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January 18, 2017 standard

During the first part of Dropout Nation‘s study of the value of high school diplomas, we looked at graduation rates and eighth grade reading proficiency for Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. We will now look at five more districts: Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee, in the north, and Charlotte, North Carolina, and Duval County (Jacksonville), Florida, in the south.  As none of these had statistically significant Asian enrollments, we will consider only Black, Latino and White students.

Black student graduation rates are reported by these districts to the U.S. Department of Education as 64 percent in Cleveland, 77 percent in Detroit and 55 percent in Milwaukee; 87 percent in Charlotte and 71 percent in Duval County.  Latino students are reported as graduating at a rate of 61 percent in Cleveland, 81 percent in Detroit and 59 percent in Milwaukee; 80 percent in Charlotte and 74 percent in Duval County, while White students are reported as graduating at a rate of 82 percent in Cleveland, 62 percent in Detroit and 68 percent in Milwaukee; 94 percent in Charlotte and 81 percent in Duval County.

The difference between White graduation rates, on the one hand, and Black and Latino rates, on the other, is rather small, as these things go nationally, varying from about 20 points for Cleveland to about 10 points for the others, except for Detroit, where the difference is inverted—higher Black and Latino than White graduation rates. Charlotte’s graduation rate for Black students is higher than that for White students in the other districts.  Detroit’s graduation rate for White students is lower than that for Black students in all the other districts except Milwaukee.  All of these districts graduate most of their Black, Latino and White students.  Charlotte’s success in this matter is quite notable.

We can now assess the degree to which those districts are successful in actually educating those students, providing them with the skills and knowledge necessary for college and career preparation. Here, again, the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ assessment of eighth-grade reading proficiency will be the yardstick.

At eighth grade, 19 percent of Cleveland’s White students read at or above grade level (“Proficient” and “Advanced”), as compared to 12 percent of the district’s Latino students and just 8 percent of the district’s Black students. Too few of Detroit’s White students to measure tested at or above grade level, but 16 percent of the district’s Latino students and a quite astonishing 5 percent of the district’s Black students did so.  Charlotte’s results were 25 percent for Latino, 18 percent for Black, and 59 percent for White students scoring “Proficient” or above on eighth grade reading.  In Duval County, the district’s schools also taught just 18 percent of Black students to read proficiently by eighth grade, as compared to 30 percent of their Latino students and 41 percent of their White students.  Milwaukee did not report data for the most recent year.  In 2013 the district reported 7 percent of Black students, 19 percent of Latino students, and 29 percent of White students reading proficiently at eighth grade.

High schoolers in Cleveland’s district such as those at John Adams High are more-likely to graduate than to read at grade level.

Only Charlotte taught most of any group to read proficiently by eighth grade, 59 percent of its White students.  This was three times the level of the district’s Black students. Yet Charlotte’s results (and those of Duval County) compare well with those of Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee, which had results so bad for their Black students that chance effects may have accounted for any success in the districts’ reading efforts for them.

Now, with this information in hand, we can arrive at some kind of judgment of how well-educated are students receiving diplomas from these cities.

Comparing NAEP Eighth grade Reading Proficiency for the Charlotte groups, we found the following: NAEP Eighth grade Reading percent at or above grade level: 18 percent for Black students; 25 percent for Latino students; 59 percent for White students. And these for high school graduation rates: 87 percent for Black students; 80 percent for Latino students; 94 percent for White students. Dividing the high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we find these ratios:  4.8 for Black students; 3.2 for Latino students; 1.6 for White students.

Close to twice the percentage of White students, more than three times the percentage of Latino students and nearly five times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Charlotte schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.

For Cleveland, we found the following for NAEP Eighth grade Reading percentages at or above grade level: eight percent for Black students; 12 percent for Latino peers; 19 percent for White students. The high school graduation rates? Sixty-four percent for Black students; 61 percent for Latino peers; and 82 percent for White students. Dividing these high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we find these ratios: 8.0 for Black students; 5.1 for Latino students; and 4.3 for White students.

More than four times the percentage of White students, five times the percentage of Latino students and eight times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Cleveland schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.

For Detroit, we found the following for the two groups for which we have NAEP Eighth grade Reading percentages at or above grade level:  Five percent for Black students and 16 percent for Latino peers. The high school graduation rates:  Seventy-seven percent for Black students and 81 percent for Latino peers. Dividing the high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we get these ratios: For Black students, it’s 15.4, and for Latino peers, 5.1.

More than five times the percentage of Latino students and more than fifteen times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Detroit schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.

For Duval County , we found the following for NAEP Eighth grade Reading percentages at or above grade level: Eighteen percent for Black students; 30 percent for Latino peers; and 41 percent for White students. And this for high school graduation rates:  Seventy-one percent for Black students; 74 percent for Latino students; and 81 percent for White students. Dividing these high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we find these ratios: For Black students, 3.9; Latino students, 2.5; and 1.99 for White peers.

