‘Toxic’ transfers

High-poverty schools are bound to fail because good teachers don’t want to teach in “toxic concentrations of poverty” with low expectations and less parent involvement, writes New York Times columnist Bob Herbert.

If you really want to improve the education of poor children, you have to get them away from learning environments that are smothered by poverty.

A Century Foundation study in Montgomery County, Maryland, showed that low-income students enrolled in affluent elementary schools outperformed  similarly low-income students in higher-poverty schools, Herbert writes.

Studies have shown that it is not the race of the students that is significant, but rather the improved all-around environment of schools with better teachers, fewer classroom disruptions, pupils who are more engaged academically, parents who are more involved, and so on. The poorer students benefit from the more affluent environment.

However, economic integration requires racial and ethnic integration, which “provokes bitter resistance,” Herbert claims. Despite our claims to be a “postracial” society, middle-class whites don’t want blacks and Hispanics to transfer in to suburban schools. (Why would they welcome “toxic” transfers?)

Herbert is confused about the meaning of  “postracial,” writes Liam Julian on Flypaper.

There’s a practical problem with economic integration: Too many poor kids. The Montgomery County study found low-income students learned more in schools in which no more than 20 percent of students qualified for a subsidized lunch; the benefits vanished when 35 percent of students came from low-income families. “Nationally, 41% of American students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches,” Sara Mead writes.

We can’t solve our problems by trying to bus all the poor kids to the suburbs. The challenge is to create healthy, education-valuing school cultures in poor neighborhoods. My book is about a school that’s done that. I also recommend Samuel Casey Carter’s new book, On Purpose: How Great School Cultures Form Character.

Schools of character

In On Purpose: How Great School Cultures Form Strong Character, Samuel Casey Carter profiles schools that “set high expectations for personal attitudes and behavior and created both good people and good students,” writes Jay Mathews on Class Struggle.

Carter looks at five traditional public schools, three public magnet schools, two public charter schools and two private schools ranging in size from 220 students to 2,624 at Hinsdale Central High in a Chicago suburb.

Mathews writes:

He describes in some detail, with many examples, the four traits that mark the path toward a school of strong character: a strong belief that culture determines outcomes, a nurturing but demanding culture, a culture committed to student success and a culture of people, principles and purpose.

. . .  in his next book I would like see him go deeper into each story and find the hidden flaws and the silent malcontents. I want to know what resistance had to be overcome to establish a school of good character. I want to hear from those who see such efforts as coercion rather than evangelism, if there are any.

A senior fellow with the Center for Education Reform, Carter studied the cultures of more than 3,500 schools across the U.S. before choosing his examples.

The schools profiled are: Arlington Traditional in Arlington, Virginia (PK-5); Osmond A. Church in South Ozone Park, NY (PK-8), An Achievable Dream in Newport News, Virginia (PK-12); Cotswold Elementary in Charlotte, North Carolina (K-5); Grayhawk Elementary in Scottsdale, Arizona (K-6); Atlantis Elementary in Port St. John, Florida (K-6); Benjamin Franklin Public Charter School in Franklin, Massachusetts (K-6); Hope Christian in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (K-8); Providence St. Mel in Chicago, Illinois (K-12); Harvest Park Middle School in Pleasanton, California (6-8); Veritas Academy in Phoenix, Arizona (6-12); and Hinsdale Central High School in Hinsdale, Illinois (9-12).

Carter co-authored No Excuses: Lessons from 21 High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools. This book looks at schools serving a mix of students, arguing that affluent students face character challenges too. Four of the schools serve predominantly low-income, minority students.

In researching Our School, I saw the importance of building a school culture that values hard work and learning. I saw kids who’d once mocked serious students as “school boy” or “school girl” cheer classmates for doing homework or earning higher grades. But culture isn’t magic. Once students have decided they want to learn, they need skilled teachers, a well-designed curriculum and a lot of extra help to fill in academic holes.