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Archive for the ‘Integration’ Category

DPS: Segregation now, segregation forever?

Monday, May 16th, 2011

This post was submitted by Jennifer Holladay, who lives in Denver and also authored the foreword to Lessons in Integration: Realizing the Promise of Racial Integration in Schools, edited by Erica Frankenberg and Gary Orfield (University of Virginia Press, 2007.)

When third grade CSAP scores for reading were released last week, they revealed much more than students’ proficiency levels. They showed, yet again, that white and more affluent children tend to be concentrated in a certain kind of school, while children of color and those who live in poverty tend to be congregated in another.

The three schools that tied for first place — Bromwell Elementary, Polaris at Ebert Elementary School, and Steck Elementary School — each possess one of the district’s lowest poverty rates (just 8, 9 and 12 percent, respectively, when 73 percent of students in the district qualify for free or reduced lunch). Their student populations also are overwhelmingly white (more than 75 percent white, in a district where fewer than 20 percent of students are.)

The situation reflects a collective lack of political and moral will.

On the flip side, the two schools that tied for last place, Barrett Elementary and Place Bridge Academy, are what researchers sometimes categorize as “apartheid schools” — schools that are virtually all “non-white” and where poverty abounds.

Of course, the segregation within Denver Public Schools is no secret. In 2006, the Civil Rights Project, then at Harvard and now at UCLA, released a scathing indictment of the problem within DPS in its report, The End of Keyes: Resegregation Trends and Achievement in the Denver Public Schools. That so many of our students have been, and are, trapped in racially and socioeconomically segregated schools remains cause for concern. After all, research has proven time and again that separate schools are inherently unequal, in terms of students’ educational outcomes and life opportunities.

Still, here in Denver, much of the talk — and action — around school reform seemingly accepts segregation as a permissible norm. That the West Prep and KIPP schools demonstrate success in high-poverty, racially-isolated environments, for example, too often deflects attention away from the fundamental purpose of integrated schooling: Opening the financial, social and political assets bound up in white, middle-class children on the larger, societal stage. (It’s easy to forget, too, that integrated schooling produces meaningful “pro-social” outcomes for students, such as increasing their capacity to thrive in diverse workplaces later in life.)

Looking at demographics for DPS, few schools are what researchers would consider “integrated”- possessing sizable white populations and at least two additional racial or ethnic groups represented in large numbers, with an ultimate mix of about 50 percent white and 50 percent “of color.” This is due, in part, to the reality that white families, especially those with class privilege, disproportionately opt out of public schools. It also relates to housing segregation, which remains pronounced. The situation further reflects a collective lack of political and moral will.

Still, there are a handful of schools holding onto the promise of integrated schooling in Denver: Odyssey Charter Elementary School, Lincoln Elementary and Highline Academy Charter School, the K-8 that my daughter attends, among them. At these three schools, third grade students scored at least 30 percentage points above the district average in reading, placing their schools among the top 10 in DPS on this measure.

Therein lies a lesson many failed to recognize with the release of the third grade, reading CSAP scores last week: A handful of schools that are comparatively white and affluent boasted the top scores, but pocketed among the top performers also are schools that afford increased access and opportunity through purposefully integrated environments.

I, for one, hope this can be a lesson observed, if not finally learned.

Popularity: 28% [?]

Colbert on Raleigh’s “disintegration”

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Thank you, Stephen, thank you.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word – Disintegration
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

Popularity: 6% [?]

Those pesky facts

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

It’s really annoying when facts screw up a good rant, isn’t it? One argument persistently used against charter schools by critics on this blog is that they foster segregation and inequity. Well, take a look at these numbers culled by Nancy Mitchell from Denver Public Schools’ latest October count data:

DPS district vs. charter demographics, 2010

  • FRL - All district schools have a combined FRL rate of 73 percent compared to 74 percent for all charters.
  • Minority - All district schools have a combined minority rate of 81 percent compared to 81 percent for all charters.
  • ELL - All district schools have a combined ELL rate of 26 percent compared to 27 percent for all charters.
  • SPED - All district schools have a combined SPED rate of 11 percent compared to 11 percent for all charters. However, only one charter to date is serving students with severe special needs.

