Public schools for the elite

I attended public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade in the Chicago suburbs. Nearly all my classmates were white; none were poor. In fact, most were Jewish in elementary and middle school and tracking kept my high school classes majority Jewish as well. I got an excellent education. Diverse it was not.

Public schools in name only educate more than 1.7 million U.S. children concludes a Fordham Institute report on  “private public schools” with very, very few poor students (and few blacks and Hispanics).

More students attend these schools than attend charter schools. And in some metro areas, like New York’s, almost 30 percent of white students attend these exclusive schools. Because you have to be well-off enough to live in their attendance boundaries, these schools are more private than private schools—which at least give scholarships to some needy children.

. . .  there’s none of the outcry that surfaces when someone proposes vouchers so poor children can attend private schools at public expense. How come? And if the civil rights community is upset that charter schools serve “too many” poor and minority kids, why aren’t they upset that these “public” schools serve too many white and middle-class children?

The report include links to the all-affluent public schools in 25 cities. My schools don’t make it, probably because they’re too far from Chicago.

The report’s author, Mike Petrilli, whose elementary school makes the elite list, writes:

Unions and others love to hide behind their fealty to “public education” when arguing that charters or vouchers will lead to “exclusive” schools, whereby their beloved public schools “serve all comers.” Except, it turns out, when they don’t.

Interestingly, 79 charter schools made the list of 2,800 public schools serving few poor students. I’d be curious how that reflects the percentage of schools in the 25 urban areas.

Many private schools, especially Catholic schools, “do valuable work serving primarily poor students,” writes Eduwonk guest blogger Sara Mead. In addition, “many affluent public schools raise significant funds from private donations and other fundraising.”

The Coleman Report found private schools better integrated by income than public schools, Cato’s Andrew Coulson writes.

In New Jersey, which has many small school districts, one in four white or Asian students attends a public school with very few poor students, notes the New York Times. Only two percent of black students and three percent of Hispanics attend a wealthy school.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. In addition (for some reason), many very affluent school districts don’t show up on that list. For example, in the Chicago metro region, Hinsdale, River Forest, Kenilworth, Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe, etc etc. are not listed.

  2. “In name only”? Who are they kidding? They are public schools.

    If they start turning down students who live in their boundaries, then they aren’t public schools.

    De facto segregation does not make public schools less public.

  3. “If they start turning down students who live in their boundaries, then they aren’t public schools.”

    At least some of the schools on the list in my area do not have enough slots for all the children who live within the neighborhood. Moms (and the odd dad) have to line up for hours (woe be it to anyone who has to be at work on registration day) just for the chance to enroll their children. Then there’s the magnet school in my district where the parents have to sign their child up on the waiting list on his/her 3rd birthday just to be eligible for the *kindergarten* lottery (woe be it to anyone who moves to the district when the child is age 4).

  4. On an off-topic but related point. Does anyone have a pointer to how poor kids do in schools in “high-SES” zones compared to their peers in “low-SES” schools? (Googling didn’t help much.)

    I curious about whether the influence of (presumably) better facilities and more academically oriented populace outweighs disadvantages of the (presumably) faster curriculum and less remedial support available.

  5. Interesting. I didn’t see any Scarsdale, NY schools on that list (I don’t think I missed them), since I’ve heard Scarsdale schools described elsewhere as this type of school.

  6. Moms (and the odd dad) have to line up for hours (woe be it to anyone who has to be at work on registration day) just for the chance to enroll their children.

    Not if it’s a public school with a defined boundary. A magnet school may be a different issue, but if a public school with a defined district can’t find enough slots, they have to get another teacher.

    Now, it may be that they are taking advantage of the fact that kindergarten isn’t mandatory (is it still optional?), but I don’t know that this would stand up to a challenge.

  7. Mark Roulo says:

    “Not if it’s a public school with a defined boundary. A magnet school may be a different issue, but if a public school with a defined district can’t find enough slots, they have to get another teacher.”

    No.

    In my local public school district, we have kids being routed to a school other than their boundary because that school is full. They get sent to another school in the district. The school district is *not* required to hire another teacher (plus, the problem is a lack of rooms, not a lack of teachers … hiring another teacher wouldn’t help without constructing new buildings).

    -Mark Roulo

  8. What Mark Roulo describes is exactly what happens to the kids who are not lucky enough to have a parent get there early enough to snag a slot. The kids are guaranteed a seat *somewhere* in the district, but only at schools that have an opening.