Twice the percentage of White students, two and a half times the percentage of Latino students and four times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Duval County schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.

Finally for Milwaukee, we found the following for NAEP Eighth grade Reading percentages at or above grade level: Seven percent for Black students; 19 percent for Latino peers; and 29 percent for White students. This for high school graduation rates:  Fifty-five percent for Black students; 59 percent for Latino peers; and 68 percent for White students. Dividing these high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we find these ratios: Black students, 7.9; Latino students, 3.1; and 2.3 for White students.

More than twice the percentage of White students, three times the percentage of Latino students and eight times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Milwaukee schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.

On average, then, these districts graduate about two and a half times the percentage of White students than are reading at grade level in middle school, while they graduate nearly four times that of Latino students and eight times that of Black students.  Unless remarkable gains are made in reading proficiency in the schools of these cities between grades 8 and 12, there is only a one in eight chance that their Black high school graduates read at grade level, one in four that their Latino graduates do so and less than fifty-fifty that their White diploma recipients can read proficiently. (And given national data, it is unlikely that there are enough gains, if any, between grades 8 and 12 to make a difference.) Of course, those students who are not given diplomas will face bleak futures indeed.

Given the NAEP data on reading proficiency, there is a reasonable assumption that most graduates from the Charlotte, Cleveland, Detroit, Duval County and Milwaukee, like those from the Chicago, New York and Philadelphia systems, and, in particular, their Black and Latino students, initially enroll in community colleges. According to the most recent National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report, just 29 percent of White, 30 percent of Latino and 20 percent of Black students graduated within 150 percent of normal time in two-year postsecondary institutions. Or, in other words, 80 percent of Black, and 70 percent of Latino and White students who attempted an Associates degree were not prepared to succeed.

In Charlotte, Cleveland, Detroit, Duval County and Milwaukee, as in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, the vast majority of Black and Latino are either not graduating or are being handed diplomas that mean little. Those diplomas falsely represent preparation for adult life, for further education and training. They are false promises.

The federal government has recently taken a firm line with private vocational schools that give out worthless diplomas.  It might be appropriate for the U.S. Department of Education to do something similar with districts that give diplomas to their students whom they have qualified for little beyond remedial education.

December 14, 2016 standard

If the signs reflecting stagnant student achievement in the US were only coming from the Program for International Assessment, I might not be as worried as I am. You know the argument: Since our standards are not generally aligned with those of PISA and our teachers thus don’t teach to them, PISA results may not be an accurate measure of teaching and learning in these United States.

The problem is that PISA trends have begun to mirror – at least broadly – what we have seen in the last decade in our own National Assessment of Educational Progress. From 2009-2015, we saw absolute stagnation in the NAEP. One can see this generally in both national and state trends. Shockingly, even in the vast majority of states that were deemed as “doing things right” by the federal government and given additional funds under the Race to the Top program, there were no gains. This is contrast to the gains we made from 1999 to 2009, especially during the full implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act.

While one wants to be very careful about asserting cause or correlation, there are similar patterns in the PISA results. The 15-year-olds in the US who were assessed in science and math on the PISA improved from 2006 to 2009 by 13 points. Had our students made similar gains in subsequent years, we would have passed PISA averages and the results of many nations that have been ahead of us in the past.

Yet, from 2009-2015, US students fell back on PISA, by a depressing 18 points in math and 6 points in science. Thus, over the decade, we lost half our earlier gain in science and the entire gain and another 5 points in math. This backward motion is no way to catch up against our competitors. It certainly is no way to excel.

There are – to be sure – some data in PISA that show a decade-long improvement in the achievement of our lowest-performing students.  This could be a sign that the No Child Left Behind Act’s emphasis on addressing achievement gaps continued to provide great benefits beyond the years of full implementation. But we don’t see a positive impact at any percentile level or in the overall achievement data. So, this little piece of progress is positive but of too little comfort to overcome the significant losses we experienced in the past six years.

The big question arises: what caused this recent stagnation in both NAEP and PISA?

We must be modest in trying to answer that question. There are no scientific studies that are definitive. We do not know causality with certainty. But we can suggest hypotheses, based on earlier research and reason that merit consideration.

We know that, as indicated in abundant research, that accountability drives improvement in student achievement. Accountability in the states and the nation reached its high point in the late 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century. And student achievement gains in that period far exceeded those of both prior and subsequent years.

But starting in 2009, the Obama Administration began weakening the accountability measures contained in No Child. Instead of addressing aspects of the law that could have been fixed with simple tweaks (or with a full reauthorization), the administration’s leadership at the U.S. Department of Education granted waivers that allowed states to water down accountability requirements in numerous important ways. Tragically, the waivers that brought about the weakening proved to be a true pig in a poke. Accountability was significantly lost, and the “reforms” for which it was waived either have never materialized beyond the paper they were written on or have gradually dissipated.