Perhaps the questions we all should be asking aren’t about charters vs. traditional district schools, but rather why middle- and upper-income families continue to avoid DPS — including charters — in droves?

Popularity: 7% [?]

From the gross generalization correction department

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

In my “From the publisher” letter in the post immediately under this one, I made a statement that no schools in the area other than the Denver School of Science and Technology are making a concerted effort to promote socio-economic integration. I received the following well-deserved comeuppance from Audra Philippon, head of school at Axl Academy in Aurora:

I just read yesterday’s newsletter this morning, and I share your passion that economic integration of public schools in essential.

Respectfully, however, I was discouraged to read your final line in your editor’s pieces that “… other than DSST, no one around here is even trying”. I can name a half-dozen public charter schools in the metro area that are working diligently to create economically diverse school communities.

AXL has not only been trying, but succeeding in building an economically diverse community of learners since we opened in 2008. AXL Academy is a PreK-8 public charter school in Aurora, with nearly 400 students.

Economic and cultural diversity is the very reason AXL’s founding team located its school in Aurora. Diversity is the number one reason parents report why AXL appealed to them, among a variety of unique school elements (Expeditionary Learning, single gender classrooms, mandatory second language, etc). In our first year, AXL had 38% of our families qualifying for free or reduced lunch. In our second year, we had 57%, and this year, we anticipate a FRL percentage of 65%, which is where we’d like it to stay. Our PreKindergarten tuition operates on a sliding scale based on family income, so we have students who live in subsidized housing and students who live in million dollar homes learning together. It is vital to our mission to prepare our scholars to create their own futures in our global economy.

AXL students speak 12 languages natively (by the way, there are 191 world languages represented within Aurora Public Schools). Our school is located geographically in central Aurora, where within walking distance of our campus are multi-million dollar homes, modest single family homes, mobile homes, multi-family apartments and townhomes.

Our school boasts 35% Black, African American, or recent African immigrants, 32% Latino or Hispanic families, 25% White or Caucasian families, with remaining families Middle Eastern, Asian or Native American.

We do not employ a weighted lottery to guarantee diversity in our school community; we have a random, publicly held lottery every spring to ensure that every APS student has the same opportunity to enroll at AXL. We believe we can continue to achieve this unusual demographic profile with great community engagement in our recruitment efforts.

Every conversation with a prospective AXL parent gives me more confidence that this is true.

We are still early in our Revolution in Learning to be sure, but we are proud of the strong indicators or our progress: we had more than 600 applicants for 75 vacancies last year, 83% of our scholars who have been with us for two years are reading above or at grade level (measured by the DRA2), 96% of our parents participate in student-led conferences and demonstrations of learning. Our English Language Learners are the fastest growing segment of our community academically speaking, and with our classrooms organized by gender, we’ve seen an 18% increase in our boys’ performance in our primary grades in both reading and writing. We’re just getting started.

I hope as the discussion about economic integration continues in Denver that Ed News and others will consider the entire metro area. Aurora is more than half Denver’s size, facing many of the same challenges, with charter schools and district-run schools worthy of attention for their successes in closing the achievement gap. At AXL, at SOAR, at Global Village, and Vanguard, we share your interest in a truly integrated system of public schools.



Popularity: 4% [?]

From the publisher: Fighting over common ground

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

I thought I had found a sliver of common ground.

Late last week, when I read the Century Foundation’s new report, “Housing Policy is School Policy,” it seemed the study made a compelling argument in favor of socio-economic school integration. Finally, I thought, an education issue upon which my friends in the progressive camp and I can agree. What a relief. It still feels strange to me to be locked in what seems like endless disagreement with people on the left.

So maybe we can agree on this. After all, one argument some local progressives use against charter schools and the brand of parental choice they represent is that they foster segregation. I don’t agree with that; but integration is a core value for me, so I appreciate the impulse to integration implied in the critique.

But now, after reading an article by a progressive blogger highly critical of the study, I  have to wonder. More about that article below. First, a snapshot of the Century Foundation study. You can read a cogent synopsis of the study here.

