawsuit in the early 2000s effectively dismantled a highly successful school integration program in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, NC.

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

At GS4A, we often write that socioeconomic integration is important because the demography of classrooms and schools is so important to educational outcomes. In the presence of middle class students, parents and expectations for success, poor children show dramatic improvements. But the demography argument cuts both ways.

With resegregation, the performance gap (between white and black, rich and poor students) in the Charlotte-Mecklenberg schools began to widen. Meanwhile, according to the Post, “a non-white boy who went to school that was 60 percent minority, instead of 40 percent minority, would be about 16 percent more likely to get arrested, according to the data.”

Why? “Taking so many at-risk kids from the same neighborhood, and packing them together into the same school, magnifies the bad influences they have on each other.”

Diversify schools along socioeconomic lines and you can both reduce juvenile crime and get more kids through high school ready for the next phase of life—be it college, work training or a job.

Across the country, new strategies for school integration are proliferating (because the evidence makes the case for it), yet there are and long will be communities that resist integration and fear its consequences, especially for affluent suburban children.

But that fear is unfounded.

In another Post story, of Feb. 9, education reporter Amy Layton, says that despite efforts to desegregate schools in some places, the communities that have worked hard to keep their schools integrated have much to show for it.

“In Hartford, CT, for example, black and Latino students from the city attend regional magnet schools along with white students from more affluent suburbs. In 2013, there was no gap in state reading test scores for third-­graders, meaning white, Latino and black students all scored about the same. The achievement gap also was eliminated between Latino and white students on the fifth-grade reading test. And by 10th grade, the gap between low-­income students and their more affluent peers was 5 percentage points on the reading test, compared with a statewide average of 28 points.”

Not every community that has used regional magnet schools as a tool for socioeconomic integration has eliminated the achievement gap,  but the yawning gaps caused by segregation narrow dramatically in every case I know of.  And who knows? We might be able to develop a Rochester-centric plan that can completely eliminate the gap over time.

But improved test scores and graduation rates are not the only reason to support using magnet schools to end socioeconomic segregation.

A brand new analysis of findings from across the country makes it clear that integration is as important for middle class  and wealthy kids as for poor kids. Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox, and Diana Cordova-Cobo, in “How Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms Can Benefit All Students,” write:

White students in particular benefit from racially and ethnically diverse learning contexts in that the presence of students of color stimulates an increase in the complexity with which students—especially white students—approach a given issue. When white students are in racially homogeneous groups, no such cognitive stimulation occurs. Research shows that ‘the mere inclusion of different perspectives, and especially divergent ones, in any course of discussion leads to the kind of learning outcomes (for example, critical thinking, perspective-taking) that educators, regardless of field, are interested in.'”

In other words, integration makes all kids smarter and better prepares them for living and working in a diverse world—a world in which success depends as much on empathy, creativity and  collaboration as it does on academic achievement.

 

 

 

 

We learn best with ‘a little help from our friends’

“When I think back on all the c*** I learned in high school; It’s a wonder I can think at all.”

—”Kodachrome” by Paul Simon (1973)

Those lyrics (listen here ) spoke to me the moment I first heard them, 43 years ago. Not because I had a terrible high school experience, but because I could relate to having to sit through many classes taught by teachers who neither inspired nor informed.

For most people I know, that was the norm. If you had two or three teachers who truly inspired you, consider yourself pretty lucky. Most teachers are ordinary. That’s what a bell curve is all about. Most of them are not bad teachers, but they do not connect effectively with every student.

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

And yet—and this is the important part—we all got through high school, went to college, had productive lives. Great teachers change lives. But ordinary teachers do not doom their students to failure. In a great school, there are plenty of supports—so students “make it” anyway.

But that’s not the way it is in most of Rochester’s high-poverty schools today. Most students do not make it.

At GS4A, we are often asked how the magnet schools we propose differ from charter schools. The simple answer is that many charter school operators believe that low-performing schools are the result of poor management, bloated budgets and weak teachers whose bullying unions care more about protecting teachers than helping kids.

Charter operators typically believe that the private sector can turn around poor performing public schools using private sector management practices and (generally) non-union teachers who can be deployed more effectively.

At GS4A, we believe that public schools can work just fine—and most do. No one says the public schools in Brighton and Pittsford are no good, even though they, too, have their share of teachers who could  not be called rock stars and who are represented by powerful unions.

Because current state law requires charter operators to give preference to students from the district in which they are sited, city charters schools, like RCSD schools, have large majorities of poor students.

Unlike most local charter supporters, GS4A believes that who you sit next to in school matters a lot—and the evidence supports that view. Teaching is not unimportant, but classroom demography is a much better predictor of outcomes.

Charter schools in Rochester are trying to prove that we can keep poor children in high-poverty schools and still dramatically improve the outcomes.

At GS4A, we accept that charters are part of the education landscape, and we understand why parents, frustrated with what they find in city schools, would be attracted them. In some cases, test results for charters are marginally better than those for RCSD schools, but not enough to suggest that privatizing public education is the way forward.

