As highlighted on Last Week Tonight, there's no school racism/segregation like Northern racism/segregation
Having had the chance to read an early copy of Lucinda Rosenfeld's new book, CLASS, last weekend, I wanted to be sure to recommend it to you as quickly as possible -- even though you may not be able to get a hold of a copy for a little while longer and despite the fact that I hope to interview Rosenfeld about her novel in the next few days.
Without giving too much away, the novel tells the story of a college-educated white family in Brooklyn whose condo is zoned for a local school whose demographics and test scores have not kept up with the gentrification of the surrounding neighborhood.
[This happens all the time when neighborhoods gentrify, and is so predictable (and often upsetting to many of those involved) that I long ago proposed that it would be smart to change federal education funding to ease the pain for these schools whose poverty rates are plummeting (and also that there should be someone in charge of school gentrification in districts like Chicago, DC, and NYC).]
Of course, there's another school a few blocks over that's already flipped, demographically and otherwise, and is an appealing option for parents who are deeply concerned (or wildly over-anxious) about their offspring's academic and life success.
There's just one catch: the only families that are supposed to send their children to that school are those who live nearby (or used to) or can find some other way of wheedling their way in.
In telling this ripped-from-the-headlines tale, Rosenfeld does a great job detailing the families and feelings that accompany Brooklyn gentrifiers, and the tradeoffs involved in making individual versus collective decisions. There are also some fantastic misunderstandings, hilarious sendups (of Success Academy, among other things), and interesting reflections on what it's like to be white, guilty, anxious, and altruistic in alternating moments.
This is not a deep policy book, or even always entirely serious in terms of how it addresses education issues. But the issues it raises are serious underneath the satire, and the dynamics among parents, teachers, and children seem fairly realistic. Think of it as the guilty pleasure version of Nikole Hannah-Jones' NYT Sunday Magazine piece about how she chose a school for her child, or a schools-focused satire along the lines of The Corrections.
At times, I found myself wishing that Rosenfeld had taken the satire even further, out to the ridiculous edges where Gary Shteyngart and others go, with crossing guards checking children's home addresses as they wave them across the street, but I still found CLASS smart, enjoyable, and easy to recommend for a certain kind of schools-obsessed reader. Maybe you know someone?
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Earlier this week, New York media outlets including the NYT noted that homeless children have higher absentee rates because they’re trying to travel to schools that aren’t close to the shelters to which they’ve been assigned.
A recent Washington Post article noted “the remarkable thing that happens to poor kids when you help their parents with rent. Researchers speculate that parents who don’t have to worry about paying private-sector rents “might have more time to spend on their children — helping them with their homework, keeping them out of trouble and guiding them to a more successful adulthood.”
Even years after the Great Recession, districts like Sacramento are seeing spikes in homeless children.
In a recent Housing Matters interview, Desmond described the impact of evictions this way: “People lose their communities. Kids lose their schools…They move into neighborhoods with higher crime rates. They also relocate to housing that has more housing problems.”
In The Atlantic, Desmond notes “We value fairness in this country. We value equal opportunity. Without a stable home, those ideals really fall apart. Without the ability to plant roots and invest in your community or your school… eviction becomes something of an inevitability to you.”
In a recent phone interview, Desmond emphasized the housing-school connections in his work. The relationship between housing and education is “huge for me,” said Desmond, and keeps coming up on his book tour.
“I remember I was in Phoenix a few months ago and a teacher stood up and told me that 40 percent of her students who start the year with her will not be there the last week of school. She said, ‘Before reading your book, I never knew why.’”
It's not that poor families want to move as much as they end up moving. These families would love to keep their children in the same school, but are often unable to do so. Poor families spending well north of 50 percent of their income on rent are vulnerable to eviction, which requires them to move suddenly even if it’s the middle of the school year.
This level of churn is far from desirable. “If we want more family and school stability, we need a lot fewer evictions,” said Desmond.
Making matters worse, evicted families generally move into worse neighborhoods and worse housing, which generally have lower-performing schools.
