Tag: Magnet Schools

The Integration Mirage

If the Century Foundation and other advocates for socioeconomic integration are believed, Cambridge Public School in Massachusetts is supposedly the model for harmonious, high-quality educating of all children regardless of…

If the Century Foundation and other advocates for socioeconomic integration are believed, Cambridge Public School in Massachusetts is supposedly the model for harmonious, high-quality educating of all children regardless of background. This is because “73 percent of schools were balanced by race in the 2011–2012 school year” and 64 percent of them were “balanced” by socioeconomic status (including percentage of kids on free- and reduced-priced lunch plans). Declares Century in its lullaby to the school: “Cambridge remains a leader in school integration”.

Yet a Dropout Nation analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education offers a much different story than what Century and others want to promote. If anything, the rationing of opportunity for high-quality education is as much a problem in Cambridge and other districts considered successes of integration as they are in the nation’s most-highly segregated traditional districts.

Just 8.5 percent of Cambridge’s 577 Black high school students — 49 of them, to be exact — took Advanced Placement courses in 2013-2014. This is four times lower than the 34. 5 percent of White peers (226) taking the college preparatory coursework. [Sixteen-point-four percent of Latino high schoolers took AP that year.]

It gets only slightly better when it comes to access to calculus, trigonometry and other forms of advanced mathematics. Twenty eight-point-four percent of Black high schoolers took college-preparatory math in 2013-2014. But that still trailed the 48.4 percent of White peers who took those course. [Some 35.2 percent of Latino high school students took calculus and advanced math.]

The numbers got slightly better when it came to physics, a critical gateway course for science, technology, engineering and math careers. Thirty three-point-four percent of Black high schoolers took the course compared to 35.9 percent of White peers. But only 28.7 percent of Latino high schoolers took the course.

Meanwhile there is another form of denying opportunity that is pernicious within Cambridge — in the form of who gets put into its special ed ghettos. One out of every four Black children in Cambridge’s district — 25.9 percent of Black children in its care — are labeled special ed cases, as are 25.4 percent of Latino peers. This is almost double the (also far too high) 14.2 percent of White children placed into special ed. Based on those numbers, a Black or Latino child in Cambridge has a one-in-four chance of being denied the high-quality teaching and curricula they need for lifelong success.

Districts such as Stamford Public Schools are touted as examples of success in integration. But the data proves that illusory.

Even worse, the Black kids condemned to special ed are more-likely to be subjected to out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh traditional school discipline that ensure that they have a one-in-six chance of graduating from high school. Cambridge meted one or more out-of-school suspensions to 9.7 percent of Black children and 8.9 percent of Latino peers in Cambridge’s special ed ghettos; this is three times higher than the 3.5 percent out-of-school suspension rate for White peers.

For all of Century’s talk about Cambridge representing the success of socioeconomic integration, the data on equality of opportunity doesn’t support it. But this should be no surprise — especially to otherwise-sensible outfits such as the Center for American Progress (which released its own call for integration this week). Because integration has never proven to be the solution for the nation’s education crisis and its damage to the futures of poor and minority children that its proponents claim it to be.

Take the Jefferson County district in Louisville, Ky., another district that has been touted by Century and others for efforts on integration. Back in October, the foundation bemoaned an effort by the state legislature to end its “controlled choice” effort and allow families to send their kids to neighborhood schools. Just 11 percent of the district’s Black high schoolers and 18 percent of Latino peers accessed AP courses in 2013-2104, versus 28.5 percent of White high school students. Only 12 percent of Black high school students and 14.2 percent of Latino peers took calculus and advanced mathematics; this is lower than the 21.5 percent of White peers who accessed those courses.