If you don’t feel like clicking on a link, here is a 10-second summary.

The study examines Montgomery County, Md., an affluent suburban county adjacent to Washington, D.C. The county had the foresight in 1976 to pass an inclusionary zoning law, requiring new housing developments to include homes affordable to people of moderate means. It also required those developments to set aside one-third of the subsidized homes for the local public housing authority, opening developments to very low income families.

Century Foundation researcher Heather Schwartz examined seven years worth of longitudinal data for 850 Montgomery County students who live in that set-aside public housing. Schwartz found that in math especially, low-income students attending more affluent schools performed well enough to narrow achievement gaps considerably. Reading gaps narrowed as well, but did not reach statistical significance.

This study represents one of the most methodologically rigorous and compelling arguments for socio-economic school integration ever published. Montgomery County is not the perfect proving ground, because there are no very high poverty schools there. So the basis of comparison is how low-income students do in very affluent schools versus moderately affluent ones. Still, the data are compelling.

So when I read Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss’ piece dismissing the study, I felt depressed. What is Strauss’ beef? She has a couple. First, the study suggests that schools can play a huge role in mitigating the effects of poverty on student achievement. It’s a societal problem, Strauss argues, requiring a broader response. Don’t pin all the responsibility on schools. And second, she says, standardized tests are a lousy measure of student learning.

“It’s not JUST the school. That’s not to say that schools don’t matter. Of course they do. Kids who attend schools that are well-resourced, well-managed and well-staffed are bound to perform better than kids who attend schools that aren’t, and, the more troubled schools in our country are almost always found in high-poverty areas.

“And, of course, integration of neighborhoods and schools should be seen as rooted in the country’s core values.

“But the stubborn fact remains that without attacking the roots of poverty, we will never close the stubborn achievement gap. Putting poor kids in middle-class schools will help some of them, and that’s a good thing, but the real answer is alleviating poverty…

“We can build zillions of charter schools and give standardized tests to kids every day of the week and fire tons of teachers and close a lot of traditional public schools.

“Our problems won’t go away in education because we still will be ignoring the obvious.”

This is why it’s so hard to find common ground. We can’t talk about the issue in front of us, even an important one like the benefits of socio-economic integration, without someone twisting it back to a subject at best only tangentially related.

Yes, we should attack the root causes of poverty. But has there been a society in all of human history that has been successful in that endeavor? The answer, of course, is no. So doesn’t it make sense to make every effort to mitigate the effects of poverty at the same time we’re playing Sisyphus?

By the way, I’ve gotten mirror-image arguments against focusing on integration from people on the other side of the issue. “Well of course integration would be nice, in a fantasy world,” they say. “But since we now have some school models that prove high-poverty schools can succeed, why absorb the brain damage involved in trying to promote integration?”


In any event, formulating housing policy in and around Denver to promote school integration would be a huge uphill battle. Denver has had an inclusionary zoning ordinance since 2002, but it is watery gruel compared to the Montgomery County law, according to researcher (and former Albuquerque mayor) David Rusk, who has studied Denver and Montgomery County extensively. And the business community raised a major ruckus about even that relatively weak law.

Under Denver’s ordinance, Rusk wrote in a 2003, book-length exploration of school integration (or lack thereof) in metro Denver, income limits aren’t set nearly as low as in Montgomery County, there are no set-asides for public housing and it’s relatively easy for developers to buy their way out of the requirements. So its impact is minimal at best.

So yes, socio-economic integration is harder to achieve in Denver and Colorado than in some other places. A couple of reasons:

  • In Colorado, open enrollment law allows parents to send their children to any school they choose, if space is available. That’s a good thing, and at the same time it poses challenges
  • In cities like Denver and Aurora, there are so many low-income students that integrating schools to optimal levels (under 40 percent poor, research suggests) is impossible.

Despite those formidable obstacles, however, the state as a whole or individual districts could take a policy position that economically integrating schools works, and therefore should be a primary value and strategy, to the greatest extent possible. We may never even get close to the promised land, but we won’t know until we try. We need look only at the superb Denver School of Science and Technology, where a healthy economic mix is etched in stone, for some inspiration.