It’s particularly sad that the only “good news” that’s cited in the midst of these awful recent trends is the improvement in graduation rates. Yet, grad rates are the consummate lagging indicator. All the graduates who walked the stage since 2009 and by 2015 were 7th graders or older in 2009. There’s little evidence that policy in recent years improved the graduation of these students – and even worse, there is some evidence that states are once again gaming graduation rates. Instead of unjustified high fives, we ought to worry that our reduced accountability since 2009 will actually retard further improvements in graduation rates as today’s students approach high school.

I regret being pessimistic. But the truth is I see things getting worse in future years.

Awful recent policy decisions, such as the so-called Every Student Succeeds Act, will weaken accountability and slow progress even more. Unbelievably, the newest ideas flowing from this past election cycle may portend a less coherent and more harmful policy going forward. All this has yet to be “baked in the cake.” So, is it possible that we’ll see greater deterioration in future NAEP and PISA results? I believe we will.

December 13, 2016 standard

Your editor isn’t exorcised, as some reformers and charter school advocates seem to be, about Friday’s New York Times report that fewer homeless children attend the Big Apple’s public charter schools than traditional districts. Nor do I think that Kate Taylor’s report is some sort of “hit piece” on the charter operators such as the deservedly-controversial Success Academy, as those reformers, as well as editorialists at the New York Post, think it is.

Save for a brief mention of one of Success’ charter schools, as well as a quote from the operator’s public relations staff noting its outreach to 30 homeless shelters throughout the city, Taylor didn’t give the outfit much consideration at all. What she did do was honestly note that there was some pretty legitimate reasons why only homeless children made up seven percent of enrollment versus 10 percent for the Big Apple’s traditional district. One reason: The lottery system of charter admissions which often disadvantages homeless children and their families. Based on that reason alone, reformers can actually make a strong case for expanding the number of charters serving children in the Big Apple; more charters equal greater opportunities for all families, especially those who are homeless, to choose high-quality schools fit for their kids.

But that point, of course, got lost amid the rancor that once again, Taylor, who broke news over the last two years about Success Academy’s woeful overuse of harsh school discipline, once again mentioned the outfit in her reporting. The chain’s public relations chief, Ann Powell, unsuccessfully tried to argue that homeless children make up nine percent of overall enrollment, a point shot down by Taylor (who came bearing receipts). As you would expect, traditionalists also tried to weigh, including American Federation of Teachers President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten, who discreetly tweeted out the Times piece to her rabid band of followers.

Yet the much more-interesting story, one that both traditionalists and reformers have danced around, isn’t about whether or not charter schools are serving fewer children. It’s about whether homeless children are being served properly at all by traditional and other public schools within American public education. The sobering answers should force all of us who care about the futures of children to help more of our most-vulnerable gain the high-quality education they need and deserve.

Two-point-five million children, or 3.4 percent of all children 17 and younger were homeless in 2013, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data conducted by the American Institutes for Research. Of them, 1.2 million of them (or 49 percent of all homeless children) attending America’s traditional district and charter schools, making up 2.4 percent of all children attending public schools that year.

More often than not, the parents of these children themselves are poorly-educated. As Angela R. Fertig of the University of Georgia and David Reingold of Indiana University noted in a 2006 national study of homelessness in 21 cities based on data from the federal Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, one out of every two homeless mothers surveyed a year after entering the survey were high school dropouts (as were 40 percent of mothers who were “doubled-up” or sharing residences with other households). Four out of every ten homeless men and women in Los Angeles were high school dropouts, according to a 2004 study by the Weingart Center.

Seven percent of homeless children are considered “unaccompanied” or without a parent or guardian. As with children in foster care, this group of kids especially struggle in American public education because there is no caring adult who can advocate for them, much less care for them outside of schoolhouse doors. Another 15 percent are English Language Learners; these children end up being especially vulnerable because of their struggles with English fluency and literacy.

What happens to these children once they get into American public education? They often end up on the path to academic and social failure.

Just 77 percent of homeless children were regularly enrolled in school. Even when they can register for school, showing up can be an arduous task. Thirty-six percent of homeless children attending New York City’s public schools were chronically absent (or missing more than 18 days of the school year) in 2013-2014, according to a study by the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness.

The result for homeless children is condemnation to the worst public education offers. As Amy Dworsky, a researcher at the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall, pointed out in a 2008 study, 22 percent of homeless children in Chicago were labeled as special ed cases, often at twice the rate of students from more-stable homes depending on grade level. Nationally, 20 percent of homeless children are labeled special ed cases, seven percentage points lower than the national average, according to the National Center for Homeless Education. The condescension experienced by families with greater levels of affluence is magnified for mothers and fathers struggling to find housing and with getting better education for their kids.

