To lure gentrifiers, NY school picks students


Parents and community members learned about plans for The Dock Street School last month. Photo: Patrick Wall, Chalkbeat

A low-performing, low-enrollment Brooklyn middle school will get a new building, a new name, a science-and-arts focus — and a student body selected for good grades, test scores and attendance. Middle-class parents said they won’t consider an open-enrollment school, reports Chalkbeat.

Brooklyn neighborhoods are gentrifying rapidly. Several elementary schools now draw white and middle-class students, but those students vanish in middle school. Most go to out-of-district public schools or to private schools.

Selectivity is the “secret sauce” of high-performing schools, charges NYC Educator.  “It’s, ‘We’ll take these kids, the ones who get high scores and everyone else can just go to hell’.”

Gentrification stops at the schoolhouse door

When urban neighborhoods gentrify, why don’t their public schools improve? asks Ester Bloom in The Atlantic

Gentrification usually “stops at the schoolhouse door,” writes Nikole Hannah-Jones in Grist. Newcomers often send their kids to private or charter schools, not to the low-performing local school.

University of Hartford Magnet School band and strings lessons, dance, Flying Magnets Running Club, and mentoring.

University of Hartford Magnet School offers band and strings lessons, dance, a running club and mentoring.

The exceptions are schools that compete for middle-class students by becoming magnet schools or starting gifted-and-talented programs, writes Bloom. However, “money put toward enticing middle-class parents is money that can’t be put toward students who might need those resources more.”

Hartford, Connecticut has created dozens of urban magnet schools that attract students who live outside the city, reports This American Life. Nearly half of Hartford students now attend integrated schools, up from 11 percent before the magnet initiative.

How exactly did Hartford do it? The city persuaded patrons to buy in. It wooed children of diverse backgrounds. And instead of having students learn science through worksheets, the city gave students access to a planetarium, an outdoor garden, a butterfly vivarium, a trout pond, and a LEGO lab.

. . . A planetarium is not a cheap solution, but if you build it, they will come—and they might well stay.

That strategy didn’t work in Kansas City, which spent $2 billion over 12 years trying to lure white,  middle-class, suburban kids to the inner city, reports Cato.

The money bought higher teachers’ salaries, 15 new schools, and such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, television and animation studios, a robotics lab, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability, and field trips to Mexico and Senegal. The student-teacher ratio was 12 or 13 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country.

The results were dismal. Test scores did not rise; the black-white gap did not diminish; and there was less, not greater, integration.

Perhaps Hartford will do a better job of creating magnet schools that provide a high-quality education — not just perks.

By the way, Hartford has two K-8 charters that are all black/Latino. A pre-K-2 charter is integrated.

NOLA’s new public schools lure middle class

Stephanie and Ben McLeish walk their children Micah, 5, ila, 7, and Silas, 9, right, to their local charter school, while their youngest Levi, 2, is pushed in the stroller.

The first signs of gentrification can be seen in New Orleans public schools, writes Danielle Deilinger in the Times-Picayune.

St. Rita’s Catholic School is struggling to compete for students. Photo: Cheryl Gerber, Hechinger Report

Despite a record of excellence, St. Rita’s Catholic School is struggling to compete for students. Photo: Cheryl Gerber, Hechinger Report

Before Hurricane Katrina, “few people with financial resources, regardless of race, put their kids in a New Orleans public school,” she writes.

Most public students were overwhelmingly poor and black, except for those who attended a handful of schools with entrance requirements. Private schools enrolled a quarter of school-age children.

New Orleans’ public students are as poor as ever: Three quarters qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. However, white enrollment has doubled — to 7 percent.

“Several new schools are attracting families who could afford private or parochial school, the same type of families who started leaving the school system 45 years ago,” writes Dreilinger.

. . . Morris Jeff Community School and Bricolage Academy are among the city’s new hot schools, according to enrollment numbers. So is Lycée Français, a language-immersion charter. They join pre–Hurricane Katrina favorites: Lusher Charter, Ben Franklin High, Edward Hynes Charter, Audubon Charter, the International School.

