‘Toxic’ transfers

High-poverty schools are bound to fail because good teachers don’t want to teach in “toxic concentrations of poverty” with low expectations and less parent involvement, writes New York Times columnist Bob Herbert.

If you really want to improve the education of poor children, you have to get them away from learning environments that are smothered by poverty.

A Century Foundation study in Montgomery County, Maryland, showed that low-income students enrolled in affluent elementary schools outperformed  similarly low-income students in higher-poverty schools, Herbert writes.

Studies have shown that it is not the race of the students that is significant, but rather the improved all-around environment of schools with better teachers, fewer classroom disruptions, pupils who are more engaged academically, parents who are more involved, and so on. The poorer students benefit from the more affluent environment.

However, economic integration requires racial and ethnic integration, which “provokes bitter resistance,” Herbert claims. Despite our claims to be a “postracial” society, middle-class whites don’t want blacks and Hispanics to transfer in to suburban schools. (Why would they welcome “toxic” transfers?)

Herbert is confused about the meaning of  “postracial,” writes Liam Julian on Flypaper.

There’s a practical problem with economic integration: Too many poor kids. The Montgomery County study found low-income students learned more in schools in which no more than 20 percent of students qualified for a subsidized lunch; the benefits vanished when 35 percent of students came from low-income families. “Nationally, 41% of American students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches,” Sara Mead writes.

We can’t solve our problems by trying to bus all the poor kids to the suburbs. The challenge is to create healthy, education-valuing school cultures in poor neighborhoods. My book is about a school that’s done that. I also recommend Samuel Casey Carter’s new book, On Purpose: How Great School Cultures Form Character.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. I don’t think people are as concerned about the race issue as much as they’re concerned about the behavioral issues that come with “inner city” kids.

  2. I agree, Darren… I bet if the bussed in minorities were all the children of doctors, lawyers, diplomats, computer programmers, etc, no one would even comment.

  3. The problem with the “culture of poverty” is that the culture is the problem, not the poverty. (no problems with poor Asians) The culture and its dysfunctional norms creates poverty, not the reverse. I’ve lived in MoCo and race is not the big issue in resistance to “socioeconomic integration”; the behaviors are the problem. They are especially a problem for black (or Hispanic) kids from the advantaged families because the new imports often target the “oreos” for their “sellout” attitudes and behaviors. I’ve had friends who had to remove their kids to private schools to escape the toxic pressure. That’s in addition to the damage to the school/neighborhood climate – and, not infrequently, the crime rate.

  4. The challenge is to create healthy, education-valuing school cultures in poor neighborhoods.

    But you can only do that by kicking out the kids who don’t value education, and if public schools could do that, they wouldn’t have the “toxic environment” in the first place.

    Incidentally, Herbert is wrong. Many excellent teachers deliberately seek out inner city schools. I know a number of Stanford credentialed classmates teaching in Oakland, San Jose, and LA high poverty schools. I teach in a Title I school (of course, whether I’m excellent or not is open to debate, but I definitely am not burned out.)

  5. “The Montgomery County study found low-income students learned more in schools in which no more than 20 percent of students qualified for a subsidized lunch; the benefits vanished when 35 percent of students came from low-income families.”

    This is a pretty pessimistic assessment of what the study says. Unmentioned is the fact that the statistically significant benefit continued all the way up to = 30%. In addition, while the benefit was no longer significant above that level, the author pointed out in the study that this result might well have been different had Montgomery County had more high poverty schools or high poverty schools with higher levels of poverty.

  6. Race/ethnicity isn’t the issue- it’s physical safety concerns (especially gangs) and general poor behavior.

  7. This is true. In all-white portions of the country (there are still some of these), neighborhoods where the children and youth (and often the parents) behave badly are avoided by people who have a choice.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    The 41% may be an Andy Stern/Cloward-Piven matter of outreach.
    Had an acquaintance whose daughter got knocked up and kept the kid. Parents provided good support under the table. She sent the fruit juice she got from WIC to the church youth group because her kid preferred soda.
    Kid turned out well. But she qualified for every program available including free lunch. And if they get to breakfast, her kid would have qualified, too.
    Not sure what cleaning up the welfare rolls would do, since the behavior wouldn’t change, except incrementally over time to a few of the best prospects.

  9. If you want to see how this will turn out, just look at what happened to the urban schools with deseg. I don’t mean that in a racist way — the kids who suffer the most are the middle-class minorities who get pulled down by the anti-academic toxicity. We’ve been phasing out the deseg kids for about five years and are now just seeing very positive results with the middle-class African-American students.

    Like Cal, I’ve seen extremely good teachers deliberately choose the urban schools and they’re doing great work. We already know that just moving the kids around doesn’t work — let’s try a specialized teaching approach. They need teachers who want to be there, good curriculum, and small schools so each kid gets lots of individual attention and staff can build a functional culture. And don’t expect turnarounds in a year. That’ BS.