Meanwhile the denial of high-quality education in the form of sending kids to special ed ghettos remains a problem. Fourteen-point. six percent of Black children are put into special ed, slightly higher than the 12.3 percent of White peers. [Only 6.4 percent of Latino children are condemned to special ed.] Yet Black children in special ed will suffer even worse than White peers when it comes to out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh school discipline. Jefferson County meted one or more out-of-school suspensions to 17.7 of Black children, compared to just 7.1 percent of White peers (and 10.2 percent of Latino students). Even when Black and White children are equally condemned to educational failure, they are not harmed in equal ways.

Another ‘model’ for integration is the Stamford district in Connecticut, which has been credited by Century for “remarkable success maintaining racially and socioeconomically desegregated schools”. Yet only 14 percent of Black high school students and 17 percent of their Latino peers took AP courses in 2013-2014, compared to 40.5 percent of White peers. Just 15.1 percent of Black high schoolers and 14.3 percent of Latino counterparts took calculus and other advanced math, two times lower than the 32.2 percent participation rate for White peers.

Meanwhile 19.1 percent of Black children and 12.6 percent of Latino peers were condemned to Stamford’s special ed ghettos. Only 9.2 percent of White children were denied high-quality education. Within those ghettos, Stamford meted one or more out-of-school suspensions to 13.3 percent of Black students and 6.6 percent of Latino peers. Just 3.3 percent of White students — 16 in all — were suspended one or more times that year.

Your editor can go on and on with each of the nine examples Century touts as models of success in socioeconomic integration — as well as point out other examples such as Clinton Separate School District in Mississippi. But that would be piling on. What the data points out is that for all the claims advocates make, socioeconomic integration doesn’t address the underlying issues that keep poor and minority children from receiving the high-quality teaching, curricula, and cultures they need for lifelong success.

Socioeconomic integration doesn’t deal with the reality that mixing Black and Latino faces into White spaces doesn’t address the myriad ways traditional districts deny opportunities to them. This includes the gatekeeping by school leaders, teachers and guidance counselors of gifted-and-talented programs that are the first steps towards kids attending AP and other college-preparatory courses, the low-quality instruction and curricula in regular classrooms that keep Black and Brown kids off the paths to success, and even selective high schools such as those of New York City, which Contributing Editor Michael Holzman has shown to be forms of “segregation by another name”.

Oddly enough, the magnet schools and other “controlled choice” models integration-as-school reform advocates often tout are among the worst offenders. One reason? Because they are as much used by districts as tools for luring and keeping White families at the expense of poor and minority children as they are mandated by courts for integration. [By the way: The power to use choice and high-quality education as a political tool is one reason why traditional districts oppose the expansion of charter schools in the first place.] Basically, magnets and controlled choice deny our most-vulnerable children access to high-quality education in the name of socioeconomic balance. Even worse, the approaches are no different in practice than the kinds of “curated segregation” that take place in many cities today.

There is a reason why charters have become the choice of so many Black families: Because of the opportunities for children to have their cultures and lives affirmed.

Integration also doesn’t address the failure to provide poor and minority children with teachers who are subject-matter competent and also care for them regardless of their background. As Dropout Nation noted last month, far too many Black and Brown children are taught by teachers who subject them to the not-so-soft-bigotry of low expectations, harming their chances for high school graduation and college completion. Nor does integration address the need to overhaul how we recruit, train, and compensate teachers, deal with the need to bring more talented Black people (including midcareer professionals ready to work with kids) into classrooms, or even the near-lifetime employment rules (in the form of tenure) and teacher dismissal policies that keep so many low-quality teachers in classrooms often filled with the descendants of enslaved Africans.

Addressing those underlying issues requires undertaking the kinds of teacher quality overhauls reformers have been pushing for the past two decades, ones that integration-as-school reform advocates often oppose. Put bluntly, it is difficult for your editor to take integration advocates seriously when they refuse to deal honestly with the consequences of policies and practices that allow educationally-abusive teaching to fester.

