Why separate and equal isn’t actually a thing

A couple of weeks ago, I listened to MSNBC host Chris Hayes’  podcast interview with Nikole Hannah-Jones, MacArthur Genius, New York Times reporter, author, expert on  school integration and a Great Schools speaker last October.

You can find the podcast and transcript here.

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

It’s a long interview (roughly an hour), but NHJ makes some well known points very clear and accessible. I think in this conversation she explains the importances of integration in very  simple and powerful  terms.

Here are some key excerpts:

NHJ grew up in Iowa and her parents took advantage of a desegregation plan to send her to one of the whitest and richest schools in the community.

NHJ: If you want to make sure that your kid is going to have the best public school resources that can be offered, then you best go to school with a lot of white kids and a wealthy school. So that’s what parents did. All the black kids would get dropped off at the various open enrollment schools, and at the end of the day when all of the white kids who lived in the neighborhood would be playing outside and walking home, we’d be shuttled onto a bus and sent back to our side of town.

…when I talk to a lot of black folks who have gotten into whatever mainstream careers…it’s often people who went through desegregated schools. They learned to adapt to white norms, they learned to speak the “professional white language,” they learned to be comfortable in those situations, so I think for us, clearly, it was a means of being able to study what you were going to need to succeed in a white-dominated country. But it wouldn’t be easy. I think we shouldn’t expect that taking people who have been forcibly and legally separated and putting them in schools together is going to (be) magic, it’s gonna be difficult. But I think it’s worth the difficulty. We’re a multiracial democracy.

So why was this an important experience in your life?

NHJ: It allows you to relate to the experiences of others in a way that clearly you would never be able to relate. I’ve heard, since I’ve been focusing so much on school segregation, from so many white adults who …went through schools where they were not the majority and that it was transformative for them. That it just helped them to see things that they couldn’t have seen before. It made them better people they think. They also say it wasn’t easy…I think we should stop pretending that it would be, but again, we don’t say that for anything else in life. When you want to be successful, you know it’s gonna be hard. But for this, we want it to be easy because we really don’t want to do it.

Because we don’t want to actually integrate, she says, we look for other solutions to legitimize “separate but equal.”

NHJ:  And this is one of the arguments that I make…(to the) common and perennial answer to segregation… “Well, we just need to fund high-poverty schools.” Well, we do, but there are intangible things that you lose when you’re in a segregated entirely poor school. And one of those things is that by being isolated from the language and the culture of those who run your country, who will run the businesses that you may want to work for, you can’t make up for that isolation  by throwing more dollars and getting better textbooks.

Hayes says how important social capital is and asks NHJ if she thinks white affluent schools are better than segregated schools.

NHJ: Yes but what we fail to acknowledge (is that) what makes that school good is not the kids but the resources those kids are ensured. This was the whole reason behind school desegregation beginning when the NAACP starts to challenge school segregation in the ’40s. It was not saying there’s something remarkable about white kids that makes black kids smart. It was saying that we have been promising since Plessy v. Ferguson to make separate equal and there’s never been a single moment in time where black kids, isolated from white kids,  got even close to the same resources. It literally is about needing to have proximity to get the same things. There’s just been no other way to do that. 

On the issue of whether the cause of segregation is structural or the result of individual parental choice.

NHJ:  I think either way. When we say, “Oh, it’s just the structure,” then we also justify individual choices, because you’re like, “I can’t solve all of school inequality in the city, so it’s okay if I put my kid in this all white, rich school, ’cause I can’t fix it all.” But at the same time, every time a white parent makes that choice collectively …you have reinforced that. 

…Don’t brag to me about how proud you are to be a public school parent when your public school is 10 percent poverty and 80 percent white… We now feel like we should be able to shop for schools. Schools should have to vie for us. Our kids are no longer people who (we) are teaching to be citizens, but people who (we) are teaching to make a lot of money one day. 

Hayes then says that many people agree that morally we should integrate, but since it’s not possible, we should focus on making black schools excellent.

