In-school segregation

At Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, top-level classes are almost all white; low-level classes are almost all black. In-school segregation is common at schools that track students by performance. From the New York Times:

Columbia High School seems to have it all – great sports teams, great academics, famous alumni and an impressive campus with Gothic buildings. But no one boasts about one aspect of this blue-ribbon school, that its classrooms are largely segregated.

Though the school is majority black, white students make up the bulk of the advanced classes, while black students far outnumber whites in lower-level classes, statistics show.

. . . Educators say that leveling allows smarter students to be challenged while giving struggling ones the special instruction they need. But many students, especially those in the lower levels, which often carry a stigma, say such stratification makes the rocky adolescent years only harder.

Stigma isn’t really the issue. The problem is that students live down to low expectations. But often the low-track students really do need to be taught skills and knowledge that other students have mastered already. And the good students will leave if they can’t take challenging college-prep classes that not everyone can handle.

As Eduwonk says, this is the reason that No Child Left Behind requires schools to break out scores for subgroups, instead of averaging scores for the school as a whole. It’s possible for students to be doing fine on average while some groups are doing poorly.

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Comments

  1. The issue isn’t even that students live down to low expectations. It’s that a sufficient volume of hollering just might get you, with no further effort, what doing the course work will also get you.

    Why work hard when when huffing and puffing about racial segregation will get you the same thing?

    As long as a high school diplomas (and college degrees) are nothing more then passports that need stamping instead of testements to a minimal educational attainment the smart and cynical will try to get the document without doing the work.

    The worst thing is that as degrees are diluted by political correctness, laziness on the part of parents, kids and instructors, and the politicization of education, it’s harder to argue with them.

  2. lindenen says:

    “The public school sends more than 90 percent of graduates to college, has a dropout rate of less than half a percent and won a national Blue Ribbon award from the federal government for its academic excellence during the 1992-93 school year.”

    I’m not so sure this is a case of the school failing the entire black community if this has such an incredibly high % of students going on to college.

    I found it highly instructive that the article doesn’t mention where the hispanic and Asian students fit. Are they all in the higher classes? Spread out? What?

    I read this article earlier today and decided that they should introduce the kids in the lower classes to the work the kids in the higher levels are doing. The kids who can keep up with the higher levels should get to move up into the higher levels, and the other kids will get a good idea about why they aren’t in the advanced classes other than racism. Perhaps for one month everyone takes the highest level math or English for that particular grade, at the same speed, with the same quizzes and tests. Then we see how things shake out.

  3. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    I agree with allen and lindenen. More complete info on this school is needed.

    I will briefly share two anecdotes. 1) Last summer I visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, on a Saturday, which was quite crowded, of course, with mostly families. If I had to do a brief ‘ethnic’ breakdown that day, I would say the vast majority of visitors were ‘white/Anglo’ and Asian; I saw only a handful of black/African-American and Hispanic families among the hundreds. The aquarium employees were ethnically diverse.

    2) I recently visited the LA Central Library in the late afternoon on a weekday to research something for a classroom project. As I walked around, I noticed that the overwhelming majority of students who were reading/studying there were…white/Anglo and Asian. Just outside the library, I saw a large group of school-aged kids loitering on the adjacent streets with their skateboards, scooters and baggy pants. Several had headphones on, apparently listening to radios or CDs. As I walked by I heard lots of profanity. They had no books or backpacks. They were all clearly black/African-American and Hispanic. What can be deduced from this small sampling of experience? You tell me…..all I know is “it’s the values, stupid”. Race/ethnicity matters so much less than what VALUES the parents and community are affirming and demanding from their youth. People need to examine their core values instead of crying ‘racism’ or scapegoating more successful and industrious people. ‘Nuff said.

  4. Lou Gots says:

    One of the things the Lord hates is false measures. If a fair selection process doesn’t give you enough Aryans in the University of Heidelburg, that’s just too bad. The top reading group in my third-grade class is 100% white girls. No one else is even close, and to appoint a less accomplished student to their number just to make a quota would be a travesty: the poor reader would struggle and fumble, and everyone would sink into a confirmed prejudice that non-whites are dumb.

    This is one of those times during which it were better to hold one’s tongue and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

  5. Walter E. Wallis says:

    It’s Bush’s fault!

  6. Walter, I’m surprised the NYT didn’t try to say that.

  7. lindenan quotes/writes:
    “The public school sends more than 90 percent of graduates to college, has a dropout rate of less than half a percent and won a national Blue Ribbon award from the federal government for its academic excellence during the 1992-93 school year.”

    I’m not so sure this is a case of the school failing the entire black community if this has such an incredibly high % of students going on to college.
    =-=-=-

    don’t be so nearly sanguine about thoses stats!

    a local school trumpets similar stats: here is the real story . . .

    1/3 of the kids don’t graduate: school marks them as transfer/move et voila! low dropout rate

    That ledgerdemain also boosts the “90% graduates go to college” since graduates are pretrimmed … worth delving into graduates per freshman. When you go deeper, sadly, many of those college-bound graduates are taking remedial course at community college because the high school diploma is insufficient to enter college.

    In truth, only 30% of 9th graders become qualified for a 4 year college at this local school.

    And, finally yes, this local school also has a school award which is even less dated than 12 years old — but it’s still out of date. It even ranked in Newsweek’s top high school list since that measures AP enrollent per graduate which also rewards the dropout schools.