Meanwhile integration fails to address the restrictions on opportunity for poor and minority children that result from the traditional district model as well as the zoning policies and property tax-based finance systems on which it is sustained. Integration does absolutely nothing to address how districts use their dependence on property tax dollars to oppose the ability of poor and minority families in other communities (who finance those schools through state and federal dollars). Nor does it stop districts from using school zones and magnet schools as tools for denying opportunity to the Black and Brown families who live within them. And it definitely doesn’t stop White communities seeking to secede from integrated districts from doing so.

It’s long past time to break the ties between educational opportunity, property taxes and housing policy. This means moving away from a model of public education built upon districts and school boundaries (which integration merely overlays) to one in which states finance high-quality opportunities from which all children and families of all backgrounds can choose.

Finally, what integration advocates fail to admit is that their approach is patronizing to the very Black and Brown families for which they proclaim concern. This is because throughout American history, integration (along with its kissing cousin, assimilation, about which American Indians know all too well) has always been based on the racialist idea that Whiteness is superior, that White people are better, and that if it isn’t close to White or attended by White, then it is inferior, and by implication, should be destroyed.

Anyone who has gone to a Historically Black College and University, or been to a rural White school knows this isn’t true. Even worse, it is unconscionable and immoral for anyone to believe it or embrace it or perpetuate it. But the fiction remains as pernicious and destructive now as it was during the heyday of integration in the 1960s and 1970s when schools in Black communities were shut down instead of being provided with the resources they needed to serve children properly. If allowed to re-emerge, that thinking will damage the new efforts Black and Latino people are doing now to help their children succeed on their own terms.

For Black and Latino families who just want and deserve high-quality schools in the communities in which they live that also affirm their cultures, where their kids also go to schools with kids who look like them, where they know that they can succeed (even when they are told otherwise), integration remains what Charles Ogletree once called a false promise. Based on the data, their feelings are justified. They are also tired of having their children being forced to teach White people’s children how to treat them with respect, and exhausted with negotiating with White people for the resources their children are supposed to get by law. Those feelings are also well-deserved. Integration does nothing to affirm the people it is supposed to help.

If we want to build brighter futures for all children, especially those Black, Brown, and poor, we have to get to continue to overhaul the policies and practices that keep them from getting the knowledge they deserve. Focusing on integration as the solution merely papers over the hard work that must be done.

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Education As a Civil Right: It Includes School Choice


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Asking families and children to put up with mediocre schools  is almost criminal. It is just that simple. Keeping the families of our poor and minority kids shackled to dropout…

Asking families and children to put up with mediocre schools  is almost criminal. It is just that simple. Keeping the families of our poor and minority kids shackled to dropout factories and failure mills should most certainly be against the law. When defenders of the status quo say that families should not have a wide array of educational options available — be they traditional districts, public charters, private and parochial schools, or even online learning — they are essentially arguing that there should be no civil right to a high quality education. That argument is absolutely wrong on every moral and intellectual level.

Poor and minority families should not have to wait for these dropout factories to either shut down or be overhauled. Neither should middle-class families or anyone else. What these families deserve is the option to escape. They deserve school choice.

At this moment, for many families (and most-certainly for our poorest kids in urban and rural communities) choice doesn’t really exist. Most traditional districts continue to zone kids to particular schools, restricting their ability to escape low-performing schools. Even in cities such as Houston and Indianapolis that are home to numerous school districts, a child must still attend a zoned school even if a better traditional public option is right across the street from their home. When intra-district choice options — notably magnet schools — do exist, they usually end up being used by middle-class households, who use their strong political connections (and exploit ability tracking systems that serve as the gateways into such schools) to assure seats for their own children.

But it isn’t just about escaping the worst American public  education has to offer. Even in relatively better-performing (if often still mediocre) suburban schools, poor and minority kids are often afterthoughts in instruction and curricula. For them and their middle-class schoolmates, the need for options that better-suit their educational needs is one that most traditional districts just cannot meet.

