A model of integration is now 98% black

Coleman High was the black middle-high school in Greenville, Mississippi.

Greenville, Mississippi was a model of integregation in the 1970s, writes Lynnell Hancock on the Hechinger Report. The Delta town was lauded in the Coleman Report for its voluntary plan to desegregate schools.

Now, 98 percent of public school students are black and 94 percent live in poverty.

Greenville High, once a top high school in the state, struggled to pull itself up from the F status it received for many years from Mississippi’s state accounting system to the D it has now

Across town, the private Washington School charges up to almost $6,000 annual tuition and is 94 percent white. Eleven out of its nearly 700 students are black.

In 1977, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission declared Greenville’s desegregation to be a “near total success,” writes Hancock. “Good leadership and good will” had created a district where “not one school was left with an all-black student body,” the commission concluded.

But whites, who were 30 percent of enrollment, steadily left for private schools.

A slower approach to desegregation, such as “freedom of choice” transfers used by some blacks,”may very well have had a better outcome than we’ve got now,” says William Percy Jr., a former school board member.

Hodding Carter III, who ran the pro-integration Delta Democrat-Times, is more cynical. “There is no place in America in which there are truly integrated schools when the black numbers get higher than 60 percent,” he said.

Charlotte, North Carolina also was a model of desegregation, reports The New Yorker.  After the school district stopped assigning students by race, in response to a 1999 lawsuit, the schools resegregated.


Mississippi teachers could grade parents

Credit: Steve Wilson

Credit: Steve Wilson

If a bill passed by the Mississippi House becomes law, teachers would grade parents’ involvement with their children’s education.

A section would be added to each child’s report card for the teacher to evaluate parents on “their responsiveness to communication with teachers, the students’ completion of homework and readiness for tests, and the frequency of absences and tardiness.”

Parents get beyond the blame game

Parents in poor communities do care about their children’s schooling, writes Alan Richard for the Hechinger Report.

Parents work on materials. Photo by Alan Richard

Mississippi parents list their concerns. Photo by Alan Richard

In desperately poor Greenwood, Mississippi, “parents are gathering regularly to chart a course for better schools, a better community and better lives for their families,” he writes.

The national nonprofit group Parents for Public Schools, has revamped its Parent Engagement Program. PEP chapters have formed in several Mississippi towns and in Cincinnati, Seattle, Kalamazoo, Michigan and Pitt County, North Carolina.

Greenwood PEP co-leader Tijuanda Beckworth, a mother of two, said, “It’s not that you don’t want to be involved in school. It’s more like, what steps do I take?”

“The parents always blame the teachers, the teachers always blame the parents. … You want to get out of the blame game. (It) helped us to strategize, what questions to ask, how to ask those questions” and led everyone to discover “the difference between involvement and engagement,” said Beckworth, whose own participation in PEP led her to start a book club for male students.

At a PEP event held on a Saturday morning, parents discussed their issues with the local public schools, which were taken over by the state due to low performance. The schools lack bilingual staff to serve an influx of Hispanic students, middle schoolers have been crammed into classrooms meant for early childhood classes and schools haven’t explained how instruction is changing to meet Common Core standards.

Skilled workers draw skilled jobs

Long known for poverty and bad schools, Eastern Mississippi’s “Golden Triangle” is drawing “high-wage, high-skill jobs” thanks to job training programs at the local community college.

States debate $0 community college tuition

Worried about a shortage of skilled workers, Tennessee, Oregon and Mississippi are debating free community college tuition. But some say students will work harder if they have a little “skin in the game.”

Alternative diploma limits options

Mississippi students must pass regular courses and four exams to earn a high school diploma. Many special education students settle for an “occupational” diploma. But they may be denied access to academic programs and some job training programs at community colleges.

States eye free community college tuition

Tennessee, Mississippi and Oregon may offer two free years at a community or technical college to high school graduates. “College is not for everybody, but it has to be for a lot more people than it’s been in the past if we’re going to have a competitive work force,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

Colleges and universities are hiring more part-time faculty and hiring fewer instructors relative to enrollment since 2000, but spending continues to rise, reports the Delta Cost Project. There are more non-teaching staff, including counselors and health providers, and benefits costs are rising.