For homeless children, American public education can often exacerbate their instability.

In turn, these children are less-likely to get the high-quality education they need for lifelong success. Seventy five-point-three percent of all homeless children in grades three-through-high school read below proficient (or grade level) as measured on state tests, according to NCHE. Given that proficiency cut scores on state tests are usually far lower than the standards set by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, it means that even more homeless children are struggling with literacy.

Even worse, the likelihood of these children graduating from high school (or even being ready for success in the traditional colleges, technical schools and apprenticeships that make up American higher education) is slim to none. In the Big Apple, just 52 percent of homeless high schoolers in the Class of 2015 graduated on time, 18.5 percentage points lower than the city’s overall graduation rate.

As with other aspects of poverty, homelessness doesn’t have to be academic or social destiny. As ICPH points out, 89 percent of homeless high school students in New York City who are put into stable housing and school conditions graduate on time. This is 37 percentage points higher than the average. So why do so many homeless children struggle?

One reason why: Zip Code Education policies that require families to prove residency in a traditional district, something that homeless families cannot possibly provide. The rules violate the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (part of what is now the Every Student Succeeds Act), which requires schools to allow children to attend school in their “school of origin” so long as they remain homeless (and allows for the child to remain in school, whether or not he lives with their parents or “has been temporarily placed elsewhere”).

But districts such as that of Hawaii (the only one that serves an entire state) and Steelton-Highspire in Pennsylvania often violate the law with impunity — and few families have the resources to file suit to hold them accountable. [That the federal government spends just $49.35 for every homeless child through McKinney-Vento, versus $1,743 for each kid condemned to special ed, ensures that districts will focus their time on where the money’s at.]

As mentioned earlier, the lack of high-quality charter schools and caps on the expansion of them essentially mean that homeless children end up being bereft of options. But it isn’t just about expanding choice. McKinney-Vento requires all public schools to provide transportation so that homeless children can attend school. Yet just 15 of the 42 states in which charter schools are allowed to operate require either the operators (or the district that authorizes it) to provide transportation. For homeless children in New Orleans (in which charters serve 92 percent of all students) and Detroit (where 53 percent of students attend them), this means choice is illusory.

Another problem lies with the failure mills that often serve homeless children (and in many cases, served their parents long ago). In New York, just 26 percent of third-graders in districts with high levels of homeless children read at proficient levels on the Empire State’s battery of standardized tests in 2013-2104, worse than the already-abysmal 34 percent level for districts with low levels of homeless children, according to ICPH. The lack of high-quality teaching and curricula combine with the instability at home to foster academic disengagement.

Meanwhile the very lack of nurturing school cultures for children in the nation’s foster care ghettos — a subject of a Dropout Nation commentary five years ago — is also a problem for homeless youth. The lack of teachers with both empathy for all children as well as strong subject-matter competency that damages all poor and minority children is especially tough on those without homes. That districts, including New York City, as well as charter schools, struggle mightily with addressing the particular needs of these children means that homeless children find themselves isolated from peers who don’t have to worry about sleeping in shelters or “double-up” in temporary housing.

Certainly, as your editor noted four years ago, systemic reform can’t address all of the issues that feed into homelessness. The issues of mental illness, housing policy, and even welfare play prominent roles in making the lives of homeless children even less secure than they should be. As with so much about poverty, homelessness is explained by neither the Poverty or Personal Responsibility myths perpetuated by so many hardcore progressive traditionalists and conservative reformers.

At the same time, there are concrete things school reformers, both in New York and in the rest of the nation, can do to help our most-vulnerable.

One critical step starts with districts and charters working together (as well as on their own) to meet their obligations under McKinney-Vento. The common school applications now being used in Newark and other cities can be used to get much-needed information on the needs of homeless children. Another step lies with transportation. Last year, Center for Reinventing Public Education highlighted the need for charters to address transportation; the obligations under McKinney-Vento make it paramount that charter operators to team up with districts or with each other to improve the ability of homeless families and others to exercise choice for their children.

As your editor mentioned, expanding charters and other forms of choice is critical to providing homeless children with high-quality and caring school cultures. At the same time, they should team up with organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union to ensure that all public schools serve homeless children. As you can expect, such suits won’t be welcomed by conservative and centrist Democrat reformers within the movement for various reasons. But reformers can’t claim to work zealously for all children if they won’t use all the tools available to help them get justice in and out of classrooms.

Reformers can also team up with the grassroots organizations, churches  and even courts who deal with homeless children on improving the quality of instruction, leadership, curricula, reading remediation, and school cultures in schools. Working with advocates for homeless children to ensure that unaccompanied children are given support is also important. These steps would also further the other reforms that the movement has been advancing for so long. Especially at a time in which federal action will be limited at best (and, given the incoming Trump Administration, corrosive at worst), such activities build alliances for transforming the futures of all children.

