Choosing segregation for a black child

Nikole Hannah-Jones’ black working-class parents sent her to the best — and whitest — school in town, thanks to an integration plan. Her husband, an Army brat, got an integrated education in military schools.

As educated and middle-class parents in a black but gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood, they struggled with choosing a school in a segregated city, writes Hannah-Jones in New York Times Magazine.

Najya??? Hannah-Jones

Najya Hannah-Jones Photo: Henry Leutwyler/New York Times

An education writer, she wanted to send her daughter to public school. All the local schools serve low-income black and Latino kids and have low test scores.

“I didn’t know any of our middle-class neighbors, black or white, who sent their children to one of these schools,” she writes. “They had managed to secure seats in the more diverse and economically advantaged magnet schools or gifted-and-talented programs outside our area, or opted to pay hefty tuition to progressive but largely white private institutions.”

Not wanting her daughter to be one of a handful of black students at a predominantly white school, she rolled the dice on a segregated school, P.S. 307, with a great principal and strong funding. Most students come from the housing project across the street.

But she worries the school will gentrify. Neighboring P.S. 8, serving well-to-do whites, is overcrowded while P.S. 307 has plenty of room. If the boundaries are shifted — over vociferous objections from P.S. 8 parents — will their daughter’s school become dominated by affluent white families?

Alexander Russo wonders how many other people in “educationland” have chosen a heavily minority public school for their own kids. So far, he’s got Ben Speicher and Eva Moskowitz, both charter school leaders.

Family Sport Night at Community Roots School in Brooklyn. Photo: Beth Fertig

A Brooklyn charter school works at integrating students and parents, reports Beth Fertig on WNYC’s SchoolBook.

Community Roots Charter School is 39 percent white, 33 percent black, 20 percent combined Hispanic and Asian, and 8 percent “other,” much like its district.

To encourage socializing, the school “stays open late for regular get-togethers like family sports or arts nights, cooking classes for parents, teacher-arranged ‘play dates’ for kids who don’t know each other well,” writes Fertig.

More than 700 students applied for 50 kindergarten seats this year, but “only 25 percent of its students qualify for free lunch, far less than in the surrounding public schools.” To create a socioeconomic mix, the school now requires that 40 percent of students must come from nearby housing projects.

Rich districts get richer on Title I funds

Title I, the federal government’s largest K-12 program, is increasing the inequality it was created to stop, according to a U.S. News analysis. Due to multiple, convoluted funding formulas, rich school districts get millions meant for poor kids.

Twenty percent of Title I money for poor students – $2.6 billion – ends up in school districts with an above-average proportion of wealthy families.

Struggling Nottoway County, Virginia, where 30 percent of students come from low-income families, receives less Title 1 funding per poor student than wealthy Fairfax County.

Parenting and the poverty gap

Poor kids are behind — way behind — on the first day of school, said Jane Waldfogel, a Columbia professor, at an Education Writers Association discussion on equity, poverty, and education. Seventy percent of the achievement gap at age 11 was there when lower-income children started kindergarten, she said.

Boston has launched a campaign called “The Boston Basics,” led by Ronald Ferguson’s Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard, to help parents nurture their children in the first three years of life.

There are five basics: maximize love and manage stress; talk, sing, and point; count, group, and compare; explore through movement and play; and read and discuss stories.

Paul Tough, author of Helping Children Succeed, talked about improving children’s environment at home and at school.

When kids grow up in a calm, nurturing environment their brains send them signals to relax, and that encourages them to be curious and take risks, Tough explained. In contrast, kids who live in chaotic environments get brain signals that fire up “fight-or-flight” responses, he said.

“It’s hard for them to concentrate,” Tough explained. “They’re distracted by the emotions and anxieties that are flooding their nervous systems.”

Grit and resilience can’t be taught like math or reading, writes Tough in The Atlantic. However, some teachers and schools are able to reach stressed students.

The central premise of EL schools is that character is built . . .  through the experience of persevering as students confront challenging academic work.

. . . In general, when schools do try to directly address the impact that a stress-filled childhood might have on disadvantaged students, the first—and often the only—approach they employ has to do with their students’ emotional health, with relationships and belonging.

That’s not enough, writes Tough. “For a student to truly feel motivated by and about school, he also has to perceive that he is doing work that is challenging, rigorous, and meaningful.”

LeBron James’ promise to poor Akron kids

LeBron James hopes to help Akron children go to college.

Basketball star LeBron James’ Wheels for Education/I PROMISE initiative has pledged millions of dollars to help poor Akron kids go to the University of Akron. Can he keep his promise to Akron? asks Jesse Washington on FiveThirtyEight.

Theresa Magee, a supermarket clerk, is hopeful.

