Urban middle class tries public schools

In some cities, white middle-class parents are integrating public schools instead of moving to the suburbs, reports USA Today. They’re pushing for programs that serve their children’s needs, such as a ballet class at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School.

“Many of them express a deep attachment to the city,” said University of Pennsylvania sociologist Annette Lareau. “They see the suburbs as sterile, as boring. They also see the suburbs as not a realistic preparation for their children for life.”

Public schools integrated by race, income and class are popping up in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, New Orleans, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco, according to USA Today.

“True educational equity can only occur in socioeconomically diverse classrooms,” said Josh Densen, a former KIPP teacher in Harlem who’s now working to open an integrated charter school in post-Katrina New Orleans.  The city has several KIPP schools, but a model designed for disadvantaged students who lack basic skills isn’t a good fit for his daughter, Densen believes.

Brooklyn Prospect started four years ago with a sixth grade class and is adding a grade each year to become a middle-high school. It now occupies a former Catholic school building — with a convent on the fourth floor for eight nuns. The rigorous International Baccalaureate program attracts educationally ambitious parents. Students are admitted by lottery — with a preference for low-income students to keep the school diverse. Forty percent of students qualify for a free lunch, according to USA Today. Nearly half the students are white and Asian; the rest are Hispanic and black.

According to Inside Schools:

Advanced students may do “seeker” projects, taking on more in-depth assignments. Students who need extra help go to small group tutorials to “reinforce skills and close the skills gap,”  while others are in study hall . . . Teachers stay after school or come in early for study sessions or test review.

Ninth graders are separated into two English classes: literature (for stronger students) and composition (for struggling readers and writers).

Diversity won’t work without challenging work for high achievers and extra help for stragglers.

To take the-glass-is-nearly-empty view, suburban schools are resegregating, write Erica Frankenberg, a Penn State education professor, and Gary Orfield, co-director of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project.

Parents’ choice: diversity or the suburbs?

Young Aidan or Amelia will start kindergarten soon. Urban gentrifiers must decide: Do we send the kids to a diverse urban school where some of their classmates will be poor and need lots of teacher attention? Or do we move to the boring suburbs where all our kids’ classmates will come from educated families? Facing that decision as a Washington D.C. resident, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli wrote The Diverse Schools Dilemma, which looks at the risks and benefits of schools with socioeconomic diversity.

Though whites make up half of public school students, 87 percent attend majority-white schools. Even in cities, “neighborhood schools still tend to be segregated by class, if not by race,” Petrilli tells the Washington Post. In the Washington D.C. area, less than 3 percent of white public school students attend schools where poor children are the majority, according to Petrilli.

Charter schools, which draw from wider areas, are an option for parents who want to stay in the city. Some of D.C.’s most popular charters are very diverse. But high-performing charter schools often adopt a “no excuses” culture that turns off middle-class parents.

“Many of the charters have uniforms and a rigid discipline code,” he said. “It’s not a culture that celebrates a lot of individualism, personal style or autonomy, the kinds of things that middle-class parents may want. So there are significant differences and cultural clashes that take place.”

Some cities use “controlled choice” to integrate schools by socioeconomic status, but it’s controversial.

Petrilli made a common choice: He moved to Bethesda, Maryland. At his son’s elementary school, 1 percent of the children are low-income, 2 percent are black and 5 percent are Hispanic.

Last month, I visited a wildly diverse charter school in Grand Rapids — lots of poor kids, some of them from African refugee camps, all colors and creeds. A white mother told me she’d chosen the school, in part, for its diversity. I was surprised. People talk about the wonderfulness of diversity, but their choices usually tell a different story.

Beyond race-based affirmative action

After oral arguments today in Fisher vs. University of Texas, many think the U.S. Supreme Court will limit, if not eliminate, universities’ ability to use race in admissions. The plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, argues UT has achieved diversity by admitting the top 10 percent graduates at each high school and doesn’t need to use a race-conscious policy to admit more blacks and Hispanics.

A loss for affirmative action would be good for ethnic and racial diversity in the long run, argues Thomas J. Espenshade, in Moving Beyond Affirmative Action, a New York Times commentary. Americans would have to address “the deeply entrenched disadvantages that lower-income and minority children face from the beginning of life,” writes Espenshade, a professor of sociology at Princeton and a co-author of  No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life.

Race-based affirmative action affects only 1 percent of all black and Hispanic 18-year-olds, the students who apply to more selective colleges and universities, he writes. Eliminating the preference would cut black admissions by 60 percent and Hispanics by one-third at selective private schools. Giving preferences to low-income students wouldn’t make up the difference, “given the large numbers of working-class non-Hispanic whites and Asians in the applicant pool.”

Without affirmative action, racial diversity on selective college campuses could be preserved only by closing the racial achievement gap, Espenshade writes.

