Charters work for black students

Image result for howard fuller
Howard Fuller, a former superintendent of Milwaukee schools, helped found the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The NAACP’s call for a national moratorium on new charter schools will harm black families, argues Howard Fuller in an Education Week commentary. Low-income and working-class parents are “in desperate need of the types of educational opportunities that are being provided by charter schools,” writes Fuller, who’s now a Marquette education professor and director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning.

Twenty-seven percent of charter students are black, nearly double their enrollment in traditional public schools, writes Fuller. “Many of the 1 million names on waiting lists to get into a charter school are black children.”

Black parents continue to vote with their feet to enroll their children in charter schools for good reason—they work. According to Stanford University’s CREDO 2015 Urban Charter Schools Report on students in 41 urban regions across the country, low-income black students attending public charter schools gained 33 percent more learning in math and 24 percent more learning in reading each year as compared to their traditional public school peers.

In early August, New York City released achievement results for its public schools, showing that black and Hispanic charter school students were twice as likely to be on grade level in math as their peers in traditional public schools, and 50 percent more likely to be on grade level in English.

The NAACP claims that charter schools increase segregation. “Why are charter schools being criticized for bringing good schools into communities that have been underserved and neglected for years?” asks Fuller.

25 years of charters: They’re not alike

In Charter schools at 25, Education Week looks at what’s changed since Minnesota passed the first law authorizing publicly funded, privately operated charter schools.

One story looks at two very different charter schools. St. Paul’s teacher-led Avalon School draws middle-class, white students interested in project-based learning. Alliance for College Ready Schools in Los Angeles focus on preparing lower-income Latino and black students to be the first in their families to go to college.

Some observers inside and outside the sector contend they have wandered far from their original purpose: to be schools of innovation and serve as a research and development sector for traditional K-12 schools. In many ways, Minnesota still embodies some of the early ideas, while cities such as Los Angeles represent what the charter movement has become: an engine powered by muscular foundations for raising the prospects of low-income African-American and Latino students.

“Raising the prospects” of kids who most need a decent education seems like a good goal to me. If project-based learning isn’t the most effective method for doing that — or black and Latino parents prefer a more structured, orderly school — why is that a problem?

 Nationwide, 5 percent of K-12 students attend charters, but in 14 cities, 30 percent or more have chosen charters.
Harvest Schools in Minneapolis are designed for African-American and East African students. Photo: Minneapolis Post

Harvest Schools in Minneapolis are designed for African-American and East African students.

Blacks make up 28 percent of charter students, nearly double their percentage in traditional public schools, according to an Ed Week analysis of federal data. Twenty-nine percent of charter students are Latino, compared to 25 percent at traditional schools. Whites are under-represented at charters.

Critics also claim all-minority charters — chosen by parents — are “resegregating” education.

Minnesota allows charters targeted to African-American, Native American, Somali and Hmong students, reports Ed Week. Some worry the schools aren’t diverse.

For example, Minneapolis’ Harvest Network of Schools enrolls low-income African-American and East African students, placing some in single-gender programs. The curriculum is “steeped in African history and culture.”

Obviously, some parents prefer Harvest’s focus to what’s offered at their more integrated (but probably low-income, high-minority) neighborhood school.

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.”