In between between evictions, children from poor families live in overcrowded conditions that have direct effects on their ability to do well in school. One of the families Desmond profiled in his book was far too crowded and noisy to allow children to do homework, he recalled.
Of course, high housing costs are also affecting teachers directly, making it difficult for them to afford housing in some places.
Desmond also reports that some middle and high school teachers are teaching the book as part of units on poverty and homelessness. “I’ve been thrilled to hear from high school students around the country that have read the book,” he said. “It’s been a pleasant surprise.”
And the impact on parents’ ability to support their children’s school success should not be underestimated, according to Desmond. “We have to come to terms with all the bandwidth that this crisis is sucking out of parents minds,” he said. “If I was a mom spending 80 percent of income on rent, facing inevitable eviction, I don’t think I’d have that extra brainpower to think about school lotteries or magnets schools.”
I think voluntary [integration] is great, but the number of school districts that are willing to take this on? ... It's something like 1 percent of school districts in the country are attempting these programs. I don't think that's going to scale much beyond 5 percent or 10 percent unless there is real political will put behind it.
-- ASU's Matt Delmont on NPR (Why Busing Didn't End School Segregation)
However, as you may recall having learned earlier this year, New York City writer Lucinda Rosenfeld has a new book coming out in January, titled CLASS, about a hot topic in education right now: white parents choosing neighborhood schools.
As summarized in Kirkus Reviews, the book follows the lives of Karen Kipple and her husband, Matt, both career activists in the nonprofit sector, who "have righteously enrolled their daughter in their zoned public elementary school, where “the white population…hovered around 20 percent.”
Things get awkward pretty quickly: "A scuffle on the playground between a Jayyden and a Maeve further divides the parents along racial lines." A parent tries to fake an address so that she can send her child to a whiter school.
"From its James Baldwin epigraph—“White people cannot, in the generality, be taken as models of how to live”—to the final pages, in which Karen decides not to inquire about the fate of young Jayyden to avoid appearing “like one of those well-meaning, college-educated white liberals who fetishize the deprivations of the underclass,” this book takes dead aim and doesn’t miss."
News of the book's publication first appeared at a panel Rosenfeld did with Nikole Hannah-Jones and WNYC's Rebecca Carroll discussing voluntary integration efforts on the Upper West Side. The book comes out officially in January.
It's a Verizon ad -- sorry! -- but the message is pretty strong. "Encourage her love of science and technology, and inspire her to change the world."
If you’re a white student, it is utopia. You get to be around kids of diverse backgrounds, listen to different music, have different experiences, and also get the finest of schools... If you’re a black student, you don’t feel as respected or welcome, you don’t feel like a full citizen.
- Evanston parent John Diamond in last week's Bloomberg story (Black Students Don’t Even Get an Equal Education in Diverse Schools)
All of the choice-based reform efforts that they’ve come up with over the last 20 years have been designed to bring back all the white people who left after Brown v. Board. But the irony is that, if [districts] keep relying on choice, they’re going to be set up for failure because white people will not enroll their children in schools unless they’re already [predominantly] white.
-- Natalie Hopkinson, a black parent and journalist in The Atlantic (How Parents Can Help Desegregate Schools)
Fans of high-quality nonfiction and those concerned about education and segregation should check out Matthew Desmond's pretty amazing book, Evicted, out earlier this year.
Focusing on the lives of poor white and black residents of one midsized city (Milwaukee), but making a national case, Desmond shows why poor people tend to move more often, but largely stay within confined geographic areas.
"There is an enormous amount of pain and poverty in this rich land,’ argues American sociologist Desmond in this brilliant book about housing and the lives of eight families in Milwaukee. (Via The Guardian)
The educational impacts of children whose families are moving frequently aren't the focus of the book, but they're ever-present: Lost sleep, changes of schools, going hungry, lack of heat or electricity, and constant worry. Families with children are much more likely to be evicted, notes this Mother Jones article.