Homeless children, both in New York City, and the rest of the nation, deserve better. The bickering over news reports would be better-utilized toward actually helping our most-vulnerable at all times.

Featured photo courtesy of the New York Times.

December 6, 2016 standard

Yesterday’s mistrial in the proceedings against former North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager for murdering Walter Scott wasn’t shocking. After all, the jury had announced the Friday before that one juror declined to find Slager guilty. Just as importantly, even in cases such as that of Scott in which there is irrefutable videotaped evidence of rogue policing, jurors rarely find cops guilty for misconduct and wrongfully using deadly force. Considering that cases such as that of Scott and Eric Garner (whose murderer, New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, was allowed to go free by a grand jury) are rarely adjudicated, it is amazing that Slager was indicted at all. The good news, if that can be claimed, is that at least six people thought Slager should be convicted — and that the district attorney in the case will retry him again.

All that said, it is impossible to understate the pain Scott’s family is going through. They lost their loved one in what should be the enjoyable years of middle age all because Slager, who had already been cited in two complaints for abusive behavior with tasers, decided to stop him for a broken brake light, then murder him in broad daylight. Slager brutally slain a man for no reason other than for his own ego — and for that, he deserves nothing less than God’s judgement and prison time. And Scott’s family continues to need our prayers for them to find justice and peace beyond understanding.

For communities black and brown, the mistrial was just another reminder that their chances of gaining any measure of human justice, especially when they are victimized by rogue police officers, is slim to none. It is also a reminder that black men often take the brunt of harm in their interactions with law enforcement; numerous studies, including the controversial analysis from Harvard’s Roland Fryer, have shown consistently that cops are more-likely to be stop and subject black men to harsh force regardless of incident than they are against white peers. Which puts black men at higher risk of ending up in body bags.

What does the Slager mistrial have to do with school reformers? Plenty. As I wrote two years ago, you can’t proclaim to be a champion for all children if you are not championing them at all times. After all, you can only reach people when your care and consideration for the matters of their greatest concern. Just as importantly, the school reform movement cannot sustain its efforts without support from communities who are also dealing with the other issues that result from (and contribute to) low-quality education.

As you already know, there are many in the school reform movement who disagree with this assessment. Within this year alone, folks such as Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute have complained that efforts by peers to support criminal justice reform — especially the Black Lives Matter movement that emerged in 2014 after the murder of Michael Brown — is essentially an effort to push conservative reformers out of school reform altogether. For folks like him, the emergence of civil rights-oriented reformers into the vanguard essentially crowds out the more-conservative thinking that has long-dominated the movement.

Other conservative reformers such as Jay P. Greene argue that even discussing Black Lives Matter and social justice issues causes division when the focus should only be on transforming education. As far as Greene and his colleagues are concerned, the last thing reformers need to do is engage in discussing matters on which there is no consensus and therefore, becomes harder to rally support for solutions to the nation’s education crisis.

As far as Pondiscio’s argument is concerned, there isn’t really more to say other than you can’t call for ideological diversity (as he has) and then complain when you get it. As Pondiscio’s former colleague at Fordham, Kathleen Porter-Magee, rightfully argues, embracing new voices and new ideas is critical to systemic reform. More importantly, we should be as morally concerned about stopping state-sanctioned racism civil rights against black and brown children and their families as we are about failure mills that also damage their lives and futures.

As for Greene’s point: It is pure nonsense. One of the most-interesting aspects of the criminal justice reform movement is that it has been as championed by many conservatives and libertarians (including Radley Balko of the Washington Post, Jonathan Blanks of the Cato Institute, Congressman Justin Amash, and Atlantic Monthly‘s Conor Friedensdorf) as it has been by progressives and Black Lives Matter activists. Cato, in particular, is holding a conference this week tackling such issues as mass incarceration and militarization of police departments (including those harming children in our schools).

If conservatives and libertarians who spend little time on education can find common cause with Black Lives Matter activists, why can’t those who are primarily concerned with building brighter futures for children?

Meanwhile there is another reason why reformers should work together with criminal justice reform advocates that has become more-important than ever: The threat to the movement’s very aims posed by the incoming administration of Donald Trump.

As Dropout Nation has argued repeatedly last month, the President-Elect’s appointment of longtime reformer Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education (as well as the association of some conservative reformers with the transition) threatens to associate the laudable goal of helping poor and minority families gain access to high-quality educational opportunities with an incoming administration already associated with bigotry, nativism, and anti-Semitism. This isn’t just a threat to choice. The success of the movement itself continues to depend on a bipartisan and socioeconomically diverse coalition that includes progressives, Centrist Democrats, and black civil rights activists for whom bigotry against children black and brown is a major concern.

Tackling criminal justice reform — which will be opposed at every turn by the incoming Trump Administration — is an important way to signal bipartisanship as well as show poor and minority communities that we will stand up for them.

