Back to school #1: Segregation and achievement gaps
-- "Back to school as a reason to consider schools issues comprehensively," 2015
-- "Frustration #2: school reform discussions mostly miss the point," 2013
Re/Desegregation of public schools. Earlier in the year there were reports that "New data shows U.S. schools are resegregating."
The ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 turned out not to be the end of segregation, but the beginning point of the process of ending segregation in public schools, which is still ongoing.
And, as many people know, the case was actually consolidated from five different cases from around the country ("Harry Briggs Jr., 75, catalyst for Brown v. Board of Education," Boston Globe).
I came across an article in The Nation from two years ago which discusses this, "‘Brown v. Board of Education’ Didn’t End Segregation, Big Government Did," making the point that the Courts didn't proscribe and mandate a process and deadline for change, and how it was not until the 1964 Civil Rights Act commanded the federal government to be an active party in suing local school districts that the process moved forward.
The argument in Bolling v. Sharpe addressed Unconstitutionality of the federal government operating segregated schools in the District of Columbia, a local government instrumentality operated by the federal government.
A college honors thesis on the subject, Bolling v. Sharpe and Beyond: The Unfinished and Untold History of School Desegregation in Washington, D.C. (Bryce Celotto, University of Massachusetts Boston) is a useful primer on the DC situation and how the legal end of segregation did not bring about equality of either opportunity or outcomes, regardless of how it has been reported (How DC ended segregation a year before Brown v Board of Education," Washington Post).
While I don't think the thesis is as definitive in its analysis it makes out, it's a concise presentation of the history of public education in the city and the structural racism that still shapes educational environment.
Tracking. Until I read the thesis, I didn't know how post-segregation, DCPS had been at the forefront of academic tracking, which kept white kids and black kids separate much of the time, and how many of the schools remained segregated in practice. Of course, the concept of integration was obviated as a result of "white flight," when white families moved to the suburbs and the city's demographics shifted to being majority black.
3. School testing as a mechanism of disconnection. Urban Edge, the blog for the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University in Houston, has a fascinating piece, "How To Address the 14 Percent of Young People Who Neither Work Nor Attend School," on the conclusions of some focus groups with inner city youth concerning their attitudes and experiences with public education and their expectations of their future. I was struck by how they found the focus on testing as profoundly disconnecting and disconnected from their needs. From the article:
When you see the age range, some people will think, “My goodness, at least half of them are grown, so they can figure it out.” There’s an assumption that once you turn 18 you can just figure it out, and that’s a huge misunderstanding that creates missed opportunities. A lot of these young people, even those who are on the right track — it’s tough making decisions. They’re just starting to learn, and they don’t have guidance because adults assume they’re adults too. ...4. School reform's ostensible purpose is to eliminate the achievement gap/asking the wrong questions about why achievement gaps exist. "The achievement gap refers to the observed, persistent disparity of educational measures between the performance of groups of students, especially groups defined by socioeconomic status (SES), race/ethnicity and gender."
There was a theme around education and how they became disengaged very early on, even before they dropped out or graduated. It was just this feeling that they didn’t connect with the school, school didn’t feel like a place where they felt valued or safe, and it wasn’t a place where they felt like they trust the adults.
A lot of them had experienced childhood trauma or adverse experiences even before the age of 16. When they get to high school, they’ve already checked out. If there is no support in place in high school, it’s really easy for them to just become detached and really feel as if they are a failure. They just kind of give up.
We heard that a lot; struggling in their home life and then the added pressure of doing well in school, it just became too overwhelming. For the ones who were resilient and felt they were able to overcome all of that, they pointed to an individual or trusted adult in the school community that made a difference for them. A lot of them said it was something as simple as a principal knowing their name.
Another big theme was while in school, they felt they didn’t get the education they really wanted or needed because there was so much emphasis on testing. They felt like teachers weren’t able to teach and respond to their needs. A lot of them struggled with reading, so when it was time for testing, everything just shut down. We didn’t even ask about that. That was actually a surprising finding; how many of them talked about the influence of testing.
In the 1980s, the book In Search of Excellence, focused on business organizational performance was widely read and helped to refocus organizational practice. I have always been struck by one of the points in the book, that:
What gets measured gets done.What happens when you're measuring the wrong stuff, sometimes because it's easier or because it's the only measure you have, when you should be focus on better mapping the process, the outcomes, the preferred outcomes, and the various independent and dependent variables that shape outcomes?
Much of the modern school reform movement has been focused on "high stakes testing" and "getting rid of bad teachers" but not on providing the right resources and enough of them to be able to address persistent gaps in achievement.
This is what frustrates me the most about "school reform." It's obvious that there will always be individual examples of success and achievement, and they are heart warming stories. But the point should be to build the necessary robust processes and support systems to structure achievement as the regular and reoccurring outcome rather than as an outlier.
That's the whole point of the Harlem Children's Zone, which gets lots of attention ("The Harlem Project/a>" and "The Transformer," New York Times).
This is illustrated by examples of two schools in Boston, Orchard Gardens, a K-8 school, a new school constructed in 2000, and Higginson/Lewis, created out of a merger of an elementary school and a junior high ("A tale of two Boston schools," Boston Magazine).
Boston Turnaround School Makes Significant Progress, WBUR/NPR).
Higginson/Lewis lags, in large part because it is on the edge of failure, but hasn't failed, and therefore can't get the extra resources it needs to shift outcomes.
Not unlike how Houston's general history of success is attributed to lack of zoning when mostly it is a function of aggressive annexation and its being the center of the US oil industry ("I get tired of the articles that ascribe Houston's economic success to its lack of zoning") the success of Orchard Gardens is attributed to "school-based management" and a great principal, and not so much the extra resources and integration of the mission that the principal, hiring practices, and extra resources have been able to bring about.
Before and After: Boston’s Public School Playgrounds: The Boston Schoolyard Initiative has wrapped up 18 years of renovations to BPS’s green spaces," Boston Magazine).
A war story of the success, how the principal eliminated the security staff and spent the money on arts teachers and programming, is touted, not without reason, as an example of the value of school-based management ("Art program transforms failing school," NBC News).
What is not so well understood is how this example simultaneously damns the current reform movement, which has shifted resources and instruction time away from arts instruction, libraries, and other elements of the curriculum considered "ancillary" to testing, and for the most part disavows the necessity of more resources to address systemic poverty.