The book also shows how academics and policymakers have missed much of what's going on by focusing on relatively small parts of the problem (federal housing vouchers and public housing) rather than larger ones (the private market) most poor renters inhabit.
Last but not least, Evicted shows that it's not just slumlords who are culpable for the deplorable, exploitative situation. The legal system, law enforcement, and even social support agencies all play a role in creating and perpetuating things -- and tolerating what's clearly intolerable.
KQED story describes impact of historic housing segregation, lack of district-provided transportation, and influx of white parents displaces kids of color in higher-performing schools (Oakland Prides Itself on Being Diverse — Until It Comes Time to Send Kids to School).
Or, listen to super-cute incoming kindergartners starting school in Chicago, via WBEZ. ("I can count in Spanish")
On the populist side, there is room to build bridges with those who distrust elitist authority... On the identity side... the charter community could do more to build bridges with race-based organizations that consist of, or serve, these families.
Neerav Kingsland (The Politics of Populism, Identity, and Charter Schools)
Charts: Poll Shows Majority Of Americans & Public School Parents Oppose Opting Out Of Standardize Tests
"Fifty-five percent of public school parents oppose allowing children to sit out standardized tests. Overall, the demographic groups most opposed to the opt-out movement are black people (67 percent) and senior citizens (68 percent)." Results from #PDKPoll via Chalkbeat.
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One likely explanation for the across-the-board increase in parents’ investing in their young children’s learning is that parents today are just far more aware of the unique importance of the early childhood years in shaping their children’s development... It also may be that the increase in parent-child interactions among low-income families has been driven, in part, by the shift of low-income children out of preschool programs and into parental care during the economic recession.
-- Daphna Bassok, a co-author of the study and professor at the University of Virginia (Despite Growing Income Inequality, Learning Gaps Between Rich And Poor Kids Are Actually Closing)
Two years after the death of Mike Brown is as good a time as any to point to remember a few important parts of the story of the Ferguson teen who was killed on this day in 2014.
Chicago Public Radio's Becky Vevea has a long piece about what happened when two principals and some parents come up with a plan to merge an overcrowded high-performing school (with relatively large numbers of white kids) with an under-enrolled lower-performing school (mostly serving kids of color).
It isn't pretty, but it's fascinating and important -- especially the voices and viewpoints of the parents who currently send their children to the two schools.
Check out the story here.
I found middle class and affluent white families organizing to limit access, taking the good teachers, in the principal’s office daily advocating that ‘my kid gets the good programs.’ Wealthy Black families would rather pay their money and send kids to private schools.
- CUNY professor L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy in EWA via Education Post (We Can't Keep Ignoring the Suburbs and the Black People That Live in Them)
The word “ghetto” has come to sound like an indictment of a people as well as of a place. https://t.co/BZwBwihm7n— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) July 14, 2016
This recent New Yorker article (There Goes the Neighborhood) raises a bunch of important questions about how we think about gentrification and low-income communities that used to be commonly called "ghettos" -- and, by extension, low-income (generally low-performing) schools.
Scholars have long been sympathetic towards these communities, according to the piece:
"Scholars who studied the ghetto tended to be motivated by sympathy for its residents, which often resulted in a complicated sort of sympathy for ghettos themselves."
It could be argued that some of the same emotions have been on display when it comes to the low-income, generally low-performing school.
However public opinion has changed dramatically.
"Where the ghetto once seemed a menace, threatening to swallow the city like an encroaching desert, now it often appears, in scholarly articles and the popular press, as an endangered habitat."
The reality may be, however, that displacements from gentrification are not be as widespread as is commonly thought. That's because underlying mobility rates are already relatively high in these communities, as evictions, better opportunities, and other shifts move families in and out of low-income areas.
In addition, "Gentrification needn’t be zero-sum, because gentrifying neighborhoods may become more densely populated, with new arrivals adding to, rather than supplanting, those currently resident.