Her daughter Krystle, 32, who never finished high school, is taking free GED classes paid for by James’ foundation. Krystle’s 10-year-old daughter, Arieonna Maxwell, is in the Wheels for Education/I PROMISE program, which is reserved for kids with low reading scores. The children receive a constant stream of recorded phone calls, letters and website messages from James; after-school tutoring; and trips to places such as the symphony, a TV station, a toy design firm, an amusement park, and Cavs games.

Born to a 16-year-old single mother, James missed most of fourth grade. Then a middle-class couple, Frankie and Pam Walker, took him in to their home. “James shared a room with one of their three children and was absorbed into the family’s emphasis on school, chores, sports, homework, punctuality and responsibility — the kind of values James’ kids recite in their promise.”

“I promise,” the children say in unison, “to go to school, to do all my homework, to listen to my teachers, because they will help me learn.

“To ask questions, and to find answers. To never give up, no matter what.

“To always try my best, to be helpful and respectful to others, to live a healthy life by eating right and being active.

“To make good choices for myself. To have fun.

“And above all else, to finish school!”

The foundation doesn’t release data on results, but there’s been very slight improvement in Akron’s very low test scores since the first group was identified for help four years ago.

Dr. Robert Balfanz, who has studied high-poverty schools for 20 years as director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, said James’ program could use more focused academic interventions during the regular school day.

Research has shown that out-of-school activities are helpful, he said. But it must be combined with changes to the curriculum, better training for teachers, and one-on-one monitoring of students’ attendance and participation.

The state has cut funding for after-school tutoring, a key part of James’ program, but the foundation has pledged to make sure its students get extra help.

First-gen students help each other through UT

“La Raza” members kayak on Barton Springs in Austin with visiting friends from home during Spring Break 2014. From left to right: Perla de la O (foreground), Zarina Moreno, Xenia Garcia, Bianca de la O, Jose R. Peña. Photo: Courtesy of Perla de la O.

Going from Roma, Texas, a ranching town on the Mexican border, to the University of Texas in Austin is a huge leap, writes Lillian Mongeau in the Washington Monthly.

“It was overwhelming,” Jesús “Nacho” Aguilar, 23, said. “It was also liberating.”

Mongeau, who taught English in Roma for Teach for America, asked Jesús, Tomás González, 23, Perla de la O, 22, and Eduardo Rios, 20, how they succeeded at UT despite the culture shock.

They helped each other, the Roma grads said. They call their homegrown network La Raza or just “the group.”

The group holds potlucks featuring food from home. They get each other jobs. They help the newest Roma-grads-cum-UT-freshmen find housing, the laundromat, and free food on campus. They share textbooks and help each other with homework. They carpool home for the holidays. They ask each other: How do you sign up for health insurance? Can you explain this financial aid form? Where is the registrar’s office? When someone is sick, they cook him dinner. When someone is lonely, they talk. When someone is struggling, they encourage her to reach out to resources on campus they know can help.

. . . “You think you’re the only one struggling,” Jesús said. “But no. Everyone is in the same boat.”

Seeing each other struggle, knowing you’re not the only one crying in the shower that first desperately hard semester — that’s what gets you through, Tomás said.

Students who’d aced AP Calculus at Roma High discovered they were not prepared for UT classes.

“On his first college test, Jesús, a star student at home, earned a 50 percent,” Mongeau writes. He worried he was letting others down. “When I experienced failure, it wasn’t just my own failure,” he said.

The Roma students found helpful programs at the university, “special scholarships, offices full of mentors, friendly professors and former Roma TFAs who live in Austin and host welcome dinners for freshmen,” writes Mongeau. Now they advise younger students to join organizations and look for help.

“There are people looking out for people like us,” Eduardo said. “But we have to find them.”

Several members of La Raza “posed” for a photo at Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas in 2013. From left to right: Valeria Molina, who now lives in New York City, Jonathan Peña, Travis Pham, Tomás González, Jesús Aguilar and Ziyad Alghamdi, who is not from Roma but was adopted by the group. Photo: Courtesy of Perla de la O.

Students need skills that lead to middle-class jobs

Seventy percent of young Americans will not earn a bachelor’s degree, write Michael Bloomberg, former New York City mayor, and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, in Bloomberg View. Most community college students drop out without earning a degree or certificate. Schools must provide “effective programs that prepare kids who are not immediately college-bound for middle-class jobs,” they write.

For many students, the college-prep track is a dead end, they argue. Students don’t master the academic skills needed to earn a two- or four-year degree or the technical skills needed to gain entry to a job with chances for advancement.

In New Orleans, education, business and civic leaders have created YouthForce NOLA to help students qualify for “jobs such as EMT, junior software developer and manufacturing process technician,” write Bloomberg and Dimon. Schools will provide career-tech classes and businesses will offer paid internships aligned with students’ coursework and goals.