Other than DSST, though, no one around here is even trying. I believe district and state leaders are scared of the political blowback.

How sad.

Popularity: 5% [?]

Et tu, Mr. Boasberg?

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Kevin Welner is a professor of education policy and program evaluation in the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and director of the National Education Policy Center.

On Tuesday, I published a guest blog on the Washington Post’s “Answer Sheet,” and Alan asked that I post the same thing here. It’s a heartfelt and, I hope, substantive expression of how infuriating it is to watch policymakers charge ahead (or backwards) with poorly conceived, poorly supported, and facile notions of how schools can improve.

I have always promoted reform that benefits vulnerable children who have the cards stacked against them, and of course that includes improvement of teaching and implicates changes in hiring, retention, and dismissal (as well as working conditions, induction, professional development and the like). But I am certainly among those who are very troubled when leaders – including Tom Boasberg, superintendent of DPS and one of the Manifesto’s signers – buy into the trendy and simplistic finger-pointing. With that said, here’s what I wrote:

For a concise compilation of today’s fads and gimmicks in education, go read “How to fix our schools: A manifesto by Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and other education leaders,” published in the Outlook section of Sunday’s Washington Post. The sort of nonsense about education found in the new Manifesto has become astoundingly commonplace, but this time it came not from a Hollywood filmmaker or a Washington think-tank advocate but from the leaders of 16 of the nation’s major city school districts.

According to the Manifesto, “It’s time for all of the adults — superintendents, educators, elected officials, labor unions and parents alike — to start acting like we are responsible for the future of our children.” Absolutely. Members of each of these groups can do more – a lot more.

In fact, we should start by removing the irresponsible signers of this Manifesto from any position of power over “the future of our children.”

Are the adults who signed this Manifesto acting responsibly when they bash teachers, and only teachers? What about the “superintendents” and “elected officials” who are conveniently never mentioned again in the Manifesto but who actually have some control over the resources available to students and their teachers?

Are these adults acting responsibly when they advocate for even more test-based accountability and school choice? Over the past two decades, haven’t these two policies dominated the reform landscape – and what do we have to show for it? Wouldn’t true reform move away from what has not been working, rather than further intensifying those ineffective policies? Are they acting responsibly when they promote unproven gimmicks as solutions?

Are they acting responsibly when they do not acknowledge their own role in failing to secure the opportunities and resources needed by students in their own districts, opting instead to place the blame on those struggling in classrooms to help students learn?

As a researcher and a parent, I yearn for an end to the over-the-top propaganda, the slick think tank reports, the educational “leaders” more interested in blaming than in solving, the wasteful sinking of taxpayer money (and educators’ time) into reforms that have been shown not to work, and the stirring films that suggest that the heartbreaking denial of educational opportunities to innocent children can be miraculously solved by the latest fad.

  • Move money from neighborhood schools to charter schools!
  • Make children take more tests!
  • Move money from classrooms to online learning!
  • Blame teachers and their unions – make them easier to fire!
  • Tie teacher jobs and salaries to student test scores!

None – literally NONE – of these gimmicks is evidence-based.

Charters? Overall, they’re no better than other schools.

Tests? Twenty years of testing has bought us minimal improvement in scores but made learning less engaging.

Online learning? Sometimes it’s a good supplement for classrooms, but the research doesn’t support it as a widespread substitute – unless you’re an investor in one of the companies that stand to make a fortune courtesy of taxpayers.

Easier routes to firing teachers? Why do states, districts and schools (including charter schools) with few if any union protections have the same patterns of student learning?

Test-based merit pay, etc? Rarely has a policy been so vigorously pursued that so clearly lacks research support.

The Manifesto and these facile “solutions” are built on little more than rhetoric, and it all begins with a patently incorrect factual assertion:

“So, where do we start? With the basics. As President Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher.”