Sympathetic scholars, recent focus on gentrification, and questions about underlying mobility rates suggest that the common "gentrification = bad" construction that's prevalent right now might warrant some careful rethinking. Perhaps changes to neighborhood schools -- demographic, programmatic, etc. -- shouldn't necessarily be viewed with immediate suspicion. Perhaps gentrification isn't universally bad.
Here's the latest evidence that parents' beliefs about how well their schools are doing educating their children differ from NAEP performance evidence.
"In a video being widely circulated on Twitter on Monday morning, Royce Mann, an eighth grade student from Atlanta, is shown performing a slam poem titled “White Boy Privilege.” Across the social network, the video is being celebrated as the definition of responsible self-analysis by a white American at a time when racial tensions seem to be ever-increasing." via Fusion (Royce Mann’s white privilege poem goes viral)
Like many white people, my only experience of institutions was majority white. And so there was a learning curve for me. I was a little uncomfortable the first day of kindergarten. I saw black families – I didn’t see individuals. I saw Hispanic families … It took me a while to see past race, in a way, if that makes any sense, and to see that these were potential friends for me, these were potential allies, mom friends.
- Brooklyn parent and author Lucinda Rosenfeld, talking with WNYC's Rebecca Caroll and the NYT's Nikole Hannah-Jones at a recent panel on school segregation (What role should parents play in promoting integration?). Rosenfeld's next novel, about a white mom choosing a majority-minority school for her child, comes out early next year.
Here's the video from last night's WNYC #raceinschools conversation including Lucinda Rosenfeld, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and Rebecca Carol.
Lucinda Rosenfeld's new novel, Class, is scheduled to come out in a few months, but we're already starting to hear about it this summer.
According to the Amazon blurb, the book focuses on "idealistic forty-something Karen Kipple" who sends her kid to an integrated Brooklyn school.
"But when a troubled student from a nearby housing project begins bullying children in Ruby's class, the distant social and economic issues Karen has always claimed to care about so passionately feel uncomfortably close to home."
Sounds interesting -- if also perhaps stereotypical. But perhaps that's the point. Anyway, can't wait to read it.
Meantime, Rosenfeld is on a panel tonight at 7 with Nikole Hannah-Jones and Rebecca Carroll.
Crossed fingers they'll talk about the UWS parents who are trying to block school integration, along with the Brooklyn situation.
You can watch the livestream here.
In case you missed it Sunday night, here's an AJ+ video clip from Jesse Williams' impassioned speech honoring organizers, students, activists at the BET Awards show.
"We’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil."
Read the whole thing here.
Parents generally place greater value on schools with a high percentage of students of the same race/ethnicity as their child — but only if their child would otherwise be in the smallest minority at school. If their child won’t be in the smallest minority, parents are less concerned about — and, in fact, supportive of — schools with a more diverse student body.
- From Mathematic analysis of DC school lottery choices, via NY Times
There aren't a lot of African Americans who live on the Upper West Side...We were sad to learn that, you know? I would like more diversity, but we chose to move to this place because we put the quality of the education at a higher value.
-- An unnamed UWS parent in this Gothamist piece (UWS Parents Fight Proposal To Relocate School)
School segregation is the result of intentional policy choices and governmental interventions. It was constructed, and to end it we must deconstruct it through further interventions. We also must acknowledge that segregation was created at the behest of middle class white voters and business leaders and it can only be undone at their behest.
- Nate Bowling (We have the answer, we choose to ignore it)
So I urge you A, to stop talking to the press... This is a private matter, I think, from our community. This story doesn't exist without your quotes... Be mindful of when you speak, if you're going to speak to the press, because slandering or saying anything negative about this teaching staff is wrong... Conversely, painting any opposition as classist or racist is about as bad as it can get.
-- Jason Jones quoted on WNYC (Advice from Jason Jones to Upper West Side Parents: Don't Talk to the Press)
"For the [2014 Washington DC] lottery, families submitted rank-ordered lists of their preferred schools from a long list of options, including charter schools and traditional public schools."