We know that better options are emerging and some of our poor black, white and Latino families can walk with their feet. High-quality charter schools can improve student achievement, especially for poor and minority students. Are all charters high-quality? Certainly not. But most of the problem lies mostly with how schools are authorized and which agencies or groups handle the authorizing; high-quality charter school laws will lead to high-quality authorizers will foster the development of high-quality schools; low-quality charter school laws (such as those in Missouri), will lead to the converse. Solving those issues is a matter of improving regulations (and moving away from allowing traditional districts from serving as authorizers), not by restricting the growth of charters. Charters should be as plentiful in suburban communities as they increasingly are in our big cities.

School vouchers can help poor students attend private and parochial schools that succeed in improving their achievement. The options are already out there. Catholic diocesan schools have been serving as a way out for poor families for the past century; the average nine-year-old Catholic school student scored 8 percent higher on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress than his counterpart in a traditional district (and that gap remained constant among middle-school and high school students tested). Is it a perfect solution? No. The biggest problem of choice is providing poor families with the information they need to make high-quality choices. The other problem is that  there aren’t enough of them. The number of Catholic schools in the United States — 42 percent of which are located in big cities — has declined by 12 percent between the 1998-1999 and 2008-2009 school years, according to the National Catholic Educational Association.

But as seen in Milwaukee and in Florida, vouchers can help stimulate a market for new school options; more importantly, unlike traditional public schools, failing schools can also be shut down — especially when knowledgeable parents walk away from them with their feet. The solution is to the availability of school data, provide parents with resources for making better choices, and stronger oversight of schools, not restricting the options. (This also holds true for online learning options.)

The reality is that the traditional model of public education — school district bureaucracies, zoned schools and local control — is not only antiquated (if it ever worked at all), it also denies our poor and minority kids equal opportunities for high-quality education. If education is truly a civil right, then there should be no political restrictions on school choice. Wider array of school choices are always better than fewer and none. And opponents of full choice — a group that can sometimes include centrist Democrat school reformers opposed to vouchers — can’t offer strong and convincing arguments to the contrary.

The argument that public funding shouldn’t go to private or religious organizations doesn’t hold water: As the Thomas B. Fordham Institute pointed out in a 2008 report on reviving urban Catholic schools, the federal government already pours $3 billion annually into Catholic Charities alone. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Zelman ruling allows for vouchers. Centrist Democrat and progressive school reformers are more than happy to back charters, which are operated by nonprofit and even for-profit organizations. And billions of federal and state funds flow through our nation’s private universities — the choice options for aspiring collegians.

Nor can opponents appeal to history to continue justifying the restriction of choice. From Blaine amendments to the debate in the early 1960s over President John F. Kennedy’s effort to provide funding from the National Defense Education Act to Catholic and Jewish schools through loans, the opposition to the use of public money for parochial schools has had less to do with any honest objections than to religious bigotry. The old-school goal of immersing kids in a civic religion — be it the old Protestant-dominated version of a century ago or the more political ideology-tinged versions of the modern day — should be abandoned for the more-important goal of making sure children have the tools they need to take advantage of all the opportunities life in the global economy offers.

All this said, choice cannot work without the rest of civic society playing its part. African-American churches such as Floyd Flake’s Allen A.M.E., for example, have played strong roles in fostering charter schools. But they must take on the role long-occupied by the Roman Catholic Church and start their own parochial schools serving the very kids in the community whose souls they shepherd on Sundays. Charter school operators must improve the quality of their own offerings, innovate in training teachers and make parents the true kings and lead decision-makers in education they should be. And it may be time for black and Latino families to conduct their own homeschooling on a mass level, starting schools that serve kids in apartment complexes or even on just one block.

If defenders of the status quo truly want every child to receive a high-quality education, they need to abandon their opposition to school choice. Progressive and centrist Democrat school reformers must get over their squeamishness about vouchers. And we must all accept that choice is part of securing the civil right of high-quality education. There is no reform of American public education — and education cannot be a civil right — without school choice.

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