If the president did in fact say this, he is wrong. [And, as a commentator on the Washington Post site pointed out, the Manifesto appears to have severely twisted the president’s actual words.] While no researcher could offer precise numbers, regression models tend to attribute a far greater role to out-of-school factors such as parental educational level and family income. While teacher quality is, in my opinion, the most important in-school factor, there are many others: school leadership, class size, facilities (e.g, working bathrooms, heating, air conditioning, lighting, etc), learning resources (books, computers), and curriculum. Teacher quality is critical, but the variance we can attribute to this one factor is probably less than 10 percent. This isn’t new – we have known about the high predictive ability of out-of-school factors since the famous Coleman study almost 45 years ago.

None of this means that in-school factors should be ignored. They should absolutely be addressed, including teacher quality. But they should be addressed based on evidence of best practices, and calls to address these needs should not be made as part of an attempt to downplay out-of-school needs. It is disgraceful for these leaders who are in charge of 2.5 million students – disproportionately students in impoverished, urban areas – to act as enablers for those who dismiss the need to address issues of concentrated poverty. Unemployment is high. More and more families are falling into poverty, and their children are showing up to school hungry, in need of health and dental care, and even homeless. Yet these “leaders” dare to suggest that everything will be just fine if we had fewer tenured teachers and more charter schools and online learning.

Think about that – the people to whom we have handed over responsibility for educating our children are engaged in scapegoating, offering bread-and-circus diversions while the children under their care see their life chances slipping away. These are the people in power – the people who have overseen the system that they now seem to acknowledge has only gotten worse under their regimes and their policies. They scapegoat and divert because they refuse to acknowledge their failures and to step aside. How very, very sad.

Popularity: 5% [?]

From the publisher: Mike Johnston’s modest proposal

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

At a conference at the Aspen Institute in mid-September, Colorado state Sen. Mike Johnston gave one of the most heartfelt and persuasive speeches I’ve heard in a long while. Perhaps it struck me as so brilliant because I already agreed with everything he said.

But I think there is more to it than that. So I’m embedding the full in two parts at the end of this post. Or you can follow these links to view it:

Part I:

Part II:

It’s about 19 minutes long. Please watch it and send me your thoughts.

Johnston made several powerful points. But one in particular has stuck with me in the 10 days since the conference ended. He said that people who oppose inner-city charter schools use one argument that seems particularly – though probably unintentionally – cynical: That allowing the most motivated low-income families and children to flee bad urban schools for charters amounts to unacceptable brain drain.

The kids who remain behind, these folks argue, are the children of less motivated parents, or those who could not handle the firm discipline policies and tough rules that govern some charters.

There’s a major flaw in that argument, Johnston said. After all, massive brain drain has been occurring for decades, since long before charters entered the picture. Some families with money send their kids to private schools. Others move to the suburbs, in part to avoid urban public schools.

So why is, it, Johnston asked, that when charters come along aiming to provide low-income kids with options that rival those rich kids enjoy, self-appointed defenders of the rights of the poor shout “Whoa, whoa, whoa, stop! This is now too much brain drain!”

And then Johnston made an audacious proposal, one which I’m sure he knows could never come to fruition. If you want to deprive poor kids of choice, he said, then there’s another way to level the playing field. Overturn two seminal U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

The first decision that would have to go, he said, is Pierce v. Society of Sisters, from 1925. An Oregon law slated to go into effect in 1926 would have required all the state’s schoolchildren to attend public schools (some people at the time believed parochial schools hindered Catholic assimilation). The Supreme Court found that the Oregon law violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

The second decision, Milliken v. Bradley (1974), is regarded by school integrationists as one of the court’s low points. In that decision, justices ruled that school integration plans could not cross district boundaries. This exempted suburban districts from participating in court-ordered desegregation plans. It made the world safe for white flight.

So, Johnston suggested,  people who believe that inner-city charters create unacceptable brain drain might want to turn their efforts instead to overturning those two Supreme Court decisions.

“If you want to go all in in one direction and make public schools the melting pots for America, I’m all in,” Johnston concluded. “No one can go to private school, all districts are integrated, and everyone goes together. If not, then poor folks ought to be able to leverage their social resources to find good options for their kids, just as middle-class and upper-middle class kids do.”

Johnston’s talk has dovetailed in my mind with something school choice crusader Howard Fuller said late last year during a visit to Denver. He said he belonged to the “Harriet Tubman school of education reform.” Tubman surely wanted an end to slavery, Fuller said. But she didn’t sit around waiting for slavery to end. She took action, and risked her life to get individual slaves out of bondage and into new lives as free men and women.