 If affirmative action is abolished, selective colleges and universities will face a stark choice. They can try to manufacture diversity by giving more weight in admissions to those factors that are sometimes close substitutes for race — for example, having overcome disadvantage in a poor urban neighborhood. Or they can take a far bolder step: putting their endowments and influence behind a comprehensive effort to close the learning gap that starts at birth.

That would be a long, hard struggle, but it would benefit many more people. “However the court decides the Fisher case, affirmative action’s days appear numbered,” Espenshade predicts. ”In 2003, in the Grutter decision, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote that she expected such preferences to disappear within 25 years — by 2028. The children who would go off to college that year are already 2 years old.”

Welcome back, dead white males

Welcome back, dead white males  writes Mark Bauerlein, an Emory professor of English, in a New York Daily News op-ed. Common Core Standards adopted by 45 states plus D.C., require students to “demonstrate knowledge of 18th-, 19th- and early-20th-century foundational works of American literature,” as well as foundational historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence. It’s about time, writes Bauerlein.

For bookish types and patriotic citizens, too, the canon of Ben Franklin’s “Autobiography,” Emerson’s essays, “The Scarlet Letter” and “Huck Finn” is a personal inspiration as well as a sacred heritage.

But to the people in control of high school English — those who craft standards, select anthologies, monitor curricula and teach classes — that great tradition is not a treasure. It’s a threat.

Until the 20th century, they note, nearly all authors were white males, and the cultures in which they thrived cast females and people of color as inferior.

In the last 30 years, high school students have read quota-driven anthologies instead of classic literature, Bauerlein writes.

We’re told that female, black and brown students must encounter inspiring female, black and brown characters and authors — or else they won’t realize that they can become successful adults.

English teachers have to comply, whether they like it or not. Common Core gives teachers “a solid defense against identity quotas in the classroom,” Bauerlein writes.

Via Core Knowledge Blog.

STEM magnet goes remedial

Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology was created to provide a demanding curriculum for high-aptitude students bound for “productive lives as scientists, engineers and mathematicians,” writes John Dell, a long-time physics teacher, in the Washington Post. The new Jefferson admits remedial math students.

Above all, what made Jefferson special was the extraordinary learning environment created by assembling a critical mass of truly prepared students.

. . . At the new Jefferson, students are no longer selected primarily on the basis of their promise in science, technology and mathematics. One-third of the students entering Jefferson under the current admissions policy are in remediation in their math and science courses.

Some of the most promising middle school math students are passed over for admission, Dell writes.

. . . Jefferson students are now selected using an admissions process that is highly random, subjective, and devoid of measures that distinguish students with high aptitude in STEM. This process that is more about memory, language skill, motivation to be successful in college admissions, test prep and just plain luck than the best available indicators of promise as a future scientist, engineer or mathematician.

Dell doesn’t name the “other agendas” that have replaced Jefferson’s original mission. However, the school’s demographics — mostly Asian, very few blacks and Latinos and predominantly male — have been criticized for years, reports the Post. “The school system tinkered with the admissions process several years ago in an effort to create a student body that more closely reflected the county’s entire population,” but the school remains heavily Asian and white and the gender gap is widening.

Choosing public school

If her daughter doesn’t get into a top-choice public school in San Francisco, Rhiana Maidenberg plans to send her to a not-so-great public school, she writes on Babble.

. . . if every parent with the means and time to improve a school environment takes their children out of the public school system, how do these systems stand a chance at improving?

Maidenberg, a freelance writer, visited dozens of schools to develop a list of 14 favorites that are good or getting good and not too far away. Like all choice systems, public school choice favors savvy parents with time to research the options and develop a strategy.  It’s very unlikely her daughter will lose the entrance lottery at all 14 schools.

However, many San Francisco public elementary schools offer PE, music and art only once a week, she writes.

. . . with the $24,000 we’ll be saving by not enrolling our daughters in private school, I can chauffeur them to a plethora of extracurricular, afterschool activities. As an educated and involved parent, I can make sure that my children receive a fully rounded education.

Has it ever been common for elementary schools to teach music and art more than once a week?

The main thing private schools can’t provide that public schools can is diversity. The experiences my kids will receive in a classroom filled with children of varying backgrounds, native languages, and races will help them grow to be well-rounded world citizens. While I can make up for a lack of music class, if we chose private school, I couldn’t enroll them in diversity training.

Most California private schools enroll many students from immigrant families of varying backgrounds, native languages and races. There’s much less socioeconomic diversity, of course, and it’s less likely seriously disabled students will be mainstreamed. (San Francisco friends moved their child from an excellent public school to private school because the kindergarten teacher wasn’t able to control two violent boys diagnosed with behavioral disabilities.)

Educated, involved parents can do a lot to ensure that their children are well-educated even if their schools isn’t ideal. And they may be able to improve a school, if they can recruit similar parents. It’s much harder for poorly educated parents, especially if they’re working full-time or more.

Memphis gives up on bootstraps reform

Memphis is giving up on bootstrapping better schools and merging with the whiter, wealthier suburbs, writes Sarah Garland of Hechinger Report in The Atlantic. That could threaten “no excuses” pilot schools and other reform strategies, she writes.

