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.

Separate and gifted?

Eliminate gifted tracks in New York City, argue Halley Potter of the Century Foundation and David Tipson of New York Appleseed in the New York Times Room for Debate blog.

Seventy percent of the city’s gifted and talented (G&T) kindergarteners are white and Asian, while 70 percent of students are black and Latino, they write.

“Segregation” harms the education of low-income students. they argue. “At the same time, affluent white and Asian students in the city’s separate G&T classrooms are also denied the cognitive and social benefits that socioeconomically and racially diverse classrooms offer.”

Gifted children won’t “be fine” in mixed-ability classes, responds Rick Hess.

. . . we’re putting much at risk when we simply hope that overburdened classroom teachers can provide the teaching and learning that gifted children need. Anyone who has watched a teacher labor to “differentiate” instruction in a classroom that encompasses both math prodigies and English language learners knows it’s unreasonable to expect most teachers to do this well.

Students do best in classrooms with students of similar ability, researcher Bruce Sacerdote writes. “We know from data, from theory and, most important, from decades of experience that ability grouping or tracking can have a big payoff. . . . High-ability students benefit the most from high-ability peers.

Are urban charters too black?

Critics complain that charter schools “pay more attention to student achievement than to racial diversity,” reports Heidi Hall for USA Today.

Urban charters often are located in high-poverty, high-minority neighborhoods with low-performing district schools. They attract few or no white or middle-class students. Black parents are the most likely to choose charters, which produce learning gains for disadvantaged students compared to district alternatives, CREDO studies report.

Urban charter students also are more likely to earn a high school diploma and enroll in college. Many parents choose charters with strict discipline policies because they’re safer.

Critics say there’s no such as thing as “separate and better.”

Cheryl Brown Henderson, the daughter of Brown v. Board of Education plaintiff Oliver Brown, disagrees. A former school guidance counselor, she runs a foundation devoted to studying the Brown case’s impact and improving education access for minorities.

Henderson said she doesn’t believe diversity should be a big concern for charter schools, and she questions whether traditional public schools ever truly reflected racial balance despite busing, rezoning, magnet programs and other efforts.

“It’s awfully arrogant for us to point fingers at people trying to ensure a world-class education access is afforded to all of our children,” she said.

Some new charter schools are trying to attract a mix of students, said Neerav Kingsland, CEO of New Schools for New Orleans.  Bricolage Academy, a New Orleans charter is recruiting students of varying socioeconomic backgrounds. But the school district is 90 percent African-American, so racial balance is unlikely.

“Activists” complain that too many failing public schools in black neighborhoods are being closed and replaced with charter schools,” writes Juan Williams.

Thurgood Marshall, the lawyer who won the Brown case and later became a Supreme Court justice, told me as I was writing his biography that the case was not really about having black and white children sitting next to each other. Its true purpose was to make sure that predominantly white and segregationist school officials would put maximum resources into giving every child, black or white, a chance to get a good education.


“The flight to charter schools conforms with the Brown ruling’s central premise: that students should be able to attend the best public schools without regard to income or race,” argues Williams.

60 years after Brown: Segregation now

Students at Barnard Elementary School in Washington, D.C., one of the first schools to desegregate after Brown. (Library of Congress)

Students at Barnard Elementary School in Washington, D.C., one of the first schools to desegregate after Brown. (Library of Congress)

Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education ended de jure segregation, how segregated are we? asks Alan Richard on the Hechinger Report.

“In many states and communities, including many in the South, where I’m from, black and white children — and now Latino children and others — attend school side by side,” he writes.

Yet, there are signs of resegregation, warns ProPublica.

In 1991, 33 percent of black students in the South attended schools with 90 percent or more minority enrollment — but by 2009-2010 that level had crept up to 38 percent. Back in 1980, only 23 percent of black students in the South attended such intensely segregated schools, the researchers found. Now, white students make up less than 30 percent of enrollment in schools attended by the typical black students — the highest that figure has been since federal monitoring began.

Some older blacks remember aspects of their segregated childhoods with “fondness,” reports NPR.

Carmen Fields, a media consultant in Boston, grew up in Tulsa in the 1950s. “We had our own grocery stores, black doctors, lawyers, dentists, hotel, movie theaters, shoe repairmen, our own segregated YMCA,” Fields says.

Because colleges wouldn’t hire black professors, some teachers in segregated schools were PhDs, Fields  recalls. “We had the best of the best, the talented 10th, if you will, and they expected the best of us.”

Resegregation now

May 17 will be the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision striking down “separate but equal” public education, notes Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic.  Another milestone will be reached in June: The end of the last school year in which a majority of K-12 public school students are white.

 That demographic transformation is both reinvigorating and reframing Brown’s fundamental goal of ensuring educational opportunity for all Americans. . . . the ruling provided irresistible moral authority to the drive for legal equality that culminated in the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts a decade later.

Yet many complain the decision didn’t really end school segregation, writes Brownstein. Inequality remains a problem.

Segregation Now looks at the resegregation of Tuscaloosa, Alabama schools after a court order was lifted.

The citywide integrated high school is gone, replaced by three smaller schools. Central retains the name of the old powerhouse, but nothing more. A struggling school serving the city’s poorest part of town, it is 99 percent black. . . .  Predominantly white neighborhoods adjacent to Central have been gerrymandered into the attendance zones of other, whiter schools.