NHJ:  Yeah, I mean, I wouldn’t argue with that. Except that, they have no bit of history on their side either, right? We also have never done that ever, on scale anywhere. There’s a reason why every time you bring these issues up, people point to the same five schools, right? Or the same five charter school chains. There’s a reason for that, because it’s not scalable.

You can look at something like, Success Academy… But you look at the purge rates at that school, you look at the amount of additional fundraising they have to do, the philanthropy dollars that are coming in.

You can’t scale that across an entire city. You can’t scale that across an entire country. So, I don’t think that there is something inherently bad about an all black learning environment. You can go to all black countries right now and there are excellent schools, but we’re not in that context.

We are in a context built on white supremacy. We are in a context where having all black environments means those schools and environments will be starved of resources, as they have been in every community in our country…I still don’t think you can ever make the schools equal for the reasons that I already pointed out, but…show me the example of where we scaled it and I’ll shut up.

In case you’ve been wondering…

In case you missed this piece in this week’s City newspaper (July 24, 2018), have a look. Editor Mary Anna Towler again underscores the need to address the high concentration of poverty in Rochester city schools—and urges readers to join with us.

We’ve been a little quiet here for a few months, but GS4A has not gone dark. To the contrary, we’ve been working quietly behind the scenes to support the RCSD’s call for two interdistirct schools as proposed in the Path Forward report, which outlines an ambitious agenda for improvement. More soon.

Yet another attempt to improve city schools

Not surprisingly, the state’s education commissioner is sending someone else to try to help the Rochester school district turn things around.

But let me just repeat the Great Obvious Fact:

…Through all these studies, through all the new school superintendents and new school board members and new ideas, two things have been constant: Rochester’s poverty rate has increased. And the performance of the school district’s children has dropped.

Lock step.

For half a century.

That is a fact. You can look it up.

Integration only works when all voices are heard

From time to time we’ll use this blog space to answer questions that have come to us. This one was submitted at last October’s Nikole Hannah-Jones lecture, but was not answered that night. 

Often the people working on education justice issues are white, or at least they have the most clout and loudest voices, these are liberal white groups. What are your thoughts on uplifting the voices of black parents and black residents?

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Great Schools for All is keenly (painfully, even embarrassingly) aware that we are older and whiter than we would like to be as an organization. We are nowhere nearly as diverse as the schools we propose.

This is a key question we’re focused on this year in a number of new ways. Please, let us know your suggestions for people we should talk to or organizations we should partner with. You can reach us at contact@gs4a.org.

Here are some of our plans for 2018:

  • Our new Community Engagement team is planning listening sessions in a variety of places with very different audiences.
  • We’ll be meeting soon with several “community stakeholders” who attended the Nikole Hannah-Jones event and expressed willingness to help us refine our message and strategy.
  • Similarly, we’ll meet with African-American leaders who will help us connect to parents and residents whose voices we need to hear.
  • We’re also hoping to encourage interested groups to begin offering magnet school design ideas that would make our goals a little more tangible.

There are many reasons (not excuses) why we are not as diverse as we’d like. In part, I think, we’ve experienced the effects of the segregation that is so real in our community, not just in our schools. We live in our own bubbles with too little interaction with people not like ourselves. We don’t fully understand each other because our paths rarely cross and because we struggle to make the connections and have the conversations we need.

Again, that’s not an excuse, just an observation.

As the questioner suggests, it is critical that we hear and empower the “voices of black parents and black residents.”

At GS4A we often hear from African-Americans (and others) that our proposal is naïve and elitist. America, and Rochester, these folks say, is not interested in ending segregation. We never even discuss it; instead, we’ve all made our peace with segregation. Shameful, but true.

Better, these critics say, that we advocate changes that can improve education for the poorest kids right now—not sometime in the distant future. That means more money for the poorest schools. It could mean longer school days, outreach to parents, a more culturally responsive curriculum, recruiting more minority teachers and bringing a whole range of community services into our schools—medical and dental care, for example, that can improve the health of the entire neighborhood.