This isn’t to say that reformers shouldn’t focus most of their time on transforming American public education. That is paramount. But there are plenty of ways reformers can partner with criminal justice reform advocates on addressing the rogue policing and criminalization of lives black and brown that affect the lives of our children as much as laggard and criminally abusive teachers.

As your editor noted yesterday in the analysis of National Education Association’s political spending, the union has figured out that putting a little money toward something as simple as a ballot initiative can win allies among progressives for their cause of defending their influence over education policymaking. Reformers can do similar things. Write letters in support of legislation calling for abolishing the use of grand juries in use of deadly force cases. Back ballot measures on such criminal justice reform matters as the use of traffic tickets (which necessitate traffic stops) to generate revenue for municipal coffers. Even endorse criminal reform-minded candidates running for district attorney posts and state legislative seats.

Reformers can also work together with criminal justice reform advocates on addressing the prominent role American public education plays in putting kids on the path to prison.

Remember this: Schools account for three out of every 10 status cases referred to juvenile courts in 2011, the second-highest source of referrals after law enforcement, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice. This is particularly problematic because juvenile court judges are ill-equipped to deal with matters that should be handled by schools, and juvenile jails are often beset by incidents of sexual assault and other abuse. Reformers can easily work with Black Lives Matter activists and others to reduce (if not end altogether) the number of children put on the path to courtrooms and jails.

One way to do this: End the overuse of harsh traditional school discipline. Decades of studies from researchers such as Russell Skiba of Indiana University have determined that overuse of suspensions are harmful to student achievement, especially for children from poor and minority households (including black students) who disproportionately suspended at higher rates (and often for minor offenses) than white peers. When districts over-suspend poor and minority children, they perpetuate perceptions among law enforcement and the wider community that black and Latino children are only criminals. Just as importantly, as Dropout Nation has noted time and time and time again, the overuse of harsh school discipline allows lets teachers and school leaders off the hook for their failures to address underlying issues such as illiteracy that lead to children acting out.

Supporting solutions on this front — from new concepts such as restorative justice, to existing efforts such as overhauling how we recruit, train, and evaluate teachers, even to recruiting and supporting talented collegians and mid-career professionals of minority backgrounds to work with kids who look like them — help children both in and out of school.

Reformers can even help criminal justice reform advocates by sharing the lessons they have learned about tackling teacher quality and contract issues. This is already happening. The police union contract database developed by Campaign Zero, the outfit formed by the cadre of Black Lives Matter activists that include Deray McKesson and Brittany Packnett, is modeled in part off National Council on Teacher Quality’s famed TR3 database. Reformers can use their experiences in developing alternative teacher training regimes to help their counterparts address how cops are recruited and trained — a key culprit behind the murders of Scott, Tamir Rice, and other black lives.

Now, more than ever, reformers have opportunities to work hand-in-hand with other advocates in building brighter futures for all of our children. It is our moral duty to ensure that our children grow up with the knowledge they need for success in adulthood — and can live safely in their communities without threat by police officers consumed by dark desires to engage in thuggery, bigotry, and venality.

December 2, 2016 standard

The National Center for Education Statistics has now released graduation rates for US school districts, disaggregated for the usual racial and ethnic groups, but not by gender. For the purposes of this analysis, those rates will be used as given.

Much progress has been made in standardizing calculations for high school graduation rates and although there remain local oddities, such as a proliferation of types of high school diplomas, particularly in the South, the overall situation is such as to allow a sharper focus on individual districts. We can, then, look at three typical large urban districts—Chicago, New York and Philadelphia—with at least a first order degree of confidence that we are looking at similar data among them. (Chicago’s graduation rate calculations have been questioned—certain groups are said to be excluded—but that discussion can be put aside for another occasion.)

Asian students are reported to graduate at a rate of 91 percent in Chicago, 83 percent in New York City and 80 percent in Philadelphia.  Black student graduation rates are reported as 71 percent in Chicago, 64 percent in New York City and 65 percent in Philadelphia.  Latino students are reported as graduating at a rate of 80 percent in Chicago, 61 percent in New York and 53 percent in Philadelphia, while White students are reported as graduating at a rate of 87 percent in Chicago, 81 percent in New York City and 71 percent in Philadelphia.

The difference between Asian and White graduation rates, on the one hand, and Black and Latino rates, on the other, varies from 15 to 20 percentage points, with Chicago showing the least difference and New York City the greatest difference.  The greatest differences between districts are those in nearly every case between the relatively better rates for Chicago and relatively worse rates for Philadelphia (but see proviso above).

Those graduation rates are indications of the success, or lack of it, for each of these districts in providing their students with diplomas.  How, then, can we assess the degree to which those districts are successful in educating those students, providing them with the skills and knowledge necessary for college and career preparation?

