Choosing segregation for a black child

Nikole Hannah-Jones’ black working-class parents sent her to the best — and whitest — school in town, thanks to an integration plan. Her husband, an Army brat, got an integrated education in military schools.

As educated and middle-class parents in a black but gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood, they struggled with choosing a school in a segregated city, writes Hannah-Jones in New York Times Magazine.

Najya??? Hannah-Jones

Najya Hannah-Jones Photo: Henry Leutwyler/New York Times

An education writer, she wanted to send her daughter to public school. All the local schools serve low-income black and Latino kids and have low test scores.

“I didn’t know any of our middle-class neighbors, black or white, who sent their children to one of these schools,” she writes. “They had managed to secure seats in the more diverse and economically advantaged magnet schools or gifted-and-talented programs outside our area, or opted to pay hefty tuition to progressive but largely white private institutions.”

Not wanting her daughter to be one of a handful of black students at a predominantly white school, she rolled the dice on a segregated school, P.S. 307, with a great principal and strong funding. Most students come from the housing project across the street.

But she worries the school will gentrify. Neighboring P.S. 8, serving well-to-do whites, is overcrowded while P.S. 307 has plenty of room. If the boundaries are shifted — over vociferous objections from P.S. 8 parents — will their daughter’s school become dominated by affluent white families?

Alexander Russo wonders how many other people in “educationland” have chosen a heavily minority public school for their own kids. So far, he’s got Ben Speicher and Eva Moskowitz, both charter school leaders.

Family Sport Night at Community Roots School in Brooklyn. Photo: Beth Fertig

A Brooklyn charter school works at integrating students and parents, reports Beth Fertig on WNYC’s SchoolBook.

Community Roots Charter School is 39 percent white, 33 percent black, 20 percent combined Hispanic and Asian, and 8 percent “other,” much like its district.

To encourage socializing, the school “stays open late for regular get-togethers like family sports or arts nights, cooking classes for parents, teacher-arranged ‘play dates’ for kids who don’t know each other well,” writes Fertig.

More than 700 students applied for 50 kindergarten seats this year, but “only 25 percent of its students qualify for free lunch, far less than in the surrounding public schools.” To create a socioeconomic mix, the school now requires that 40 percent of students must come from nearby housing projects.

How the rich ensure their kids will stay ahead

Tutors, museum trips, piano lessons and gymnastics are all very well, but there’s “one thing rich parents do for their kids that makes all the difference,”, writes Emily Badger in the Washington Post.

Hint: location, location, location.

Yes, well-to-do parents buy homes in “nice neighborhoods with good schools.” They bid up the prices on homes near high-performing schools. Middle-class parents settle for second-best school districts and low-income families are out of luck. (Badger doesn’t mention charter schools, which do provide an out-of-neighborhood choice.)

“Forty to fifty years of social-science research tells us what an important context neighborhoods are, so buying a neighborhood is probably one of the most important things you can do for your kid,” says Ann Owens, a sociologist at the University of Southern California. “There’s mixed evidence on whether buying all this other stuff matters, too. But buying a neighborhood basically provides huge advantages.”

Increasingly, college-educated professionals marry other professionals, increasing income segregation. There’s more income to invest in little Aidan and Amelia. The gaps keep widening.

Integrating schools could integrate neighborhoods, writes Badger. Two years ago, District Mayor Vincent C. Gray proposed ending neighborhood schools. It was wildly controversial and was dropped.

Integration or neighborhood schools?

“A wealthy Virginia county is considering a return to neighborhood schools that would concentrate children from a poor, largely Hispanic neighborhood into two schools,” reports the Washington Post.

Children arrive at Evergreen Mill Elementary School. Photo: Douglas Graham, Loudoun Now.

Children arrive at Evergreen Mill Elementary School. Photo: Douglas Graham, Loudoun Now.

Since 2012, Loudon County has created economic integration by busing children out of their low-income, largely Spanish-speaking neighborhood.

A group called Educate Don’t Segregate opposes the plan, reports Loudon Now.

School board members who back the plan said predominantly low-income schools receive extra staffing to meet students’ needs. In addition, “we’re taking into account the benefits of having a school within their neighborhood, a chance to be involved in school activities, summer school, giving parents easier access to attend parent-teacher conferences,” said school board member Jill Turgeon.

Schools aren’t resegregating

Schools aren’t resegregating, writes Steven Rivkin, a professor at University of Illinois in Chicago, in Education Next.

Blacks have less exposure to white students since the 1980s because white enrollment has dropped by nearly 30 percent. However, they attend more ethnically diverse schools because of rising enrollment by Latinos and Asian-Americans.