School reform is at that point, Fuller said. We all want public schools to improve. But it would be foolhardy to sit back and wait for that to happen. Each kid anyone can get out of a failing school and into a successful one is another kid with a chance to realize his or her potential. Who knows which of those kids might be the next Nelson Mandela or Jonas Salk or Mother Theresa?

I find it a source of constant amazement that it’s mostly people on the left who have positioned themselves on the wrong side of this civil rights struggle. We live in through-the-looking-glass times, don’t we?

Johnston ended his talk by pointing out a banner that waved in the autumn breezes outside the conference center. It carried a quote from Victor Hugo:

All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.

Part I:

Part II:

Popularity: 14% [?]

Keeping up the good fight in Wake County, N.C.

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

The basest kind of self-interest combined with ideologically-driven politics to kill Wake County, N.C’s successful socio-economic school integration program earlier this year. So it’s heartening to see people in the Raleigh area taking action to pressure the school board to reverse its terrible decision.

I don’t believe they’ll succeed, but I’m glad they have some fight in them. Nineteen people were arrested at yesterday’s Wake County Public School System board meeting. Protests have intensified in recent weeks, even though the offending decision took place months ago. I can dream that this will grow into a movement that makes something happen, but I’m not that naive.

What frustrates me is that people on all sides of the education reform debate seem to wear blinders when it comes to the issue of school choice – specifically charters – versus integration. On one side I have encountered charter advocates who believe so strongly in the KIPP model, which has proven successful in educating schools filled with low-income children, that they don’t want to talk about socio-economic integration as another viable model. On the other side, I have encountered integration advocates who see charters as an unnecessary distraction from the real work of school reform.

No pun intended, but people on both sides of this divide need to wake up. Why can’t we aggressively pursue reform on two parallel tracks. As the current jargon would have it, it’s ‘both and’ not ‘either or.’

Popularity: 3% [?]

From the editor: Mixing it up

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. – For the past eight years or so, I have done my best to advocate for the socioeconomic integration of schools. I can’t say I’ve had great success.

During my time at the Piton Foundation, I took two delegations of Denver school board members, central administrators, principals and community advocates to Raleigh, N.C., to experience first-hand the wonders of the Wake County Public School System’s integration program.

Despite the enthusiasm generated by these trips, we never succeeded in getting Denver Public Schools to make voluntary socioeconomic integration a priority for the district. Successive superintendents viewed the idea as a political third-rail.

Then, earlier this year, voters in Raleigh elected a new conservative majority to the school board, and the new board’s first move was to dismantle the integration program, which was doomed because it increasingly relied on busing the children of affluent parents long distances. Not to be cynical, but programs that try to force wealthy people to do things they don’t like always end up getting killed.

So I began to think that in this day and age, with the U.S. Supreme Court barring all race-based integration programs and the shining star of income-based integration relegated to the ash heap, mixing incomes in schools was dead as a strategy for improving public education.

But now I am feeling more optimistic. I spent the day Monday attending the first meeting of The Century Foundation’s Consortium on Socioeconomic School Integration. Rick Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the foundation and the nation’s leading expert on socioeconomic integration, convened the gathering.

It was a great day and an impressive group. I attended with the understanding that the gathering was off the record, meaning I can’t quote anyone or say exactly who was there. But I can say this: 35 school districts showed up, representing states from coast to coast and in the heartland. Other attendees included researchers from Stanford University, Harvard University and Duke University.

Districts represented by either school board members, superintendents or senior administrators included some as large as about 200,000 students and as small as around 600. Urban, suburban, and rural districts had a place at the table.

And all of these districts are facing similar challenges. They are becoming increasingly diverse, racially and socio-economically. The number of children in poverty is increasing, across the board. And, in the post-busing era, all are seeking strategies to make sure all kids receive an equitable education.

What better way to promote equity than to do everything possible to make sure kids do not attend schools segregated by socioeconomic status? All 35 districts in attendance are struggling to figure out how to promote socioeconomic integration in a challenging political climate.