    This problem has gone on for several years despite parental outrage. My cynical take is that the district administration does not want to add capacity at the oversubscribed schools because it’s gaming the NCLB system. I suspect they’re using this kind of “bumping” to help bring up test scores at the recipient schools.

  9. Tom: we’ve hosted deseg kids for years (starting to phase out now), and it seems to be a mixed bag. Some of them I wonder why we’re spending the money since they earn straight F’s; others do quite well. I suspect the ones who do quite well would do very well in their urban neighborhood schools, but not get quite the caliber of education that we offer. We have tons of remedial support. I would look at deseg programs for the data you’re after — I can only offer anecdotal reports.

  10. They get sent to another school in the district. The school district is *not* required to hire another teacher (plus, the problem is a lack of rooms, not a lack of teachers … hiring another teacher wouldn’t help without constructing new buildings).

    Okay, that’s the district, not the school. I assumed you were talking about the school refusing extras.

    If the district is doing it, they’ve either passed legal scrutiny or the parents are complete morons. I’m figuring the former.

    But again–at the school level, they aren’t turning down kids based income. And at the district level, they aren’t rejecting kids based on income.

    My original comment: If they start turning down students who live in their boundaries, then they aren’t public schools.

    That’s true either at the individual level or the district level.

    Public schools–or their districts–can’t ban students. They particularly can’t ban students by income.

  11. Tom,

    Some time back I did some analysis on achievement of disadvantaged kids in the better schools of a very disadvantaged district (Inglewood in LA) and compared it with disadvantaged kids in the high achieving Palo Alto. Inglewood kids did better! I don’t think one can generalize these results (Inglewood was selected for a reason–couple of schools there clearly know what they are doing) but it showed what is possible, and that just being in a good school doesn’t necessarily make up for focused teaching.

    You can find that short analysis at http://wurman.us/pv/

  12. Tom, here’s an article from the Boston Globe about METCO students: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/03/08/metco_grads_lag_on_college_choices/.

    For those who don’t live in Massachusetts, METCO is a program which buses students from Boston to surrounding suburban schools. This is a self-selected population of families organized enough to get their children’s names on the list. Thus, comparing their children’s performance to students remaining in the Boston schools isn’t apt. A more apt comparison would be to compare them to the students who apply for charter school lotteries.

    Once accepted into the program, the students continue in the same suburban district until graduation. Participation in METCO is grueling. The article mentions 12 hour days. Commuting from and to Boston is difficult.

  13. I don’t think this report meets Fordham’s usual standards. It’s more a political statement than a paper. They didn’t consider any schools which did not participate in the free lunch program.

    There is no consideration of what are probably large factors: population density and highway construction. At a glance, their list of the states with the most “private public schools”* correlates quite well with a listing of states by population density. If anyone has ever studied how easy it is to get from point A to point B, a heat map of this would probably correlate very well with their rankings.

    *terrible terminology.

  14. I haven’t read the report yet, but it strikes me as something that Fordham has overlooked in the past. Certainly there is no surprise that American schools are highly segregated by socio-economic status, as well as race and ethnicity. I think that civil rights advocates ran out of steam when the more mobile (and generally whiter) population in urban districts simply packed up and moved to the suburbs following deseg orders. In my district–where it is clear that the few high scoring high schools (all of them “magnet” or alternative schools) are more white and less poor than the district overall, the district itself is overwhelmingly low-income and minority.

    Efforts at the state level have focused primarily on equalizing resources (somewhat) and hand-wringing over gaps. And as the districts serving low-income and minority majorities tend to be large urban districts, it is easy to discount them as only being a few districts–when in reality, they educate the single largest groups of students in the state. The political will to change this shame in America is limited–because it is so easily reframed as an attack on parents who scrimp and save (or who just have more to begin with) to buy their way out of the city and into the suburbs (or who have never been anywhere else).

    There is no question in my mind that Fordham’s motivation is not about boosting awareness of systemic inequality so much as it is to deflect attacks on charter schools. But until we, as a nation, adopt an attitude that equity in education (and particularly on the outcomes of education) is a meaningful and attainable goal, an enrichment in the fabric of what it is to be America, we can shift bodies and resources all we want with mixed results. Those who believe in the ability of all to succeed will tend to find ways to utilize the available resources with the available population–others will tend to reinforce all of the invisible lines already in place.

  15. Thank you to Lightly Seasoned and Zeev for the pointers. Indeed, often success in Googling is knowing the right keyword, and I hadn’t thought of ‘desegregation’, although that might well add racial to the existent SES issues.

