The elephant in the integrated classroom

Clashing parenting styles, cultures and expectations undermine school integration, writes Jennifer Burns Stillman in The Elephant in the Classroom in Education Next. She interviewed white, upper-middle-class parents in gentrifying neighborhoods about their school choices.

. . . white, upper-middle-class families prefer a progressive and discursive style of interaction with their children, both at home and in school, and lower-income, nonwhite families prefer a traditional or authoritarian style of interaction with their children in these same venues.

White parents who try an urban school and then leave cite overly strict discipline and  “near-constant yelling—from principals, teachers, school aides, and nonwhite parents who come to drop off and pick up their kids,” Stillman writes.

White parents who wanted to volunteer said principals and non-white parents saw them as pushy interlopers.

One principal was angry when white parents gave each teacher a $100 book card donated by Barnes & Noble, seeing it as “bribing” teachers. Parents called various principals “not the brightest bulb in the box,” “insane,” “crazy,” “incompetent.”

White parents didn’t do enough “ego stroking,” one mother said.  When parents offered to help out, “it came across as, ‘You’re broken and you need fixing,’ rather than, ‘We’ve got extra hands, we’ve got extra energy, let’s build up what you already have.’ ”

“Creating a successful, truly diverse charter school is enormously difficult to pull off, ” writes Alexander Russo, also in Ed Next. Students come with a wide range of abilities and background knowledge. Parents have different cultures and expectations.

. . . the list of strategies applied is a long one: frequent online assessments to diagnose and direct students to the appropriate activity; open-ended assignments allowing kids of varying skill levels to engage at their own levels; coteaching in which two teachers share responsibility for a group of kids; and looping, in which teachers follow kids from one grade to the next.

In one Brooklyn Prospect classroom, the English teacher makes as many of her lessons open-ended as she can and coteaches half of her classes with a special education teacher. She also offers additional uncredited projects called “Seekers” so that kids who want to can go faster without disadvantaging kids still working on basic skills.

“You can’t just put a heterogeneous population together and think it’s going to work,” Summit cofounder Donna Tavares tells Russo.

Mike Petrilli’s book, The Diverse School Dilemma, offers three ways to create integrated schools in newly gentrified neighborhoods.

About Joanne


  1. Saw the same comments about white folks in an article about hurricane Sandy relief efforts. “You’re only here because of ….” The same type of you think we’re broke, mentality.

    Guess what? By any objective measure, you are; broke, not effective, use any adjective descriptor that you like. But, our kids are here and we would like to help.

    But hey, I guess you’d rather do without. Oh, and by the way – we’ll make sure our kids are fine. We thought it would be good to bring some along with ours. But hey, good luck with that. And quit complaining that no one will listen to your complaints. You had a chance, and you blew it.

  2. Crimson Wife says:

    It has been my observation that type of white yuppie liberal who would be willing to try out a gentrifying urban public school tends to be the absolute biggest wuss when it comes to disciplining their kids. They’re the kind of parent who attempts to negotiate with a toddler in full-blown tantrum mode instead of taking the kid home for a nap. No wonder there’s a “culture clash” when interacting with teachers, administrators, and less-affluent parents who are stricter about discipline.

    • Har!

      I’ll take your observation one step further and guess that those white, yuppie liberals can’t conceive of any other state of affairs but that the school is safe and orderly, the teachers capable and compassionate, and that their bundle of joy will get a scrumptious education while rubbing up against poor, black kids from which experience something of inestimable, but unidentifiable, value will result.

      It’s too bad the value of “diversity” can’t be identified. That would make it easier to see what a crock of self-serving crap it is.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Who could have seen that coming?
    Cultures vary, said Sowell, and differences have consequences.