JPMorgan Chase and Bloomberg will invest $7.5 million in YouthForce NOLA, and plan similar investments in Denver and Detroit.

The rich get more educated (and richer)

Americans are earning more bachelor’s degrees since 1970, but a larger share go to students from families in top half of the income spectrum, concludes a Pell study. In 2014, 77 percent of four-year graduates came from families in the top 50 percent. Students from the bottom 50 percent earned 23 percent of bachelor’s degrees, down from 28 percent in 1970.

Lower-income students tend to enroll in colleges with low graduation rates, such as community colleges and for-profit colleges, the report found. Middle-class and upper-income students are more likely to attend selective colleges with higher graduation rates.

Overall, only a third of students enroll in selective colleges and universities and only 14 percent in those rated “most,” “highly” and “very” competitive.

Rising college costs make it hard for lower-income students to stay in college, writes Stacey Teicher Khadaroo in the Christian Science Monitor. “There is good progress in high school graduation and college [entry] for low-income kids. Then these enormous financial barriers … just clobber them when they get to college,” says Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.

If poor kids are unteachable, why teach?

Do teachers think low-income students are hopeless? That’s the message Derrell Bradford gets from a Duluth News Tribune commentary and graphic that was retweeted by American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten.

In response to a lawsuit challenging Minnesota’s teacher tenure law, the cartoon shows a seating chart filled with losers.

“Weingarten’s retweet shows what she and perhaps many of her members believe about our kids — that their entire identities can be reduced to the challenges they bring to the classroom, and that those challenges obviate and absolve the teacher’s responsibility in the learning equation,” writes Bradford.

Poor kids from tough places are no longer the outlier in America’s schools — they’re the majority of students.
 . . . Teaching is at a crossroads in this country but the issue isn’t which way we proceed with value-added scores or licensure and certification. It’s whether you’re up to the challenge of teaching poor kids or you’re not. There are no “better kids” waiting in the wings.

Bradford grew up poor. He could have been have been trapped in a “below poverty line” square, but he rode buses to get to better schools where teachers worked hard to educate him.

At #ThisTeacher Sees, teachers are making their own seating charts:

Apparently, some teachers have nothing but victims in their classes and others don’t have a single kid who rates “royal pain,” “never shuts up” or “cellphone addict.”

Mapping achievement gaps

A fourth grader works with his teacher in Union City, N.J., a low-income Hispanic district where students perform above grade level. Photo: Karsten Moran, New York Times

Large achievement gaps separate students by race and family income, concludes a Stanford study based on a data set of 200 million test scores.

Sixth graders in the most advantaged districts are more than four grade levels ahead of students in the least advantaged districts, the study found.

  • Average test scores of black students are, on average, roughly two grade levels lower than those of white students in the same district; the Hispanic-white difference is roughly one- and-a-half grade levels.
  • The size of the gaps has little or no association with average class size, a district’s per capita student spending or charter school enrollment.

White-black achievement gaps are especially large in Atlanta, Oakland,  Charleston and Washington, D.C., reports the New York Times, which created an interactive map of the results. Gaps also are large in university towns such as Berkeley and Chapel Hill, apparently because white students are likely to come from highly educated families.

Detroit has no achievement gap: Whites, blacks and Hispanics in district schools all are more than two years below grade level. Buffalo is gap-free too, for the same reason. Nobody’s learning.

“Poverty is not destiny,” said Sean Reardon, the lead researcher. In Union City, N.J. which is 95 percent Hispanic and mostly low-income, “students consistently performed about a third of a grade level above the national average on math and reading tests,” reports the New York Times.

Union City schools used to be dreadful, writes David Kirp, a Berkeley ed professor. Improvement was “slow and steady.”

To help the poor, give them money

To prepare children from low-income families for school success, U.S. policy and funding has focused on Head Start and universal pre-kindergarten, writes Brookings’ Russ Whitehurst. But research shows that giving more money to low-income parents is more cost effective, he writes.

The Earned Income Tax Credit, which raises the income of  low-income working parents, is more effective than providing free pre-K for four-year-olds, he writes. The chart also shows the modest effects of class-size reduction and Head Start.

Northern European countries focus on supporting family incomes rather than providing preschool or pre-K, writes Whitehurst. “A policy midpoint” could be giving families more money, but limiting it to expenditures on their young children. He envisions something like food stamps.

In Finland, working parents of young children can choose from a variety of child-care providers or “opt to receive a financial subsidy that allows them to reduce their work hours in order to be home more with their child,” he writes. “They can also take unpaid leave.” The rate of enrollment in child-care centers is very low for children under four.