  16. Margo/Mom, they certainly want to increase support for charter schools.

    I resent Fordham’s implication that suburban parents don’t support charter schools. I know people in our affluent suburban district who gladly send their children to charter schools out of district, and who have “choiced into” other suburban districts. As voters, you’re never presented with the choice of “support/don’t support charter schools and vouchers.” From what I’ve read about polls, how one frames the question can change the results radically.

    For the suburban schools in Massachusetts, choice has two problems: cost and transportation. If a district opens itself up to choice, it cannot “unchoice” him when budgets get tight. Even if a new development opens up, and doubles the school population, that student has a right to attend the school. The reimbursement rates are set by the state, and don’t cover the average cost per student in the district (or at least, haven’t in the past.) Thus, you can open a grade to choice students if you have a dip in enrollment in that grade, because the incremental cost of a few students is not high. If the state later cuts the payment rate, though, you’re stuck with expensive, out-of-district students. This does not go down well with voters.

    Not mentioned by the paper is the great difficulty of transportation.

    A much better paper, because they actually look at issues, is this one, from Education Sector: http://www.educationsector.org/analysis/analysis_show.htm?doc_id=704162. If you load the two maps on your browser, you can flip between maps, and some interesting patterns emerge.

  17. There is a school like this here in Austin. Its distinction is not so much that the area is affluent (it certainly is), but that affluent parents tend to be achievers themselves. This, in turn, means that they are parents who want their children to be well educated and they will spend considerable time and money to see it done. From what I’ve heard, the school is just crowded with volunteers all the time and the parents routinely donate huge wads of cash to the school.

    On the other hand, I find it hard to find fault with this…

  18. La Canada and San Marino, CA schools are on the list, but not Pasadena. Home to CalTech, Pasadena Unified has done everything possible to push parents to private schools or to the aforementioned suburbs. If there was an teaching fad, Pasadena adopted it, with disastrous results.

  19. My kids go to private public schools (on the list) in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here, many parents willingly pay huge prices for small homes because of the schools. But it is more than that, as someone else pointed out. Our education foundation donation request is $600 per child, and our local PTA fundraisers request another $250 or so per child on top of that. Of course, none of this is required, but many parents give that, and more. A neighboring school regularly raises $250,000 at its annual school auction. And it is a pretty small school! And on top of that, many parents volunteer in the classrooms. Finally, parents here will gladly pay to get their children tutors or other special help if it is needed. There is a cultural expectation of success that has its downside, of course, but has created pretty great schools.

  20. There’s no such thing as “private public” schools, for heaven’s sake. They are public schools.

    But until we, as a nation, adopt an attitude that equity in education (and particularly on the outcomes of education) is a meaningful and attainable goal

    What are you talking about? Our entire educational policy is based on the premise that equal educational outcomes are possible. We have no proof to support this lovely belief, but it is on that basis that the country makes educational policy.

  21. Oh, hey. My district made the list!

    OK, so the geniuses at Fordham have discovered that when you have neighborhood schools, the student population matches the neighborhood. Who knew?

    I thought we liked neighborhood schools now and have admitted that deseg/busing was a disaster? Is that what Fordham is advocating?

    FWIW, our listed school isn’t even the best in the district. By the time all the elementaries funnel to the high school, we’re at about 1/5th free and reduced lunch.

  22. “My kids go to private public schools (on the list) in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here, many parents willingly pay huge prices for small homes because of the schools.

    How fair is that to parents who are just as willing to be involved in their child’s education but who can’t afford the steep housing costs? You make it sound like the only ones who care about their children’s schooling are the rich. That’s simply untrue.

  23. Crimson Wife – We scrimped and saved to afford our relatively small home in a great suburb. There are parents here who live in apartments and condos and they are therefore able to take full advantage of the educational system our community offers. So there are options. No, I don’t consider myself “rich”.

    It isn’t that our schools get more money from the state, by the way. We get less money than the typical lower-income school in, say, the poorly managed Los Angeles Unified School District. But we have a much flatter management structure, an environment that attracts great teachers (although not with the highest salaries but with a better work environment), and parents who are willing to pony up to use private dollars to supplement the chronic shortfall in state funds.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] from: Public schools for the elite « Joanne Jacobs Share and [...]

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by JoanneLeeJacobs: New blog post: Public schools for the elite http://www.joannejacobs.com/2010/02/public-schools-for-the-elite/

  3. [...] and income level are the most reliable predictors of your own. “Equality” can be conveniently waved around to give cover to social policy that actually reinforces inequalities that need to be addressed. By [...]