    Prepare to dig a lot deeper (and maybe the school in the story is fine, but don’t be blindsided)

  8. Bluemount says:

    There are lots of ways to marginalize people that numbers don’t reflect. Tolerating a child in a class where they aren’t learning is not a answer. If the teachers in low performing classrooms are poor and the classes where overcrowded that would certainly be unfair. Probably making sure children in low performing classes feel their teachers are committed is important, also.

  9. mike from oregon says:

    To me, it is a ‘natural’ thing that happens to people, self-segregation. People can talk about diversity, schools and organizations can try to force intermingling of people but we tend to self segregate. Think about it, put the four classes of high school kids together, usually, they will self-segregate into freshman gather over here, sophomores over here, etc. Put a group of folks who know nothing of each other together, you tend to look for people who look like you, because inside you feel that they can probably relate to you.

    So in a high school you have kids who congregate together because they are friends, they are probably in the same grade, most likely from the same neighborhood. Some of them don’t care about grades, soon many of them adapt that attitude. Soon the teacher is tired of a class that doesn’t care (doesn’t want to learn) so her expectations are low, the class lives up to them, it’s a self fulfilling situation. Heck, my daughter told me of a girl in her school who’s stated goal was to get “F’s” in all her classes – stated goal. She was upset because one class wouldn’t give her an ‘F’ – she showed up, so she got better than an ‘F’. Think about that and tell me we don’t have a problem.

    When there is so little respect for grades, for achievement, for your self, for your teacher, for your school – then it’s time to re-evaluate the way we teach, what we teach and what is coming through to the kids. There is so little immediate ‘bite’ that happens when a kid doesn’t do an assignment or fulfill a goal that the kids just don’t care – nothing will happen (immediately) if the goal/assignment isn’t done.

    My understanding is that in South Carolina, that they have (for lack of a better term) “bad kids school”. If you mouth off to the teachers, don’t do your work, skip school, etc. – then you no longer go to regular public school. You are picked up (bus or other means of transportation) and taken to “bad kids school” where there are many more adults around to take care of bad behavior, it’s not tolerated. You are brought in early and stay late so that an adult can be there to watch you do (and help if necessary) your homework. Wanna know what most kids whine about? Not about having to do their work, not about having to behave, they whine about not being around their friends. Eventually, most of them straighten up enough that they are allowed back into their regular school and they fly right at that point in time because they don’t want to be taken out again. Huge lesson here folks, huge lesson, I just wish more states would see it, tell the liberals to go whine somewhere else and end up helping the kids.

  10. In line w/what nails said, teachers and admins. alike just shake their heads at the number of minority kids in the hallways (with hall passes) between classes. The ratio of minority kids vs. whites is overwhelming.

    Should we assume that minority kids actually need to use the restroom and/or get a drink more often? Certainly not. (Although, I bet there’s some “researcher” out there that’ll claim that’s legitimate!) Like nails stated, it shows priorities.

  11. Bluemount says:

    The actual figures indicate punitive school only work to a point, it’s no different than teaching via self-esteem. Effective discipline starts young, it’s short term, consistant, and doable. ‘Bad kid’ schools are bureaucratic money pits that attract poor educators who can’t cut it anyplace else and buy into abuse.

    When kids have problems with a small child in the school the parents are frequently asked to the teacher advise. That’s pretty stupid since we should assume the problems in the classroom are different than the home. Probably an experienced teacher would have better insight in what’s really needed. Instead it becomes a fiasco of incompetency. Older teachers are overloaded with failing kids because the administration wants young, low-pay help. Parents freak out from inexperienced teachers who figure out quickly the parents don’t know what their talking about. Everyone is abused and so are the kids. I think the answers are to put teachers in control of school resources and defining what kids need. Get the parents out of the classroom and give the teachers meaningful options.

  12. turns out that parents know what’s going on more often than not, Bluemount. Now ability to act on that … and ability to partner with the teacher: both might be more compromised than one likes.

  13. Bluemount says:

    Chris, Teachers control social resource. The stakes have only increased as social problems and a polarized economic culture has grown in this country. If we were esoterically discussing academia or how children learn it would make more sense, but we’re not. We are discussing how teachers control social resource.

    When the parents get in the picture I’ve only seen a mountain of special ed., that usually doesn’t produce good results. Parents brag about whether they were clever enough to a baby testers. The compromise is so often performace or control medication that statistically only benefits the test scores first teacher who recommends it.

  14. Andy Freeman says:

    > I think the answers are to put teachers in control of school resources and defining what kids need. Get the parents out of the classroom and give the teachers meaningful options.

    Since teachers already have a huge amount of control, what evidence is there that giving them more is the solution?

    However, I’m willing to give teachers complete control over “their” as long as they aren’t “owed” students. In other words, each student that a teacher can attract comes with money. However, a teacher that attracts no students gets no money.

    Yes, we’ll attach more money to certain students.

    Is there any acceptable decision procedure for deciding how much money is attached to a given student that would make said “get paid for who you can convince to attend” scheme acceptable?

  15. bluemount writes:
    When the parents get in the picture I’ve only seen a mountain of special ed., that usually doesn’t produce good results.

    -0-0-0

    And therein lies the critical words “… I’ve only seen…” You need to get out and see other models. Tere are a variety of public and private approaches from home to community level. Which is not to say that the wheels have fallen of the cart in other places, so I can’t dispute if that’s what you’ve seen.