From Mathematica (Market Signals: A Deep-Dive Analysis of Parental School Choice)
The youngest victim in Orlando, Akyra Monet Murray, had just graduated from high school in Philadelphia. NPR interviewed her family and friends about what happened to her that night. Warning -- explicit and heartbreaking.
Here's an hourlong panel from this year's recent NSVF Summit addressing the gap between the idea of diversity and making it happen. The topic seems especially timely given this last weekend's NYT Sunday Magazine article about how individual parent decisions cumulatively reinforce residential segregation and school assignment policies.
Want more? There's another panel What Will it Take to Integrate Our Schools? that also looks good.
When you have people coming from all different neighborhoods to come to school together, they have no reason or way to get to know each other unless you sort of rip the top off the school and say the school is going to be the community.
- Community Roots Charter School Co-Founder Allison Keil in WNYC (How One Brooklyn Charter School Integrates With Intention)
This WNYC video short shows NYT writer Nikole Hannah-Jones and her husband taking their daughter to a segregated school in Brooklyn. Read the accompanying article by WNYC's Rebecca Carroll here, or the NYT piece about the decision and the controversy over rezoning the segregated school to give wealthier white kids access to the building.
Here's a GIF showing how each school in NYC's District 1 would be affected by a controlled choice school integration initiative, based on a model presented by WNYC in its school integration series.
As you can see in the top row, schools that currently have almost 100 percent poor kids would see an influx of nonpoor kids. The bottom row shows how schools with relatively high percentages of nonpoor kids would gain poor classmates under a model plan.
The plan would phase in over time, and only new students (kindergartners, mostly) would be affected. But obviously these would be big changes for schools and families. Some families won't have choices. But we all know what happens when more affluent families don't get what they want.
"Special correspondent Yasmeen Qureshi of Education Week has the story. It’s part of our weekly education series, Making the Grade."
Consolidation isn't easy.
I’m going to get rid of the gun-free zones on the military bases. I’m also going to do it in schools. You say you have a school, and it’s gun-free. The criminals are out there saying, ‘This is incredible. This is perfect. There’s no guns in there. I’m the only one that’s going to have guns.’ You can’t do it. I’m going to work with the states, and if I have to, I’m going to try and perhaps override the states if I have to...
-- Donald Trump, quoted in the Washington Post (Clinton campaign’s claim that Trump would ‘force schools to allow guns in classrooms’)
Hidden in the new LA Times story about a West LA transgender elementary school student is a 2007 ABC segment about Jazz, who was born as a boy. It seems like it's cut off at the end. Anyone know the update?
Here I was this advocate for education, and I couldn’t find a place for my son... I was crying in the principal’s office and I said, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ The principal said, ‘I don’t either.
Parent and advocate Arlyssa Heard in The Atlantic (The Bills That Want to Solve Detroit's School Crisis)
More than a half-million poorly prepared students — or about one in four — were required to take remedial courses in math, English or writing. Forty-five percent of them came from middle-, upper-middle- and high-income families... At private, nonprofit four-year schools, for example, students whose families were in the top 20 percent of income nationally actually took more remedial courses than students in the bottom 20 percent at the same colleges.
-- NYT editorial page (aka Brent Staples) in Guess Who’s Taking Remedial Classes
So much of the recent attention towards school segregation has focused on within-district segregation, which makes sense. Gentrification, attendance zone boundaries, immigration, and other factors all play a role there, and are relatively easily understood and at least theoretically addressed by a single school district or mayoral agency.
But as USC's Ann Owens explained at last week's #EWA16 event, the most segregation takes place between different districts.
One reason this may garner less attention is that it makes it harder to consider what the solutions might be when two semi-autonomous public agencies are involved, and one of them is probably much better-off than the other. Consolidating districts? Good luck with that. Transfer agreements between districts? NCLB called for those but generated precious few actual transfers.
Interested in more about media coverage of segregation? Check out my column at The Grade about the surge in coverage, and some possible problems it raises.
Credit Ann Owens and sources listed.