Before the storm, Morris Jeff was a low-performing school for low-income black students. Reinvented as a charter school, it’s now 40 percent white and non-poor. Eighty-four percent of fifth graders test as proficient in reading and math.

New Orleans’ Catholic schools are losing students, reports Jon Marcus. “Parents know they have a lot of choice,” said Karen Henderson, principal at St. Rita, which offers pre-kindergarten through Grade 7.

Gentrification stops at schoolhouse door

Gentrification “usually stops at the schoolhouse door,” writes Nikole Hannah-Jones on Grist. When middle-class people move into low-income neighborhoods, few send their children to struggling local schools.

Some gentrifiers have no children. Those who do usually send them to private schools or use public schools “choice” programs “to attend wealthier, whiter schools outside of the neighborhood.”

Protesters charge gentrification has led to school closures in Chicago.

Protesters charge gentrification has led to school closures in Chicago. Photo: John Booz for Catalyst

Schools in gentrifying Chicago neighborhoods did not improve, concludes a 2013 study by Micere Keels, a University of Chicago professor. Urban educators hope upper-income families will “come into these neighborhoods and invest in the neighborhood schools and revitalize both the neighborhoods and schools,” she said. Instead, advantaged families opted out, often choosing public schools with admissions criteria.

In gentrifying neighborhoods, local schools may lose enrollment and funding, which leads to layoffs and program cuts. That happened in three gentrified Chicago neighborhoods, according to a 2005 report by Catalyst Chicago.

“Districts funnel inordinate resources into Cadillac programs, such as magnets and other choice schools, in order to entice middle-class parents,” writes Hannah-Jones. “But school districts have finite resources, so to provide elite opportunities at some schools, other schools — those that have the greatest need — get less.”

D.C. faces middle-school slump

As Washington D.C. gentrifies, more educated parents are sending their children to neighborhood elementary schools. But choosy parents aren’t choosing district-run middle schools, reports the Washington Post.

Ross Elementary in Dupont Circle has a long wait list for pre-k, but few fifth graders. Many D.C. charters start in fifth grade. Those who finish at Ross typically go to charters, private schools or the suburbs, reports the Post. “In the past three years, just one Ross fifth-grader out of 47 went on to attend the assigned public middle school, which many parents consider substandard.”

Among parents who send their children to a D.C. public school, 31 percent say they’d send a child to a DCPS middle school, 30 percent would seek a charter middle school and the rest say “they would look to private schools or leave the city.”

D.C. renovates schools, but kids don’t come

Washington, D.C. neighborhoods are gentrifying.  “Controlled choice” could integrate D.C. schools, write Sam Chaltain, Mike Petrilli and Rick Kahlenberg in a Washington Post op-ed. Should integration be a policy goal?

The school district is spending $127 million to renovate Theodore Roosevelt High’s 1932 Colonial Revival building, reports Washington City Paper. It will be a “palace.” But who will enroll? Most neighborhood students choose charter schools or a higher-performing district school not too far away. Unless the new building attracts more students, it will be more than half empty. 

Last year, more test-takers at Roosevelt scored “below basic” in math on the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System exam than at any other D.C. Public Schools neighborhood high school—45 percent, to fewer than 20 percent who scored “proficient.” In math and reading growth, which compare students’ progress to that of peers who started at the same achievement level, Roosevelt likewise comes in dead last. Fewer than half of entering Roosevelt 9th-graders graduate in four years.

Once poor and crime-ridden, the area around Roosevelt, Petworth, “is at the epicenter of D.C.’s gentrification wave,” reports Washington City Paper Educated middle-class professionals, often with young children, are moving in. Some poor families have been priced out.

The local elementary school improved dramatically and now has a wait list. But when children reach middle school age, savvy parents apply to charter schools or “follow convoluted feeder patterns to DCPS schools west of Rock Creek Park.”

When the two-year renovation is complete, Roosevelt High’s front entrance will be restored, flanked by  two more columned entrances to the arts and athletics wings. “The claustrophobic central courtyard will become a spacious, glass-topped atrium, and two new courtyards will be added to bring light into the building’s dark, 1970s-era additions.” A 1934 fresco is being restored. But who will go there?

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.