Manassas, an all-black, nearly all-poor school, has a lot going for it: a new building, a new set of intensely dedicated teachers who willingly work on Saturdays, and the attention — and money — of national foundations and advocacy groups, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

. . . Last year, 111 of 131 seniors who applied to college were accepted. (The graduating class was 150.) The previous year, only 25 graduating seniors had been accepted.

A new city-suburban board will run the new district.

In part, the merger is about money. Under a 1982 law, suburban funding has flowed to Memphis schools, but the legislature is poised to repeal the law. “By choosing to dissolve into the wealthier surrounding district, the board essentially decided to give up the school district’s autonomy in order to keep the funds rolling in.”

Memphis school board members and administrators also hope to close the achievement gap by mingling “students, teachers, and the involved parents who help drive suburban success,”  Garland writes.

“The gap closes when folks go to school together, when they play together, when they’re in afterschool programs together, and when they live in the same communities together,” (Memphis Superintendent Kriner Cash) says.

But will white, middle-class suburban parents send their kids to urban schools with low-income, black students? History says no. In 1973, when a federal court ordered busing to desegregate schools, many whites “fled for the suburbs or private schools.”  Though nobody’s proposing involuntary busing this time around, some suburban towns are talking about forming their own districts. “Both opponents and advocates have warned that many white families could move out of the county altogether,” Garland writes.

 

Administration: Diversity justifies race-conscious policies

 Schools and colleges can consider consider race and ethnicity to promote diversity, advises the Education and Justice Departments in new “guidances” that reverse Bush Administration policy.

“Diverse learning environments promote development of analytical skills, dismantle stereotypes, and prepare students to succeed in an increasingly interconnected world,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in announcing the guidance Dec. 2 with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Race-neutral policies should be considered first, but need not be tried before being deemed “unworkable,” according to the administration. And race or ethnicity can be a “plus factor,” but not a “defining” factor.

“A school district should not evaluate student applicants in a way that makes a student’s race his or her defining factor,” says the K-12 guidance, in reference to decisions on competitive academic programs, for example.

Civil rights groups have been lobbying for the changes.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide in January whether to consider a white student’s challenge of the use of race in University of Texas admissions policy.

Pink witches, tan paper

o help preschoolers “unlearn” racism, toy witches should wear pink, while fairies should be clad in darker shades, advise British equality experts. White paper should be replaced with paper that matches darker skin tones, advises consultant Anne O’Connor.

Finally, staff should be prepared to be economical with the truth when asked by pupils what their favourite colour is and, in the interests of good race relations, answer “black” or “brown”.

The measures, outlined in a series of guides in Nursery World magazine, are aimed at avoiding racial bias in toddlers as young as two.

“People might criticise this as political correctness gone mad,” says O’Connor.  “But it is because of political correctness we have moved on enormously.”

Wizard of Oz film still: Dress witches in pink and avoid white paper to prevent racism in nuseries, expert says

Wizard of Oz, 1939 Photo: REX FEATURES

Excellent teachers need excellent conditions

Want excellent teachers? Create excellent classroom situations, writes Ellie Herman, who teaches at a charter high school, in the Los Angeles Times. And forget about “the myth of the extraordinary teacher” who can leap tall buildings in a single bound.

The kid in the back wants me to define “logic.” The girl next to him looks bewildered. The boy in front of me dutifully takes notes even though he has severe auditory processing issues and doesn’t understand a word I’m saying. Eight kids forgot their essays, but one has a good excuse because she had another epileptic seizure last night. The shy, quiet girl next to me hasn’t done homework for weeks, ever since she was jumped by a knife-wielding gangbanger as she walked to school. The boy next to her is asleep with his head on the desk because he works nights at a factory to support his family.

. . .  A kid with dyslexia, ADD and anger-management problems walks in late, throws his books on the desk and swears at me when I tell him to take off his hood.

The class, one of five I teach each day, has 31 students, including two with learning disabilities, one who just moved here from Mexico, one with serious behavior problems, 10 who flunked this class last year and are repeating, seven who test below grade level, three who show up halfway through class every day, one who almost never comes. I need to reach all 31 of them, including the brainiac who’s so bored she’s reading “Lolita” under her desk.

I just can’t do it.

With less state funding, California public schools have boosted class sizes. That means teachers have less time to get to know their students, Herman writes. With more than 150 students in her classes, she can spend only five or 10 minutes on each essay, writing a few sentences of feedback.

I understand that we need to get rid of bad teachers, who will be just as bad in small classes, but we can’t demand that teachers be excellent in conditions that preclude excellence.

Herman teaches at a Green Dot school, Animo Pat Brown Charter High School. Students — nearly all Hispanic and low-income — score well above average on state tests.

I suspect Herman would find it easy to teach large classes of students at approximately the same academic level who do homework, show up every day, understand English and aren’t disabled. But that’s not reality.