Black enrollment has stayed about the same.

Demographic shifts have increased “contact between both whites and blacks and the children of immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and elsewhere,” Rivkin writes.

Latinos are now the largest minority group, while whites make up slightly less than half of public school enrollment.

Focusing on black-white enrollment is old hat. Focusing on socioeconomic diversity would make more sense — but we need better statistics on family poverty and disadvantage. Using school lunch stats makes no sense.

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.

Talking about race — in 3rd grade

Can Racism Be Stopped in the Third Grade? asks Lisa Miller in New York Magazine.  Can it be stopped by getting kids to think about their racial identity?

Fieldston, a very liberal private school in New York City separated third, fourth and fifth graders by race to discuss their racial identity for five weeks this spring. After the weekly “affinity groups” meeting, there was a mixed-race debriefing.

Slightly less than half the students at Fieldston’s Lower School are white, 20 percent are black or Latino, 20 percent multiracial and “the remainder are Asian or won’t say.”

Sorting by race offends many parents, who posted an online petition protesting the program, writes Miller. They wonder why the school is “forcing these children to define themselves and their families so narrowly” and at such an early age.

Ben Hort, an Irish-Jewish parent described as “blue-eyed” and “devilish,” calls it segregation. His wife is a Colombian-American with “dark-brown skin and black hair.”

 Two of their children look white, or whitish, and one is browner, with his mother’s black hair and almond eyes. To them, making racial identity a multiple-choice proposition diminishes who they really are. . . . “The kids are Colombian, they’re Jewish, they’re Irish. They’re from New York; they’re American. We are mixed.”

Like his older brother, 9-year-old Jacob Hort rejected “multi-racial” to join the “not sure” group. Asked to write on a Post-it the things that make him unique, he wrote “American. Dog lover. Me.”

Two black parents — both with Ivy League educations — tell Miller they support the program. Their kids are identified by race and need to be able to deal with it. (Wouldn’t the parents do a better job of this than anyone at the school?)

A black third-grader likes “to be with people I can share my race with” without feeling uncomfortable.

However, a fifth-grader in the Asian group complains it’s “so fricking boring . . . The conversations we have are mostly about the tensions between whites and blacks, and never about Asians or Hispanic people.”

“Here is fancy, expensive, and elitist Fieldston Lower School instituting a program that’s whole purpose is to crystallize out-dated, divisive ideas about race,” complains White Boy Rants.

Parents don’t choose diversity

Parent choice is making San Francisco schools more segregated, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Mural at San Francisco's Cleveland Elementary School.

Mural at San Francisco’s Cleveland Elementary School.

One third of the city’s public schools are “racially isolated,” which means 60+ percent of students are of the same racial or ethnic group.

Overall, 41 percent of the city’s public school students are Asian-American, 27 percent are Latino, 13 percent are white, 10 percent black and the rest “other.” About 30 percent of the city’s young people attend private or parochial schools.

Here’s a non-surprise:

Diversity and integration are rarely cited as top factors in choosing a public school. Instead, district surveys of parents show the safety of a school’s neighborhood, the quality of its staff and its reputation are paramount.

Clarendon, the high-achieving school in the story is about one third Asian, one third white and the rest Latino, black and mixed. It offers a Japanese bilingual program for some students; the rest learn Italian.

At the low-achieving school, Cleveland, 82 percent of students come from low-income and working-class Latino families. Parents choose the school because it’s close to home. It offers a Spanish bilingual program.

Cleveland receives $360,000 more than Clarendon from the state each year — $1,000 per student — because its students are so poor and so many of them don’t speak English. The idea is to direct more resources to the neediest schools, but Clarendon more than offsets that through avid parent fundraising and donations from the Japanese and Italian consulates.

(Cleveland Principal March)Sanchez uses the extra state money for basic support, including separate Spanish and English literacy coaches, a technology teacher, tablet computers and laptops.

After being trained by a nonprofit to be an activist, mother Ana Hodgson is “done with public schools,” reports the Chronicle. She got her son into a summer program for low-income achievers that helped him get a scholarship at a private middle school.

No evidence of ‘push-out’ at NYC charters

Attrition is lower at elementary charter schools in New York City than at neighboring schools, concludes a new analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office.

About 64 percent of students attending charter schools in kindergarten in school year 2008-2009 remained in the same school four years later, compared with 56 percent of students attending nearby traditional public schools.

In addition, special-needs students are more likely to remain at a charter than a traditional school, the IBO reported. That’s a change from last year’s report, which looked only at students in full-time special ed classes, notes the New York Times. Most special-needs students are mainstreamed.