The magnet schools GS4A proposes are very different from the charter model. These schools would build theme-based programs (with curriculum rooted in the arts, science, foreign language,  nature studies, leadership skills, or technology, for example), but they would draw students from school districts across Monroe County and cap the number of poor students (at roughly 50 percent of the student body).

If you’re like me, when you think back on all the c*** you learned in high school, you’ll remember that you made it because you were surrounded by other kids who could help you with things you didn’t understand, because your peers—even when they said they hated school—generally understood that it was important to get decent grades and graduate. The parents and teachers (including the not-so-inspirational teachers) understood that, too. And it turns out, that support can make all the difference.

We understand that some students will find a home at one Rochester’s charter schools and succeed because of it. We do not live in a black and white world, where we think we have all the answers. We support socioeconomic integration not because we don’t believe some children will succeed in high-poverty schools, but because we know that integration will improve the odds for the greater number of students.

The difference between GS4A and charter schools is the difference between anecdotal success and systemic change. Some children will thrive in charter schools. But public education can’t settle for occasional successes. In New York State, every child is guaranteed a “sound basic education” —and that requires a school system that works for all. We believe that cross-district, collaborative, socioeconomically integrated schools represent the systemic changes necessary to make that constitutional guarantee a reality.

The truth is, who you sit in class with matters.  In fact, a “diverse charter school” movement is now going around the country, as awareness of the importance of socioeconomic integration spreads. At GS4A we welcome the support of charter proponents or operators who share our commitment to ending the segregation imposed by high poverty schools.

The truth is that while every school benefits from the skills of extraordinary teachers, truly effective schools work because they give students the chance to learn, if I may paraphrase the words from another popular song, “with a little help from their friends.”

 

 

 

 

 

Is Rochester finally ready for bold changes?

Who are we? Better yet, who do we want to be as a community?

Seriously, are we ready and willing to take the steps needed to solve the problems of poverty and decline that have beset us now for more than a generation? Or, will we once again, take comfort in stereotypes and settle for investing more money in the same old approaches that have failed in the past?

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Progressive values are in our bones. Rochester’s proximity to Lake Ontario, which afforded quick passage to Canada, gave rise to a thriving abolitionist community here in the mid-19th Century, and later to an active suffragist community fighting for women’s right to vote. Austin Steward, born to slavery in Virginia, became Rochester’s first black store owner and a leader in anti-slavery causes. Reverend Thomas James, an emancipated slave from New York, settled here and took up the cause, along with anti-slavery activists William Bloss, Isaac and Amy Post and the great Susan B. Anthony.

Sometimes called “America’s First Boomtown,” Rochester was the gateway to the west with the opening of Erie Canal. In the 150 years after the canal opened, Rochester innovators and entrepreneurs made and sold everything from perfume and candy, from shoe polish and beer to eye glasses and precision optics. We built ships, manufactured soap and buttons, elevators and steam engines. Photocopying—xerography—was invented here, and was consumer photography.

The rich and powerful of Rochester built theaters and art museums, endowed colleges and hospitals, donated land for expansive public parks, and, with others, invented the idea off lifelong employment with strong, growing and far-reaching companies. Rochesterians designed and implemented effective local governmental institutions, and later built the best organized neighborhoods in the United States (so said the Brookings Institution back in the 1970s).

Led by Marion Folsom (a Kodak executive who virtually invented the nation’s first retirement system and later served as President Eisenhower’s Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare from 1955 to 1958), Rochester organized what  might have ben the finest health care system in the county, build on collaboration among hospitals, rather than competition.

Yes, Rochester came to be known as Smugtown for a reason—an Old Boys’ Club that ran government, business and civic matters with unseemly hubris at times. And I have no interest in romanticizing the “Good Old Days;” this was not a perfect community. It was, however, a much more effective community, a place with leaders who—while they certainly had blind spots when it came to missing the racial divide of the early 1960s—were genuinely interested in solving problems.

But that Can-Do city has become the No-Can-Do city over the last 30 years, our leaders unwilling or unable to even imagine the structural changes that could reverse the decline that has emptied city neighborhoods and impoverished its schools. They have redefined success from problem solving to capping taxes.

We’re a mystery in some ways. We no longer have the corporate giants that once dominated the landscape, but we are blessed with hundreds of innovators who are building smaller, more nimble 21st century companies. We are still an incredibly generous community, with more volunteers per capita than just about any place in America, and with newer philanthropists (Dennis and Lawrence Kessler, B. Thomas Golisanso and Max and Marian Farash among them) still endowing a range of civic and humanitarian causes.

And yet, collectively, we have learned to accept some of the worst poverty and most segregated schools you can find anywhere in America. For all kinds of reasons, children who populate our racially isolated, high-poverty city schools have to beat incredible odds to graduate high school, let alone to ready themselves for work or college. Most will never reach their full potential.

Are we not embarrassed; are we not ashamed to send so many children to schools as segregated and deprived as the worst schools in the deep south before the Civil Rights era?

We have resignation, not outrage; we tell ourselves there’s nothing we can do, that if the parents of poor children would work harder, they could move to Brighton or Pittsford and get their kids  into a better school.

