When Dunbar was ‘First Class’

Alison Stewart’s First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School is ” uplifting and maddening,” writes Michael McShane in Education Next.

From its opening in 1870 to the 1960s, the all-black Dunbar High produced “doctors, lawyers, Ivy League professors, generals, and titans of business,” writes McShane. Yet, “Dunbar saw a precipitous decline” just as opportunities were opening up for African-Americans.

Equity trumped excellence, he writes.” Rather than educate the best and brightest for placement into top universities and success in work and public service, Dunbar became a standard comprehensive high school that educated everyone residentially zoned to attend it.”

Stewart looks at Dunbar in 1920. Students who passed the admissions test had to meet  ”astronomically” high academic standards.  Students were tracked into different levels. Those who couldn’t do the work were sent to Cardozo High, which was vocationally oriented.

The school demanded good behavior.

The student handbook covered topics ranging from grooming requirements (daily baths and thrice daily tooth brushing) to recommending types of friends that students should have. (“Girls and boys who fail in lessons, who are unsatisfactory in deportments or careless in their habits, should not be chosen as companions.”) The handbook told students how to walk down the street and reviewed proper dancing protocols (“Boys, after dancing thank your partner and escort her back to her seat”) and how to sit, walk, and function within the school.

Nowadays, KIPP leaders have been accused of  “cultural eugenics” for mandating student behavior, writes McShane.

Policies and programs should create opportunities for strivers to excel, writes Mike Petrilli.  “We should bring an ethos of meritocracy back to our anti-poverty efforts—the same ethos that still works relatively well at the top of our social structures and could work equally well at the bottom.”

Two of his suggestions draw from the Dunbar High experience:

Schools must be orderly, safe, high-expectations havens. There’s a movement today to make it harder to suspend or expel disruptive children or to chide charter schools that enforce strict norms of behavior. That’s a big mistake. To be sure, we should use discipline programs that are effective, and sky-high expulsion rates are often the sign of a poorly run school. But we should be at least as concerned—if not more concerned—about the students who are trying to learn and follow the rules as we are about their disruptive peers. If suspending (or relocating) one student means giving 25 others a better chance to learn, let’s do it.High achievers must be challenged and rewarded. As Tom Loveless has shown, the anti-tracking craze that swept through our schools in the 80s and 90s left many suburban schools untouched but wreaked havoc in our poorest urban communities. . . .  high-achieving poor kids forfeited the opportunity to be in “gifted-and-talented” classes, honors tracks, or fast-moving Advanced Placement courses.

In addition, strivers deserve a fair share of resources, Petrilli argues. For example, Pell Grants could be increased if they were reserved for college-ready students.

Should single-sex classes be an option?

Should public schools offer single-sex classes?

In an American Enterprise Institute debate, AEI scholar Christina Hoff Sommers said single-sex schooling could help close the growing education gap between boys and girls. Sommers, who authored the book The War against Boys, thinks schools are becoming “hostile environments for young boys.”

Lise Eliot, author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain, argued that single sex schooling is bad for boys and girls and should not be an option.

Don’t segregate boys and girls in school, argues Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology and gender studies at Stony Brook University. Single-sex classes reinforce harmful stereotypes about boys and girls, he writes.

Sex-segregated education is “often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence,” a 2011 article in Science concluded.

There aren’t enough whites to go around

School segregation remains a reality: “74 percent of African Americans still attend majority nonwhite schools, compared to just over 76 percent in the late 1960s,” writes The Nation‘s Greg Kauffman.

But there’s a demographic reality to consider, responds Matthew Yglesias in Slate. U.S. schools are running low on white kids.

Non-Hispanic whites were 54 percent of the under-18 population in 2010, compared to 74 percent in 1980, according to the Census Bureau. Furthermore, among kids under the age of 5, non-Hispanic whites are a minority.

Meanwhile, the white people are not distributed evenly across the country. You’re not going urban minority kids to Maine and Idaho or the Texas panhandle so that they can attend more integrated schools. Nor are we about to ban the practice of rich people (who are disproportionately white) from sending their kids to private schools.

So you’re going to face a situation where most schools are majority-minority and the vast majority of minority kids are in majority-minority schools and there’s not going to be anything you can do about it other than try to make those schools be really good schools.

We can’t integrate our way to better school performance, agrees Sara Mead. That includes socio-economic integration, the dream of “smart liberal school reformers in recent years.” Like whites, middle-class students from two-parent families are in short supply and not evenly distributed.

The challenge is to design schools to meet the needs of low-income, minority students. The no-excuses model adopted by some urban charter (and Catholic) schools can make a difference. Are there other models with evidence of success?

Should community colleges recruit the rich?

Community colleges increasingly are segregated by race and class, charges a new report, which urges public two-year colleges to start honors programs to lure affluent white students and high achievers. But others say community colleges enroll a wide range of students and should focus on educating the students they’ve already got.