Of course, we support all of those things. We support anything that improves the educational experience of poor kids. We know that education is far more relational that many people think.  A gifted teacher or principal—who also cares deeply and personally for students—can transform a child’s life.

We know, not just from common sense, but from the accumulated evidence amassed by scholars, that minority teachers can radically alter the educational path of poor black students. It just makes sense to provide incentives to draw more young men and women of color into teaching and to hire them ASAP.

We know, too, that calls for integration can be heard as a belief that poor and minority students can’t learn unless they sit next to white affluent children. That’s not at all what we believe, but the offensive and mistaken notion—that black children will only learn when they are in white classrooms—did not come from nowhere. It is baked into the language used to discuss integration, and is rooted in the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which ruled that there is no such thing as “separate but equal” education.

The court went well beyond granting the plaintiffs’ demands. Oliver and Leola Brown joined the NAACP lawsuit against the Topeka, Kansas, board of education when they were denied (because of their race) the opportunity to transfer their daughter Linda from an all-black school that was several blocks from their home to a predominantly white school one block away. They felt the black school was too far for Linda to walk when it was cold, snowing or raining. They were not unhappy with her school.

In his podcast, Revisionist History (Season 2 episode, “Miss Buchanan’s Period of Adjustment”), author Malcolm Gladwell included clips from an archival interview with Leola Brown. “We were getting a quality education at Monroe (the black school)…We had fantastic teachers,” she says. “It was more like an extended family. They took an interest in you.”

But the court did more than agree with the Browns, Gladwell says. The decision said, “segregation with the sanction of law has a tendency to retard the educational and mental development of Negro children.” That sounds to Gladwell (and many others) like the court concluded that black children are inevitably scarred for life in black schools and that only by moving to white schools can they avoid psychological damage.

Segregation is wrong, but not because black children cannot learn without white children next to them. It would have been better and more accurate, Gladwell says, if the court had said instead: “Schools are the places where people make the connections that allow them to get ahead in the world. You cannot lock black people out of the place where social power and opportunity reside.”

We agree with Gladwell. That’s the point. And we’ve made integration (socioeconomic diversity) our prime directive, not because none of the other strategies we’ve mentioned is of value, but because the evidence shows that economic and racial diversity can dramatically change the equation—and represents the most effective and least costly way to improve the odds for the kids most at risk of not graduating.

We formed Great Schools to be sure that diverse schools—and all the advantages they portend for us—are on the table. We believe that, even though integrated schools sometimes feels like an impossible goal, that the goal is within reach. Our role is to keep it front and center.

 

 

 

Great Schools for All 2018 Resolutions

It’s very trendy to say that New Year’s resolutions are passé. Perhaps. Many now write about New Year’s  “intentions.” That’s fine. Either way, Great Schools for All sees this new year as a crucial one not only for our work, but for the students in our communities.

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

So whether resolutions or intentions, here is a short list. As you read it, we invite you to get involved, either with us, by reaching out at contact@gs4a.org,  or by connecting yourself to some other group working on education.

1.   Raise our own sense of urgency and deepen our sense of commitment. Poverty’s impact worsens on our neighbors and we can’t let inertia or entrenchment impede us. Let’s embrace the thinking of Adam Morgan and Mark Barden (The Beautiful Constraint) who propose a change of perspective, from saying “we can’t…because” to “we can…if.”

2.   Get our proposal (and the thinking behind it) in front of more people.  We will reach out to grass roots and grass tops leaders, city and suburban, groups and individuals, educators, business people, regular old citizens. Help us!

3.   Diversify our leadership.  Simply put, we are too white. That’s our problem, and a fair critique, which we aim to address.

4.   Find other groups and individuals committed to education and collaborate with them. The more the merrier!

5.   Work with RCSD when our energies align,  support where appropriate and push where needed.

6.   Keep asking the question that Nikole Hannah-Jones asked us in November: Whose child (or children) are we willing to sacrifice? Her focus on integration and justice compels our work.

Join us and push us as we re-commit ourselves to a vison of great schools for all.

 

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.