For 30 years we have been collectively silent as this crisis has deepened.  Not one school board, nor village or city council, or town board has even called for a discussion of alternatives to high poverty schools. The business community hasn’t offered a whimper of  resistance. Neither political party has made an issue of it. Our religious leaders have said nothing at all.

But today we have an opportunity to repair the damage, to do right by the children who most need a community behind them.

Suddenly, poverty is an issue. People are talking. The Rochester-Monroe Anti Poverty Initiative has been promised $500 million in state support for programs that will cut poverty here by 50 percent over 15 years. GS4A believes that evidence based solutions—notably socioeconomic integration of our schools— must be a part of that discussion.

We hope you will join us in supporting bold new efforts at collaboration among school districts—the kind of problem-solving initiative that Rochester once was known for.

 

Diversity is not enough

This video, by Stanford University sociologist Prudence Carter, explains why diversity in schools does not equal true integration. As we’ve learned from our research of other places that have achieved socioeconomic integration, real success requires building inclusive school communities.

Prudence Carter explains that when she quotes a 15-year-old student she interviewed: “If you want to eliminate the achievement gap, you must first eliminate the empathy gap.”

While GS4A believes that socioeconomic integration is essential to improving outcomes for poor children, we also know that integrated schools work only when students learn from each other, share connections and networks and interact with adults who care about them all.

Bridging the great Section V sports divide

Should private schools be allowed to compete in Section V and New York State Public High School Athletic Association post-season tournaments? This question is as old as high school tournaments, but  private schools in New York have competed everywhere, except Buffalo’s Section VI region, since forever.

But 18 Monroe County school superintendents (read more here) have asked NYSPHAA to review the matter. And their Oct. 2 letter makes it pretty clear that they don’t believe private schools should be allowed to participate.

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

I think the major objection  is to the decade-long football dominance of The Aquinas Institute, but the letter notes that Aquinas, McQuaid, Bishop Kearney, Our Lady of Mercy, Nazareth Academy (which no lager exists and won’t be winning any more girls titles),  Notre Dame of Batavia and Northstar Christian, despite their small enrollments, have won 85 Section V and six state titles in football, boys and girls basketball and soccer.

“Is it fair, is it equal for non-public schools to participate in sectionals and states?” Pittsford school district superintendent Michael Pero asked.

I can see how it looks unfair. Some of the county’s best athletes go to private schools and compete against students from their home districts for sports laurels. The private schools, the old argument goes, recruit athletes (even though the rules forbid such) and can assemble powerhouse teams as a result.

That’s one way of looking at it. Here’s another.

(Disclaimer: I support Catholic schools, as well as public schools. My two sons are Aquinas graduates and former athletes. My younger son played on the Aquinas 2009 state baseball championship team.)

If there are actual recruiting violations, someone should bring a specific charge. Of course, as Democrat and Chronicle sports columnist Jeff DiVeronica commented last week, private schools beat the bushes for students and use their academic programs, arts and sports facilities as drawing cards. If they don’t do that they will go dark. What they are not allowed to do is to target individual students because they are gifted athletes.

In any event, there’s no way to be sure that  7th- or 8th-grade students, no matter their grade-school prowess on the court or field, will be standout high school athletes. As DiVeronica wrote: “Show me a private school or public school that dominates and I’ll show you a dedicated, hard-working coaching staff that motivates and develops his or her players to be the best.”

The Catholic schools offer tuition assistance to many students—some of whom are athletes, most of whom are not. Some gifted athletes come from suburban school districts, but many come from the city. The Catholic schools offer those kids, among the poorest in our county, a far better shot at graduation, college and a job than they would have in a city high school. Deny those kids a chance to compete at a high level in sports and—kids being kids—many will not take advantage of that opportunity.

There are, in every Catholic high school, families that pay full tuition ($10,000 or more) but financial aid allows those schools to build reasonably diverse—racially, ethnically and socioeconomically—student populations. That’s a big reason we sent our sons to Aquinas. Sports helped make that mix of students possible.

That’s a good thing. That’s a very good thing.

At the end of the day, the success of a school’s sports teams isn’t that big a deal. Brighton, for example,  is not sports juggernaut, but it is widely regarded as one of the finest school districts in the country.

What bothers me most about this public-private debate, however, is—despite the catastrophic failure of high poverty city schools, and despite the compelling evidence that integration can reverse the fortunes of the poorest kids—so many people in this community remain less concerned about the lives of those children than they are about the bling on display in their high school trophy cases.

What matters is that every child has access to a great school regardless of how much  money their parents have. Yes, it’s true that Catholic and other private schools are not the best vehicles for socioeconomic integration. But the dwindling number of Catholic schools in our county have done far more to give some of the poorest kids in our area a real chance to graduate from high school than the suburban districts that would like to prevent those schools from winning more football championships.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What segregated schools look like today

This video was posted this week on Vox.com. The speaker is reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, who writes for The New York Times Magazine and she has written on school segregation for ProPublica and This American Life.

Agree or disagree, this piece deserves our attention. Stick with it through the end.