No all-white schools exist anymore—the city’s white students generally attend schools with significant numbers of black students.  . . . (But)  nearly one in three black students attends a school that looks as if Brown v. Board of Education never happened.

When all the city’s public students attended Central, the school racked up academic and athletic honors, writes Nikole Hannah-Jones for ProPublica. The dropout rate was less than half the state’s average.

The school was hardly perfect. Black students were disproportionately funneled into vocational classes, and white students into honors classes. . . . the white flight that had begun when the courts first ordered the district to desegregate continued, slowly, after the formation of the mega-school. But despite these challenges, large numbers of black students studied the same robust curriculum as white students, and students of both races mixed peacefully and thrived.

Many whites moved to county schools which are predominantly white or to private schools: only 22 percent of Tuscaloosa’s public students are white. Surveys showed whites would leave if a school’s black enrollment hit 70 percent. So school officials — with some black support — concentrated a third of black students in all-black schools in hopes of keeping other schools integrated.

Hannah-Jones makes the case that Central offers less to its top students than the city’s integrated high schools. She focuses on an honor student — also a star athlete and student body president — whose low ACT scores put any selective college out of reach.

D’Leisha’s grandfather went through segregated schools, served in the Air Force, then worked a blue-collar job. Her mother went to Central High at the peak of integration, went to college, dropped out to have a baby but returned to earn a degree from the University of Alabama. She worked as a teacher’s aide, but now earns more on an auto factory assembly line. She’s supporting four children as a single parent.

Magnet schools compete with charters

Magnet schools  are making a comeback as urban school districts compete with charter schools, reports the New York Times.

The number of children in Miami-Dade County attending magnet programs — which admit students from anywhere in the district and focus on themes like art, law or technology — has grown by 35 percent in the past four years. These children now account for about one in six students in the district.

. . . Magnets have “become kind of a go-to alternative as a way to incorporate some of the popular elements of choice while keeping the choice constrained more explicitly within the traditional district,” said Jeffrey R. Henig, a professor of political science and education at Columbia University. “It’s a recognition on the part of districts that at least some of the enthusiasm and popularity of charters is a resistance to the notion of a one-size-fits-all school.”

Magnets are district schools with unionized teachers. But, like charters, they pose a threat to neighborhood public schools. Motivated students are more likely to choose an alternative. 

Unlike charters, magnet schools can set admissions requirements, reports the Times.

At Coral Reef Senior High School, a prestigious magnet that includes programs in the arts, engineering and an International Baccalaureate track, less than half of the 3,229 students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and close to a fifth are white, compared with just 7.7 percent of the district. African-American students, who represent close to a quarter of the district, are only 13.5 percent of the student body at Coral Reef.

Magnet schools were created as a desegregation tool — with mixed success.

St. Paul mainstreams troubled kids

St. Paul schools are mainstreaming students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, closing most classrooms at special centers for high-needs children. It works for some students, reports the Pioneer Press. But others are struggling. And some teachers aren’t getting special ed support.

Lenairion Cole went to school in a room for “bad kids” last year, and he rarely ventured out.

At St. Paul’s Bruce Vento Elementary this year, he is in a regular fifth-grade classroom. On his locker are his goals: “Do better at math.” “Do better at my behavior.”

Last year, the school’s learning center served about 45 students identified with problems ranging from severe depression and anxiety to bipolar disorder. The center had a teacher and two aides for every eight to 10 students. Math and reading proficiency scores were very low, well below scores for mentally retarded students.

The majority hardly ever left the center’s confines, said Catherine Butcher, the school’s special education coordinator.

“We felt that the students had to be perfect before we would let them go,” she said.

This fall, all former learning center students started in mainstream classrooms. Some, like Lenairion, are doing well. “I can learn better with a lot of kids instead of a bunch of bad kids that distracted me in class,” Lenairion said. “I work harder now.”

Others have acted out in class. Twenty percent of former learning center students are spend nearly the whole day in mainstream classes, said Elizabeth Keenan, who directs special education for the district. Another 20 percent are primarily in resource rooms. The rest are in between.

With special ed teachers in mainstream classrooms, “students have the same supports they had in the learning center,” Superintendent Valeria Silva told the school board. Some classes have two aides.

That’s not always true, reports the Pioneer Press.

At Bruce Vento, four classrooms that serve former learning center students don’t do any such co-teaching because they are not enough special education teachers. And entire grades share one aide among three or four classrooms.

On a recent walkthrough, Masini stepped in to calm an upset fourth-grader tossing books in the back of a classroom. The teacher is one of the school’s most talented educators, Masini said. But without a special education colleague to help, she’s had a stressful start of the year.

Last year at Frost Lake Elementary, “about 35 students with emotional and behavioral disabilities were referred out of the classroom for behavioral issues 739 times in the first two months of the year; this year, the same number of students had 438 referrals.” (Those numbers seem very high to me.)

“It’s messy. We’re not there yet,” said Principal Stacey Kadrmas. “We have varying degrees of teacher angst and students angst probably as well.”

More than 80 percent of EBD learning center students were black, although African-American children make up less than a third of the district’s enrollment, reports the Pioneer Press.

Reversing a trend of segregating students with special needs is a “moral imperative,” said Keenan. There’s also federal pressure.

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.