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.

Learners have rights too

Charter schools with strict discipline policies provide learning opportunities for motivated students, wrote Mike Petrilli in a New York Times debate on school discipline. That’s why parents are choosing charters, he argued.

Accused of abandoning troubled students — and worse — he concedes that “pushing kids out of school and giving up on them too soon” is a problem.

There are too many schools with weak cultures, weaker leaders, ineffective discipline policies, and poorly trained staff that resort to punitive actions when other approaches would work better. And this has serious consequences for the kids who are suspended or expelled. Helping schools learn how to create positive school climates and develop alternative approaches is definitely worth doing.

But — you knew there’d be a but — eliminating suspensions and expulsions is “the educational equivalent of . . .  letting windows stay broken,”  argues Petrilli. “It elevates the rights of the disruptive students” above the needs of their classmates.

In high-poverty urban schools, the serious learners are low-income black or brown kids. Their parents can’t afford to move to the suburbs or pay private-school tuition.

Strong public schools have long had tools to deal with these moral dilemmas, including detentions, suspension, expulsion, and “alternative schools” for the most troubled students. Yet some on the left, including in Arne Duncan’s Office of Civil Rights, have been fighting to take these tools away.

“If you want traditional public schools to thrive, allow them to employ reasonable discipline policies that will create environments conducive to learning—including the responsible use of suspension, expulsion, and alternative schools,” writes Petrilli. Otherwise, competent parents will choose charter schools that are safe and orderly.

Critics say there are better ways to create safe, orderly schools, such as “restorative justice” approaches that try to mediate conflicts.

Here’s a video on a conflict-resolution program at an Oakland (California) middle school.

A new research paper from the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative calls for educators to analyze discipline rates by race and ethnicity and look for alternatives to suspension. These include improving the “cultural responsiveness of instruction,” better classroom management, programs to build supportive relationships between teachers and students and high-quality instruction. “Efforts to increase academic rigor and to increase safe, predictable environments for young people” reduce conflict, the paper concludes.

That last bit seems chicken-and-eggish to me. If you create a safe, predictable environment, you’ll have a safer environment.

Are Newark schools improving?

Two years after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made a $100 million gift to the Newark Public Schools, are Newark schools improving?

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, a former principal, wants local control — that is, mayoral control. The state of New Jersey took over the low-performing district nearly 20 years ago making Newark “a laboratory for experiments in top-down reforms,” he writes in the New York Times.

You might think that Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation in 2010 to kick-start a foundation for Newark schools would have been a game changer. But little funding went directly to Newark’s schools. Instead, the first $1.3 million was wasted on a poorly conducted community outreach campaign. Then another $100 million, including funds from Zuckerberg, went to a program for teacher merit pay.

Principals were given the power to re-interview teachers for their jobs and in some cases hire new teachers. But the rejected teachers joined a pool of floating staff members in the “rubber room” downtown, until reassigned to other schools or bought out. So even as Newark teachers worked without a contract, the state went on a hiring and cash-incentive spree.

Superintendent Cami Anderson’s have “plunged the system into more chaos,” writes Baraka.

Urban schools use first period for breakfast

Serving breakfast during first period is becoming common in New Jersey’s urban school district, reports Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

Nearly all major urban school districts now serve breakfast “after the bell,” according to Nancy Parello, spokeswoman for the non-profit.

“The state has steadily increased its breakfast participation rate since 2012, when school administrators were told they could count breakfast as instructional time,” reports the Courier-Post.

Camden City serves a free dinner in some schools. At least, that doesn’t cut into teaching time.

Move education faculty to urban schools

Teacher-training programs should move to the schools, writes Andre Perry, founding dean of urban education at Davenport University, on the Hechinger Report.

Teachers in training need more time to practice their craft in the settings they’ll work in, he writes. Education faculty at urban universities should “move their offices from the ivory tower into urban schools.”

Stop watching feel-good teacher movies

Stop Watching Feel-Good Teacher Movies, writes  Joshua John Mackin in The Atlantic. Movies such as Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers and Lean on Me have distorted American’s ideas about teaching in struggling schools, he writes.

Idealistic young teacher enters classroom that is out of control. Young teacher tries his or her best to assert authority. Minority Student A responds with inner-city wisecrack and entire class laughs.  Minority Student B makes aggressive comments about Minority Student A and fistfight ensues.  Teacher goes home in tears.  Yet through indefatigable large-heartedness and real talk with students, young teacher eventually makes astonishing progress with these overlooked kids in the face of an unsupportive bureaucracy. 

There’s always a happy ending.

By focusing so narrowly on the inspirational teacher-overlooked student dynamic, the genre of movie teaching implicitly sends the message: All kids need is somebody to believe in them.  Think of Gabourey Sidibe’s character in Precious.  Or the “Dungeon Kids” in Take the Lead.  Almost every teacher movie follows the same dramatic arc: previously overlooked children have their potential unleashed only through the benevolent intervention of a charismatic adult.

Children who grow up with “poverty, crime, the collapse of family life, moral norms” need a lot more than one really good teacher, “even one really good Harvard-educated teacher,” Mackin writes.

The only Hollywood movies without hero teachers feature horrible teachers, he adds. Bad Teacher is not realistic either. (It’s not meant to be.)

Are there good feel-good teacher movies?


Signe Wilkinson

— Signe Wilkinson

Does Houston deserve the Broad Prize?

The Houston Independent School District has won the 2013 Broad Prize for Urban Education. Houston also won in 2002.

Achievement gains included a 12-point increase in graduation rates from 2006 to 2009, double the average increase at the 75 urban districts eligible for the prize, reports U.S. News. “The district also slashed the achievement gap between low-income and Hispanic students and their more affluent, white peers.” And more students — especially Hispanics — are taking AP exams.

End. The Broad Prize. Now., writes Andy Smarick. In Houston and San Diego, one of the finalists for the prize, “only 10 percent of African American eighth graders can read proficiently!”

One of the prize’s four goals explains is: “Restore the public’s confidence in our nation’s public schools by highlighting successful urban districts.”

By praising such low performance, the Broad Prize doesn’t do a favor for public education. Instead, it serves to obscure the truth—that the urban district has been an unmitigated failure for 50 years—and to perpetuate a myth—that if we are to care about public education, we must commit ourselves in perpetuity to the district structure.

The Broad Foundation has been trying to fix urban districts rather than looking for alternative ways to educate disadvantaged city kids, writes Smarick. “We must build The Urban School System of the Future, not double down on the failed urban district of the past.”

Stop rewarding districts for getting to average, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

Chartering the future

“The traditional urban public school system is broken, and it cannot be fixed,” argues Andy Smarick on Education Gadfly. “It must be replaced by a network of charter schools.

Chartering’s systemic innovations have already shown that the district need not be the exclusive operator of all public schools. A wide array of organizations can deliver a public education. Chartering has also demonstrated that there can be variety and churn within public education: Diverse new schools can be continually created, failing schools can be closed, and great schools can be replicated and expanded.

 His new book, The Urban School System of the Future, argues that chartering “can form the core of a comprehensive and coherent new urban public education system.”

Study: Standards alone don’t lead to progress

“The greater rigor embedded in the new Common Core State Standards is likely to be squandered—with little effect on student achievement—if the standards themselves are not well-implemented, and if the content of the curriculum, instructional materials, classroom instruction, and professional development are not top-notch, integrated, and consistent with the standards,” write Michael Casserly in Pieces of the Puzzle. The study looks at at Charlotte-Mecklenberg, a consistently high-performing district, Atlanta and Boston, which have showed improvement in the last decade, and Cleveland, which hasn’t improved.