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.

Magnet schools compete with charters

Magnet schools  are making a comeback as urban school districts compete with charter schools, reports the New York Times.

The number of children in Miami-Dade County attending magnet programs — which admit students from anywhere in the district and focus on themes like art, law or technology — has grown by 35 percent in the past four years. These children now account for about one in six students in the district.

. . . Magnets have “become kind of a go-to alternative as a way to incorporate some of the popular elements of choice while keeping the choice constrained more explicitly within the traditional district,” said Jeffrey R. Henig, a professor of political science and education at Columbia University. “It’s a recognition on the part of districts that at least some of the enthusiasm and popularity of charters is a resistance to the notion of a one-size-fits-all school.”

Magnets are district schools with unionized teachers. But, like charters, they pose a threat to neighborhood public schools. Motivated students are more likely to choose an alternative. 

Unlike charters, magnet schools can set admissions requirements, reports the Times.

At Coral Reef Senior High School, a prestigious magnet that includes programs in the arts, engineering and an International Baccalaureate track, less than half of the 3,229 students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and close to a fifth are white, compared with just 7.7 percent of the district. African-American students, who represent close to a quarter of the district, are only 13.5 percent of the student body at Coral Reef.

Magnet schools were created as a desegregation tool — with mixed success.

Study: Low-income achievers aim low

Low-income, high-scoring students usually don’t apply to selective colleges and universities, even though they’d qualify for financial aid, according to The Missing One-Offs: The Hidden Supply of High-Achieving, Low-Income Students, a working paper by Caroline M. Hoxby and Christopher Avery. Those who do apply are as likely to be admitted and graduate as high-income students.

Among students in the top 10 percent on college-entrance exams, but the bottom quartile in income, those in large, urban districts were the most likely to apply to selective colleges. Larger districts can offer selective or magnet high school that expose disadvantaged students to classmates and teachers with high expectations, Hoxby and Avery speculate.

“Open selective public high schools in more areas to reach more high-flying students,” suggests Amber Winkler on Gadfly.


LA charters prosper

Los Angeles’ charter schools are thriving, reports the LA Times. High-performing charters have formed a coalition called ICEF. Philanthropists Eli Broad and Bill Gates have poured in money to start new schools.

Mike Piscal, ICEF’s tough-talking founder, runs 13 schools in South L.A. and has set a goal of effectively taking over the district’s role in that part of the city.

He sees no future for a district that, he says, sends only about 5% of its students in South L.A. schools to college.

“They’re like an airline where only one in 20 passengers arrived at the location where they’re trying to go,” Piscal said. “They’ve lost the moral right to have a monopoly on the public schools.”

Los Angeles Unified is trying to develop schools with “charter-like flexibility” that will compete for students, reports the Times.  The teachers’ union is talking about organizing its own charter schools.

Los Angeles charter students outscore students in nearby schools but below magnet students, reports the Times.

* Charters and magnets do especially well with African American students, who on average are the district’s lowest achievers. African Americans are far more likely to seek out charters or magnets than students of other races and ethnicities, and once there, they achieve higher scores than other black students. For instance, 57% of African Americans in charters — and 76% in magnet programs — score proficient or better in math in elementary school, compared to 40% in traditional schools. In English, across all grades, 40% of African Americans in charter schools scored proficient or better, compared to 56% in magnet programs and 29% in traditional schools. (One consideration: Anecdotal evidence suggests that the black students in charters and magnets are more prosperous overall than those in traditional schools.)

* Charter students performed better on standardized tests than students in traditional schools at every level, with the most striking difference in middle schools. There, 43% of charter students scored proficient or advanced in math and 47% in reading, compared with 25% and 30% in traditional schools. Again, magnets scored better overall than any schools.

One fifth of LA’s magnet schools admit only gifted students, while charters must admit all applicants, using a lottery if too many apply.

Who gets in to magnet schools?

Chicago’s highly regarded magnet schools will change admissions rules  to drop race as a criteria. Instead, there will be more places for siblings and neighborhood children; socioeconomic status will replace race as a diversity factor.

Only 12 percent of all applicants won admission to elementary magnets this year, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

According to sources, CPS officials hope to look at annually updated census tract data reflecting several socioeconomic variables of the area in which applicants live. That could include the area’s median family income; adult education level; percent of single parents; the level of owner-occupied homes; and the percent of children living in homes where a language other than English is spoken.

Via the Ed Next blog.

With most magnet schools located in “nice” areas, neighborhood admissions will favor affluent whites and Asians, writes Alexander Russo. Of course, such families are a very small percentage of public schools’ enrollment.

Who gets in? Feds probe Chicago schools

Chicago’s top public schools are supposed to admit students on the basis of a lottery (magnet schools) or aptitude (“gifted” and selective-enrollment schools).  However, some parents charge that money money and connections open the schoolhouse doors to less-qualified students. Now federal investigators are looking into enrollment practices in the district, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Competition to get into the city’s premier selective enrollment schools is fierce. Every year thousands of students apply for hundreds of openings at the schools considered the crown jewels of the city’s public school system.

. . . The district has long allowed magnet school principals to handpick up to 5 percent of their students. Last year, they extended that right to principals at the nine selective enrollment high schools, even though some principals acknowledged they were already doing it. The principals can consider only extenuating circumstances such as a special talent or family crisis, not the applicants’ political ties.

But whispers have long swirled that some students get spots in these top-flight schools not by chance or merit, but by whom their parents know or how much money they make.

Responding to the Tribs’ Clout Goes to College series, federal prosecutors also are seeking evidence that former Illinois “Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his power brokers” demanded and received special treatment for well-connected applicants to the University of Illinois and other state universities.

‘Best high schools’ are charters, magnets

Charter schools do very well in Business Week’s list of America’s Best High Schools.

Working with GreatSchools, the magazine identified the highest performing and most improved high school in each states, the best high school serving a low-income population and the public and private schools rated highest by  GreatSchools visitors.

According to Charter Blog, only 5 percent of high schools are charters, but 14 percent of top performers and 14 percent low-income top performers, 21 percent of most improved and 18 percent of the favorites are charter schools.

Many of the non-charter public schools use admissions tests to choose students. Charters aren’t allowed to screen students, but they have the advantage of being schools of choice: Parents have decided that’s where they want their kids to be.

You have to click on the pictures to see the best in each state, which is annoying. It took me five tries to find California. My daughter’s alma mater, Palo Alto High, is listed as “best improved,” which is odd.  It didn’t have much room for improvement. I guess science scores went up.