When poor kids grow up

Jonathan Kozol’s Fire in the Ashes asks: What happens to desperately poor children when they grow up? He follows up on children featured in his earlier books. Kozol, now 76, tells grim stories, but doesn’t analyze why some kids overcome their circumstances and others don’t, writes Emily Bazelon in Slate.

“Eric” (all names are changed) lived in New York’s shelter hotels for four years in the 1980s, beginning when he was 11, with his mother, Vicky, and sister, Lisette. Kozol met the family  in 1993, when the city had moved them to a poor section of the Bronx, Mott Haven. “Eric . . .  had an element of likability and even of good humor,” Kozol writes.

One day in 1996, Kozol got a call from a doctor in Montana who’d read Amazing Grace and was part of a church that wanted to help a Mott Haven family resettle in their small town. . . . The social experiment went well for Lisette, who makes it to college and is about to become a paralegal when Kozol catches up with her at 26, but badly for Eric. Wary and suspicious of the adults who reached out to him, he dropped out of school, got a local girl pregnant, ran into trouble with the cops, and probably dealt drugs. When Vicky was evicted in 2000 from the home the church helped provide, the doctor blamed Eric for breaking into her house when she was working at night and blasting music with his friends. Vicky started drinking heavily, and then in 2001, she called Kozol with devastating news: Eric was dead, shot in the head, an apparent suicide.

Christopher , who also grew up in the shelter hotels and moved to Mott Haven as a teenager, became part of a group that threw a boy onto the train tracks. He was convicted of attempted murder.

Asked to write a letter to support Christopher’s bid to reduce his sentence, Kozol did so once, reluctantly, but refused to a second time, because “there was no indication that he felt remorseful or responsible for what he’d done.” It’s not surprising when Christopher dies of a heroin overdose after he’s released from prison. In fact, to be cold about it—in a way that Kozol would never be—Christopher’s death comes as something of a relief, because he has become a terrible drain on his much more functional younger sister, Miranda.

Girls overcome when boys cannot? Kozol writes that he sees “parallels” but not “patterns.”

In the second half of the book, Kozol tells happier stories about children who in young adulthood have pulled themselves into stability, because they had especially devoted parents or with a major assist from a local priest and a private school education, paid for by a small foundation Kozol created for this purpose.

When he wonders if anything has changed, a girl named Pineapple tells Kozol to think positive.

. . .  she and her sister are determined to go back to the neighborhood with their college degrees and “you know? Make little changes that we can? … Picking battles that we have a chance to win?”

“Over his career Kozol has wrought many small changes and won many individual battles,” writes Bazelon.

Charters educate high-need students

The federal role in charter education is a “haphazard collection of laws, rules, funding preferences and rhetoric that lacks coherence at the policy or action level,” concludes the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings. Its experts recommend:

a) collecting and using more and better data on the performance of charter schools for purposes of authorizing, research, and informed parental choice; b) requiring states to provide equitable funding for charter schools relative to traditional public schools—including support for facilities; c) supporting higher standards for authorizing; d) revising rules and definitions that unintentionally disadvantage charter schools; e) promoting the growth as well as quality control of virtual charter schools; and f) finally and most importantly articulating and following through on a coherent policy with respect to charter schools.

Some 1.6 million children attend 4,900 charter schools in 39 states, the study notes. The best-known chains “create highly structured routines with uniforms, strict rules, and numerous drills.”

But charters take many other forms, including single sex schools, schools for the performing arts, schools for science and technology, bilingual schools, schools for the disabled, schools for drop-outs, and virtual schools where learning takes place online.

Charters attract a disproportionate number of low-income and minority students, especially blacks.  “Initial test scores of students at charter schools are usually well below those of the average public school student in the state in which the charter school is located,” the report finds.

Of five randomized studies, four found charter schools improved student achievement while one found no impact, Brookings concludes. The four positive studies involved urban schools serving minority students. The no-impact study found “students from poor, minority, urban backgrounds did better in charter schools in contrast to students from middle-class, suburban backgrounds, who did worse.”

Thus all the randomized trials are consistent in pointing to the success of charter schools in large urban areas.

In addition to looking at reading and math scores, a study of charter high schools in Chicago and Florida found positive effects on both high school completion and college attendance.

Milwaukee’s charter students do as well in reading and may do slightly better in math compared to students in district-run public schools after one year, concludes a preliminary study by John F. Witte of the University of Wisconsin and Patrick J. Wolf of the University of Arkansas.

Students in independent charter schools that were converted from private schools outperformed Milwaukee Public Schools student in both math and reading after controlling for factors such as student characteristics and school switching.

Charters are schools of choice often located in minority neighborhoods, writes Nelson Smith. That’s not segregation.

Success without whites: Is this a problem?

Albany’s charter students (85 percent poor, 96 percent black or Latino) are outperforming students in district-run schools (68 percent poor, 80 percent black or Latino), reports the Albany Times Union. But those poor, little, high-performing charter kids are racially isolated, the Times Union charges in a front-page story. There aren’t enough white students in their classes.

That’s because the Brighter Choice Foundation, which runs all of Albany’s charters, opened schools in the neediest neighborhoods, writes Jason Brooks of Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability.

