Parents want just a little diversity

As urban neighborhoods gentrify, “emotionally charged, racially tinged fights over neighborhood school boundaries” are increasing, writes Mike Petrilli. Middle-class parents want a little diversity — preferably racial/ethnic but not socioeconomic — at their child’s school, but not too much.

In Brooklyn, a popular elementary school in gentrifying Park Slope, P.S. 321, is overcrowded.  Officials plan to shrink its attendance zone, redistricting some children into a new school that will have more low-income students.

Park Slopers claim to want diversity, writes Naomi Schaefer Riley in the New York Post.  That’s why they didn’t move to the suburbs when their kids neared school age. But people in the 10 blocks that will be assigned to the new school are furious.

Too much “socioeconomic diversity will start to affect the quality of their children’s education,” Petrilli writes. Low-income children start school far behind middle-class children.

A similar dynamic is playing out in the nation’s capital. Wilson High and Alice Deal Middle School, located in D.C.’s tony (and baby-booming) Ward 3, enjoyed massive physical-plant updates recently, with their buildings fully refurbished, expanded, and improved. Now affluent parents west of Rock Creek Park are sending their children to those schools in greater numbers than in decades.

. . .  The schools are getting crowded, and district officials are looking at shrinking their boundaries to address the problem. (Sound familiar?) The outcome is easy to predict: Students who live further away—who tend to be poorer and of minority races—will be rezoned to other campuses, and the Ward 3 schools will become dramatically less diverse.

Petrilli hopes for way to “create (and maintain) racially and socioeconomically diverse schools” in cities.

Richard Kahlenberg writes about “new hopes for school integration” in American Educator.  Economic — not racial — integration matters most, he writes.

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.

Who’ll go first to not-yet-gentrified school?

Affluent, educated families are gentrifying the urban neighborhood, but none send their children to the local public school, which has below-average test scores and a shabby appearance. Who will be the first? asks Katie Granju, whose daughter will be ready for kindergarten next year.

. . . how can my neighborhood’s schools ever get any better if those of us who keep moving into this zip code because we say want to stake our roots here, and raise our kids here keep outsourcing the educational part of our adopted neighborhood’s appeal?

. . . But I also don’t want my child to be the exclamation point for my progressive political views. If we “go first,” what will that mean for her? How long would it take for other neighbors to follow?

Other NPR-sticker-sporting parents transfer their kids to public schools in “nicer” neighborhoods, vie for a spot at a magnet school not too far away or pay for private school.  Granju and her husband are exploring the options — including the neighborhood school that the non-NPR children attend.

Integrating D.C. schools — or not

The District of Columbia’s rapid gentrification makes it possible to create “racially and socio-economically integrated public schools,” writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. But without some form of  “controlled choice,” there will be no space in gentrified, high-performing schools for less affluent non-white students who live outside the boundaries.

Increasingly, well-off, white parents are sending their children to public schools, he writes. Perhaps they can’t afford private schools any more. Perhaps it’s the decrease in crime or confidence in Michelle Rhee’s reforms.

In some cases, middle-class parents in gentrifying neighborhoods are persuading others to give the local public school a try, starting with free full-day preschool.

Lots of evidence shows that poor kids learn more, on average, when they attend middle class schools. And many middle class families want their kids going to schools that reflect the diversity of the society they will inherit.

But here’s the rub: Rather than settling into a nice racial balance, several D.C. schools are on their way to flipping from all-black to all-white in just a few years. Go visit schools like Brent on Capitol Hill or Ross in Dupont Circle and you’ll notice that their fourth-graders are mostly African-American and their kindergarteners are mostly white. Follow that trend for a few more years and say goodbye to our once-in-a-lifetime shot at integrated schools.

It’s not just the district schools.  Middle-class, mostly white students are entering the lottery for admission to the high-performing E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, reducing the odds for low-income students. (The pre-K-7 school is now 24 percent white and Asian and 40 percent non-poor.)

D.C. could eliminate school boundaries, then admit students “based on a mix of a lottery, geographic proximity, and the goal of socio-economic balance.” Or the boundaries could be redrawn to combine gentrified and poor neighborhoods. Finally, the District could “create magnet schools in strategic locations to draw middle class and poor students alike.”

For instance, DCPS officials could take an under-enrolled “poor” school on Capitol Hill and turn it into Montessori program, or an accelerated math and science academy—something attractive to affluent parents on the hill. Or they could put a bilingual Spanish-immersion magnet school in Columbia Heights (perhaps a replication of the Oyster School in Woodley Park).

Charter schools could play this “magnet” role, too — but they would need to be able to manage their lotteries to ensure a balance of middle class and low-income students — something not allowed today.

The magnet option is the most viable politically, but would affect only a few schools, Petrilli writes.

The struggle for P.S. 84

The struggle for P.S. 84 will determine whether Latino immigrant parents can share a Brooklyn school with middle-class whites who are gentrifying the Williamsburg neighborhood.

The first round of integration went badly, reports Capital New York. In fall of 2006, P.S. 84 was “83 percent Latino, but the 8 percent of white students comprised nearly half of the Pre-K and Kindergarten classes.” The “newcomer” parents were eager to volunteer in classrooms, contribute their fund-raising skills and lead the PTA.

. . . during elections for the School Leadership Team, a council that comprises parents and staff. (Brooke) Parker, the Pre-K parent, stood up to give her stump speech. Depending on whom you ask, the speech was either a galvanizing call to improve the school or an affront to its teachers and pre-existing parents. Also depending on whom you ask, Parker was rudely heckled or duly called out for her own rudeness.

“I was heckled by the faculty, in front of my kids,” Parker complains. “The faculty was like, ‘Who are you to come in here?’ The insinuation was that I couldn’t be accountable to anyone except my constituency, which was perceived to be middle-class.”

Jaime Estades, who later became PTA president, put it another way: “A parent stood up and talked about how bad the teaching in the school was and that changes had to be made. You can’t just say that to a bunch of teachers.”

Newcomer parents objected to the school’s annual Three Kings Day parade, a cultural tradition for Latino parents. Newcomers objected to selling ice cream in Pre-K classes to help fund the PTA.  Newcomers, many of them involved in the arts, wanted progressive education, while immigrant parents favored traditional methods.

The reception they received shocked the newcomer parents. As they saw it, they were working hard to turn a bad school into a good one only to run into opponents who kept making it about race.

Few white students went on to first grade at P.S. 84, which went through several principals before hiring a Latina raised in Williamsburg.

Sereida Rodriguez-Guerra is trying to lure new students. She’s introduced progressive educational programs, such as “the Renzulli method, which matches curriculum to students’ learning styles and interests, as well as the Visual Thinking Strategies program, which aims to improve critical thinking and descriptive language skills through discussion of visual images.”

Test scores remain low — the school has an “F” rating — which advocates blame on previous administrations. The principal says the school doesn’t “teach to the test.”

The atmosphere is calmer, though tensions remain between parent groups. “Last year, a group of mostly newcomer parents volunteered their time, money and artisanal skills to renovate the long-defunct library.” Other newcomers are redesigning the school’s web site.

White enrollment is back up to 7.6 percent, mostly in pre-K and kindergarten. But middle-class white families won’t stick with P.S. 84 without signs of academic progress.

If the school remains half-empty, the unused space is likely to be given to a charter school. P.S. 84 loyalists say that will destroy their school.

Meanwhile, Williamsburg continues to gentrify.

Via HechingerEd.