High-needs students are segregated in low-performing district schools in the city, charges Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter group.  Ninety-three district schools in New York City “serve less than 1% of either English Language Learner or Special Needs students.”

Single-sex classes are on the rise

Separate classes for boys and girls are making a comeback in public schools, according to the New York Times.

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. — In one third-grade classroom, the walls are bordered by cheetah and zebra prints, bright pink caddies hold pencils and glue sticks, and a poster at the front lists rules, including “Act pretty at all times!”

Next door, cutouts of racecars and pictures of football players line the walls, and a banner behind the teacher’s desk reads “Coaches Corner.”

The students in the first class: girls. Next door: boys.

. . . Here at Charles Drew Elementary School outside Fort Lauderdale, about a quarter of the classes are segregated by sex on the theory that differences between boys and girls can affect how they learn and behave.

Teachers “recognize the importance of understanding that Angeline learns differently from Angelo,” said Angeline H. Flowers, the principal.

Social scientists disagree, notes the Times.  Critics say segregating by sex encourages stereotyping. The ACLU has sued to prevent single-sex programs. In response, the Obama administration has issued new guidelines.

Schools may set up such classes if they can provide evidence that the structure will improve academics or discipline in a way that coeducational measures cannot. Students must have a coeducational alternative, and families must volunteer to place their children in all-boys or all-girls classes.

But the guidance says that “evidence of general biological differences is not sufficient to allow teachers to select different teaching methods or strategies for boys and girls.”

“I am very concerned that schools could base educational offerings on stereotypes,” Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, told the Times.

Research hasn’t shown significant academic benefits — or drawbacks — from single-sex education, says Janet Hyde, a University of Wisconsin psychology professor.

Segregating by sex is based on a “zombie idea,” writes Dave Powell in Ed Week. Lack of evidence can’t kill the “specious claim that boys and girls simply learn differently.”

People cite “fake brain science” to support sex-segregated classes, writes Lise Eliot in Slate.

I don’t have a problem with letting parents choose a single-sex class, if they think it will benefit their child. I believe there are no significant brain differences between boys and girls, but there are behavioral differences. And we’ve got to figure what kind of elementary teaching works best for boys, who are falling behind their female classmates. Still, I wouldn’t have chosen an “act pretty” class for my daughter.

The new segregation is socioeconomic

The New Segregation is a matter of social class, not race, argue Richard Kahlenberg and Carl Chancellor in the Washington Monthly.

Starting in 2000, Montgomery County, Maryland schools have spent an extra $2,000 per pupil in high-poverty schools. The money funds all-day kindergarten, smaller classes and teacher development.

In addition, zoning policies have placed some public housing in affluent areas.

Lower-income students in low-spending, low-poverty schools far outperformed similar students in high-spending, high-poverty schools, concluded a 2010 study by Heather Schwartz

. . .  public housing students attending low-poverty schools began to catch up with their well-to-do classmates—cutting in half the initial achievement gap in mathematics, for example. . . . Schwartz found that roughly two-thirds of the positive effect was attributable to attending a lower-poverty school, and one-third to living in a lower-poverty neighborhood.

We should put “money and energy into economic integration in schooling and housing,” they argue.

Inequality has destroyed a once-great black high school, writes Chancellor after a visit to his old school, Kennedy High, in Cleveland’s Lee-Miles neighborhood. “Four decades ago, Eagles were the sons and daughters of doctors, lawyers, small-business owners, and white-collar professionals, factory workers, civil servants, and skilled craftsmen.”

Graduation rates were high and a majority of graduates went to four-year colleges and universities. “In the school’s first decade, the Eagles won several statewide competitions in science, math, and music — along with a state track championship and two city football titles.”

Over time, middle-class blacks moved to the suburbs. The community declined. Kennedy now serves “economically disadvantaged” children; many are raised by single mothers. On the state report card, the high school earns straight F’s.

. . . at least 75 percent of students can’t pass the state test at the minimum level in any area: mathematics, reading, science, social studies, and writing. Equally dismal was the school’s four-year graduation rate of 50.2 percent—though that was a significant improvement over the rate in 2010, 38.9 percent.

A $3 million foundation grant is paying to divide Kennedy into three themed high schools. Chancellor is dubious. “Unless they find a way to change the school’s economic mix—by putting poor kids in classrooms with more-affluent students—I am afraid this latest reform experiment will also fail to meet expectations.”

Once middle-class families have abandoned a community or a school, what can be done?

New York City is losing upper-middle-class blacks and gaining upper-class white singles and low-income Latinos, according to a new report.