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is of some help in this. The cliché description of NAEP’s data is that it is “the gold standard,” and there is little doubt that its assessments are accurate. Unfortunately, NAEP does not provide district data for its 12th grade assessments.  Therefore, Dropout Nation uses the assessment at eighth grade, selecting among the many subject-area assessments that which is most fundamental, reading.  At grade eight, 63 percent of Chicago’s White students read at or above grade level (“Proficient”), as compared to 24 percent of the district’s Latino students and just 13 percent of the district’s Black students. (There are too few Asian students in the Chicago schools for NAEP to assess.) 46 percent of New York City’s White students and 26 percent of Philadelphia’s White students test at or above grade level in grade eight, as do 15 percent of New York City’s and 9 percent of Philadelphia’s Black students.  Twenty-two percent of New York’s Latino students and 11 percent of Philadelphia’s Latino students test at grade level, as do 41 percent of New York’s and 44 percent of Philadelphia’s Asian students.

Philadelphia is clearly failing to teach reading to most of its students — a remarkable three-quarters of its White students and over 90 percent of its Black students are below grade level in reading on NAEP’s grade 8 evaluation. And although Chicago’s success with White Students is impressive, it fails to teach over 85 percent of its Black students this fundamental skill.

We can, with this information, throw some light on the question of how well-educated are those students receiving diplomas from these three cities.

Comparing NAEP Grade 8 Reading Proficiency for the New York City groups, we found the following for the four largest racial/ethnic groups: NAEP eighth-grade reading percent at or above grade level:  Forty-one percent of Asians, 15 percent of Black students; 22 percent of Latino students; and 46 percent of White students. By the way: the graduation rates are t83 percent for Asian students, 64 percent for Black students, 61 percent for Latino students, and 81 percent for White students.  Dividing the high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we find these ratios: Two-point-zero for Asian students; 4.3 for Black students; 2.8 percent for Latino students, and 1.8 percent for White students.

Twice the percentage of Asian and White students, three times the percentage of Latino students and more than four times the percentage of Black students graduate from the New York City schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.

For Philadelphia, we found the following for NAEP Grade 8 Reading percentages at or above grade level: Forty-four percent for Asians; nine percent for Black students; 11 percent for Latino students; and 26 percent for Whites. And this for high school graduation rates:  Eighty percent for Asians; 65 percent for Black students; 53 percent for Latinos students; and 71 percent for Whites. Dividing these high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we find these ratios: Two-point-eight for Asians; 6.9 for Black students; 4.6 for Latinos; and 2.8 for whites.

Nearly three times the percentage of Asian and White students, almost five times the percentage of Latino students and nearly seven times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Philadelphia schools as are reading at grade level in eighth grade.

For Chicago, we found the following for the three racial/ethnic groups for which we have NAEP Grade 8 Reading percentages at or above grade level:  Thirteen percent for Black students; 24 percent for Latino students; and 62 percent for White students. And these for high school graduation rates:  Seventy-one percent for Black students; 80 percent for Latino students; and 87 percent for White students. Dividing the high school graduation rates by the NAEP reading percentages, we get these ratios: Five-point-three for Black students; 3.3 for Latino students; and 1.4 for White students.

Nearly half again the percentage of White students, more than three times the percentage of Latino students and more than five times the percentage of Black students graduate from the Chicago schools as are reading at grade level in grade 8.

On average, then, these three districts graduate about twice the percentage of Asian and White students than are reading at grade level in middle school, while they graduate three-and-a-half times that of Latino students and five and-a-half that of Black students.

What happens to these recipients of high school diplomas from the Chicago, New York and Philadelphia schools?  Do those diplomas mean that they were educated by their schools so as to be career and college-ready?

Nationally, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 83 percent of recent Asian high school completers enrolled in a two or four year post-secondary institution, as did 71 percent of White, 69 percent of Latino and 56 percent of Black recent high school graduates. Given the NAEP data on reading proficiency, there is a reasonable assumption that most graduates from the Chicago, New York and Philadelphia systems, and, in particular, their Black and Latino students, initially enroll in community colleges. Again, according to the most recent NCES report, 34 percent of Asian, 29 percent of White, 30 percent of Latino and 20 percent of Black students graduated within 150 percent of normal time in two-year postsecondary institutions.

Or, in other words, 80 percent of Black, 70 percent of Latino and White and 66 percent of Asian students who attempted an Associates degree were not prepared to succeed.  This accords with reports that in New York City, 80 percent of community college students require reading and math remediation.

There is another way of putting this.  In Chicago, New York and Philadelphia—and likely in other large cities—the vast majority of Black and Latino are either not graduating or are being handed diplomas that mean little.  Those that receive diplomas graduate without necessary basic skills.  Of the half to two-thirds who receive diplomas, another half or two-thirds—a quarter or a third of those who began high school—enroll in college.  Of those, one-fifth to one-third graduate in the time expected, that is, 5 percent to 11 percent of the entering high school classes.