After nearly a decade accusing Brighter Choice schools of “creaming” the best students, it takes chutzpah to accuse the schools of segregation, writes Peter Meyer, who wrote an Ed Next story on Brighter Choice’s success.

Now that nearly a quarter of Albany’s public school kids, the ones local teacher unions and Albany Public School administrators said were uneducable (because they were poor and black) – now that the creaming issue is off the table and those same kids are beating the socks off even their white counterparts on academic achievement tests, we get S-E-G-R-E-G-A-T-I-O-N.

Can’t poor black kids catch a break here?

Albany’s public schools aren’t models of integration, the Times Union concedes.

An independent auditor recently found that advanced classes at Albany High School were highly segregated with few minority students. Superintendent Raymond Colucciello said the district is now working to reduce that racial isolation at the high school as well as at magnet schools, but that charter schools lack the same sort of oversight. He said that flies in the face of the Brown decision.

Advanced classes at the charter schools have nearly all minority students. Would oversight fix that?

Charters receive 13 percent of district funding, the newspaper complains. But charter students make up 23 percent of public school enrollment.

'Acting white' is no myth

Stuart Buck’s Acting White gets a rave review from John McWhorter in The New Republic.

It was the demise of segregation, of all things, that helped pave the way for the “acting white” charge. With the closing of black schools after desegregation orders, black students began going to school with white students in larger numbers than ever before. White students were often openly hostile, and white teachers only somewhat less so. Black teachers and administrators from the old black schools often lost their jobs. Unsurprisingly, black students started modeling themselves against white ones as a form of self-protection. This dovetailed nicely with the new open-ended wariness of whites that was the bedrock of “Black Power” identity.

. . . The tendency to reject the “acting white” charge as a myth is based on what we might call compassionate denial. It may seem to many that the problem is so subject to misinterpretation by whites that it would be better to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Solutions? Not so easy. McWhorter points to high-quality “all-black charter schools, as well as public ones turned around by dynamic principals,” where students have no excuse for failure.

Charter schools and segregation

Charter schools aren’t much more segregated than nearby schools students otherwise would attend, concludes an analysis by a team lead by Gary Ritter, a University of Arkansas education policy professor, in Education Next.

That contradicts the UCLA-based Civil Rights Project’s Choice without Equity: Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards. That’s because the Civil Rights Project compared charter schools, often located in high-minority urban neighborhoods, with all traditional public schools, which are located in much more diverse areas. In inner cities, students in both charters and traditional public schools “attend school in intensely segregated settings,” write the Arkansas team.

Their findings jibe with a 2009 report by RAND, which followed students in five cities who moved from traditional public schools into charter schools: RAND found transfers have “surprisingly little effect on racial distributions across the sites.”

The Civil Rights Project’s report also complained of nearly all-white charter schools.

In some cases, like Idaho, charter school students across all races attend schools of white isolation: majorities of students of all races are in 90–100% white charter schools.

“No kidding!” responds the Arkansas team. “The state of Idaho is nearly 95 percent white.”

Public schools are segregation academies because students are forced to go to school where they live, writes Greg Forster (with Whitney Tilson quotes), looking at New York City.

Are charter schools too black?

Seventy percent of black charter school students have few white classmates, estimates a study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. From the Washington Post:

To the authors of the study, the findings point to a civil rights issue: “As the country continues moving steadily toward greater segregation and inequality of education for students of color in schools with lower achievement and graduation rates,” the study concludes, “the rapid growth of charter schools has been expanding a sector that is even more segregated than the public schools.”

Racially segregated schools tend to be inferior, says UCLA Education Professor Gary Orfield, who oversaw the study. “The study recommended that federal and state governments push for racial diversification of charter schools,” reports the Post.

Should black students be denied a charter alternative unless enough whites want to attend the same inner-city school?

“We actually are very proud of the fact that charter schools enroll more low-income kids and more kids of color than do other public schools,” said Nelson Smith, president and chief executive of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, based in Washington. “The real civil rights issue for many of these kids is being trapped in dysfunctional schools.”

For all the complaints about skimming, charter schools disproportionately enroll the lowest-scoring students, inner-city African-Americans. Their parents have decided that a nearly all-black charter school is a better choice than the neighborhood school, which may be marginally more integrated (probably with Hispanics).  Whose civil rights are violated by letting parents make that choice?

Urban parents don’t care about so-called civil rights activists who work in ivory towers, live in suburbs, release reports on ‘segregation’ just in time for Black History Month (wink, nudge), and avoid the worst American public education offers,” writes Rishawn Biddle of Dropout Nation.

The study also complains that charters in Western states enroll somewhat more whites and fewer Hispanics than state averages. If one group, such as immigrant parents, is less likely to choose charters then other groups will form a larger percentage of enrollment.

The charter high school in my book, Our School, is now 96 percent Mexican-American, up from 83 percent (if memory serves) in the first year. Downtown College Prep has focused on educating the children of poorly educated, Spanish-speaking immigrants and, increasingly, that’s who chooses the school. I don’t see that as a problem.