Milwaukee is worse than Mississippi

Milwaukee is worse for black kids than Mississippi, writes Michael Holzman in Dropout Nation.

Thirteen percent of black men 18 to 64  in Wisconsin are in prison, the highest rate in any state, according to a BBC video, Why does Wisconsin send so many black people to jail?  “Over half the black men in Milwaukee County are now or have been in prison, Holzman writes.

Black families in Milwaukee are no better off financially than in Mississippi, according to Holzman.”If an average black family moved from Milwaukee to Mississippi, their children would probably have a slightly better chance of learning to read by the time they left school,” he writes. They’d be more likely to graduate from high school. In Mississippi, a black family’s young men are “less than half as likely to spend time in prison” compared to young black men in Milwaukee.

Does science learning require labs?

Hands-on science — that is lab experiments — are supposed to be the best way to engage students and get them to think scientifically, writes Katharine Beals on Out in Left Field. But she wonders if labs are essential to learning what scientists already know.

Elementary students aren’t “little scientists” but “novices who need a strong foundation in content before their lab experiences can be meaningful and memorable,” she writes.

For older students, labs can be slow, tedious and confusing, Beals writes. “Many students end up hating the lab component of courses they otherwise find interesting.”

One of her friend’s favorite science course was devoted to the psycho-neurology of the flatworm. The professor would present a topic, extend it to the flatworm and ask students how they’d set up an experiment to test their hypotheses. Once students designed the experiment, the professor would say, “That exact experiment just happens to have been done, and here’s what they found.” The class never performed an experiment.

Beals’ commenters think “guided observation” is more useful than labs for young students.

Auntie Ann, who studied physics and engineering, recommends science activities for K-8 students:

— Look at various things under a microscope, sometimes with dyes. Cells, both plant & animal. Crystals, salt, sugar, etc. Pond water with small organisms. Every-day items: hair, cloth, paper, pencil lead, wood, etc.

— Do acid/base experiments.

— Basic battery & current experiments. Completing/breaking a circuit.

— Gravity experiments: dropping, pendulum, etc.

— Weather observation; during one day, during seasons.

— Star charting to see change during year.

— Observations of the phases of the moon.

— Usually get a shot at least one partial solar eclipse every few years. For that one I love to walk under a tree; the little gaps between the leaves act as pin-holes, and the ground becomes covered with the crescent of the sun.

— Grow a plant from a seed.

— Some cooking science: yeast, baking soda, caramelization, etc.

— Then just measuring things using different tools: mass, length, volume, time.

In most Mississippi schools, students don’t do much hands-on science, according to a Hechinger Report story.  Elementary teachers average 2.4 hours per week on science instruction — a hair over the national average –with much of the focus on teaching vocabulary.

When I was in elementary school, we spent 2.4 hours a year on science till fifth grade, when we learned about the duckbilled platypus. I did grow a lima bean in kindergarten and learn to distinguish an oak leaf from a maple leaf in first, second, third and fourth grade.

I’d guess Mississippi’s real problem is that students in the state do poorly in all subjects.

Public school spending falls for the first time

U.S. public-education spending per student fell in 2011 for the first time since 1977, reports the Census Bureau. Public schools spent $10,560 per student, a drop of 0.4 percent from the year before. Adjusted for inflation, spending per pupil dropped once in 1995, according to the Wall Street Journal. In real dollars, spending per pupil was down 4 percent in 2011 from the peak in 2009.

New York spent the most per pupil at $19,076, followed by Washington, D.C. at $18,475. Utah spent the least, $6,212 per student, followed by Idaho at $6,824. (Both low-spending states have lots of Mormons, which means large families and fewer social problems.)

Thirty states increased per pupil funding: New Hampshire is spending 6.8 percent more.  Twenty states and the District of Columbia spent less. Illinois cut spending by 7.4 percent.

In the future, more education spending will go to teacher pensions and health benefits, leaving less for instruction, predicts Kim Rueben, a senior fellow with the Tax Policy Center and an expert on the economics of education.