These college numbers are from national statistics.  It is probably worse than that for Black and Latino students in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, as well as for peers in Cleveland, Detroit and Memphis.

The first step toward improving this situation is for districts to be honest about their data, in this case, honest when giving out diplomas. The following steps are well-known: providing resources for lower income and especially Black and Latino students at least as generously as they are provided by their schools and families for students from higher income families.  If these things are not done, one can only conclude that those who could do them do not wish to do so.

Down that path is a society divided between a steadily shrinking, and aging, wealthy America and an increasing, and increasingly impoverished, other America: Black, Brown and, yes, White as well.

August 23, 2016 standard

Aleppo, once, but perhaps not still, the largest city in Syria, is divided into one section occupied by President Assad’s government of Syria and another besieged section.  Recently, Russian airplanes have been bombing the latter, causing deaths and immense suffering to children as well as adults. The story runs on the news, worldwide, every day.  The United Nations and other entities are in nearly continuous session to consider what can be done.

Milwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin, is divided as starkly into two sections: one White, one non-White. According to one of a recent series of articles in The New York Times, schools in metropolitan Milwaukee “are as segregated now as they were in 1965. Nearly three in four black students attend schools where at least 90 percent of the students are not white . . . Only 15.7 percent of Milwaukee Public School students tested proficient in reading in 2013-14, and 20.3 percent in math . . . Nearly one out of every eight black men in Milwaukee County has served time behind bars . . . The black unemployment rate in Milwaukee County is 20 percent, nearly three times greater than for white people.”

That sounds familiar.  Nearly three years ago, in a Dropout Nation essay, I compared Milwaukee to Mississippi. The bad news is that Mississippi came out better. Back then, I pointed out such data as:

  • More than 40 percent of Black families with children in Milwaukee had incomes below the poverty line.
  • The median household income of Black families in Milwaukee was $26,600. The poverty line for a family of four in Wisconsin was $23,550.
  • Seventy percent of male Black students in Milwaukee scored at the Below Basic level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress Grade 8 Reading examination. For most purposes that meant they couldn’t read.
  • Of the 3,100 male Black students in grade 9 in the 2007-08 school year in Milwaukee, 1,300 made it to grade 12 by 2010-11 (42 percent).
  • Wisconsin’s incarceration rate for Black people was 4,416 per 100,000, ten times the rate at which it imprisoned White people.

Some things have improved. The percentage of male Black eighth-graders in Milwaukee schools who can read at grade level has increased from three percent to four percent.  At this rate, most Black male eighth-graders will be able to read at grade level by the year 2100, give or take a few years.

On the other hand, of the 2,506 Black male ninth-graders in the 2010-11 school year, 1,004 made it to senior year of high school by 2013-14 (a drop from 42 percent to 40 percent). At that rate, by the year 2100 no male Black students would be promoted from freshman to senior year.

The percentage of Black families with children with incomes below the poverty line has increased from 40 percent to 47 percent. The median household income for Black families in Milwaukee has declined to $24,967 (just above the current poverty line for a family of four of $24,300).

The Times article emphasized housing segregation, using as its human interest hook an affluent Black family to illustrate the ghettoization of Black families achieved by redlining of loans and White hostility.  A nearly simultaneous Boston Globe op-ed focused on the way that now-Governor Scott Walker has manipulated mass transit to isolate Black residents of Milwaukee and increase Black unemployment.  There is little or no access to mass transit for Black residents of Milwaukee and, as Lois Quinn and her colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, have demonstrated for years, driving while Black in the area is a gateway to mass incarceration.

Milwaukee is not Aleppo. County Sheriff Clarke is not President Assad. Governor Walker is not Putin. It is more banal than that. Black men in Milwaukee have faced incarceration and unemployment as normal events for many years now.  Black families have been forced to live in restricted and deteriorating neighborhoods as a matter of routine.  Black children have been forced into schools that do not educate them—for many years now.  This goes on, year after year.  It is normal.  No conferences are called.  Unless there is violence, as there was recently, occasioning the articles in the Times and the Globe, there are no headlines in the mainstream media.

When will something be done? What is to be done?  Who is to do it?

Speaking of President Putin, about ten years ago he crushed a rebellion in the region of Chechnya, killing large numbers of people and leveling the city of Grozny, which was then rebuilt, sparing no expense. One can imagine Governor Walker sending uniformed forces into Milwaukee with Ferguson-style armored vehicles. One can imagine the Black neighborhoods of the city burning.  However, one cannot imagine Governor Walker and his supporters subsequently rebuilding those neighborhoods, improving the schools, ending redlining and mass incarceration.

They have had plenty of time to do those things. It is quite evident that they like things the way they are.