I found the commonalities fascinating. Districts of all sizes want to promote integration without being coercive. One popular strategy in almost all districts is creating dual-immersion language schools, which attract affluent parents and also have a natural population of immigrant kids, many of whom are low income.

Listening to district representatives, it also became clear that many suburban districts in particular are grappling with rapidly rising poverty rates. Socioeconomic integration is not some high-minded concept for these districts but rather a survival strategy.

Each district had five minutes to describe itself and its current situation. Afterwards, Kahlenberg boiled what we heard down to nine succinct points. They are worth producing here, in brief:

  1. Positive incentives must be provided to middle class and white parents to integrate. Examples: dual-language magnet schools. A “liberal” ideology alone won’t work.
  2. Solicit feedback from the community regarding what choices (of school models) to provide.
  3. Leverage community assets by partnering with private community institutions, such as hospitals.
  4. If we are to sell this convincingly, the primary argument must be about student achievement, even though we may hold other social goals for integration as well.
  5. Language matters. Example: “transportation” vs. “busing.”
  6. Simplicity is an important value in designing socioeconomic integration plans.
  7. Keep in mind the connection between schooling and housing. There may be possible partnerships with authorities in the housing sphere regarding integration goals.
  8. Magnet schools themselves can create new problems: jealousy among teachers pertaining to resources. What are the solutions to these problems? Controlled choice is one possible solution, which strives to make all schools in a district attractive so there is no division between magnets and non-magnets.
  9. Think about integration WITHIN school buildings. It’s not enough to integrate schools if the classrooms within these schools are segregated.

Did I hear some things that didn’t thrill me? Sure. There was a bit too much reflexive skepticism, bordering on hostility, about charter schools. Too many people, for my taste, also had a knee-jerk reaction against using standardized tests to measure student achievement. But there were more reasonable voices in the room as well.

The Century Foundation is seeking foundation funding to sustain the consortium and make it a powerful advocacy voice for a proven strategy to which many politicians are indifferent. I hope Kahlenberg and his team succeed in making this group a force in school reform for many years to come.

Popularity: 4% [?]

From the editor: Destructive cynicism

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

There’s a specious argument in circulation that will not die. I will do my best in the next few hundred words to drive a stake through its heart.

The argument is built upon the findings in two recent studies (see here for Civil Rights Project and here for EPIC), both of which contended that charter schools exacerbate segregation. Charter skeptics on the Denver school board and their allies (and in other cities as well, I’m sure) are using those findings to contend that even charter schools achieving excellent results with low-income populations are part of the problem.

It’s a weak and cynical argument. And yet people persist in putting it forward. By contrast, see the well-reasoned back and forth on this topic in the comments under this blog post.

I’m not going to use this space to analyze the studies, their methodology and alleged biases. Nor am I going to address the question of whether charters in suburban communities, serving primarily middle- and upper-middle-class kids, lead to greater racial and socio-economic isolation. That may be true, and if it is, I consider it a serious issue. I am no charter zealot. I’m about results.

Instead, let’s focus on the kinds of charters that really matter, that are forging new paths. For those are the schools at which these critics are hurling their spears. I’m talking, of course about the KIPPs and West Denver Preps of the world. These are schools, as you’ve all read ad nauseam here and elsewhere, that have begun to demonstrate that it is possible for schools serving a high-poverty urban population to get the vast majority of their students achieving at levels usually enjoyed only by middle- and upper-income kids.

I say “beginning to demonstrate” because it is early in the game. These schools, a smattering of which now exist in cities across the country, have several years of data to support their encouraging stories. But before we celebrate cracking the code, we should wait for large-scale replication, and then rigorously evaluate whether the schools can sustain their success.

I am optimistic. And this is why I find the cynical attacks against these schools, primarily from misguided elements of the politically “progressive” left, so disheartening. Why would people who claim to hold the interests of low-income children close to their hearts push to deprive them of the one option that currently seems to work?

The vast majority of these “beat the odds” schools across the country operate in high-poverty neighborhoods, serving neighborhood kids. Ask yourself this simple question: Were it not for these charters, take Denver’s West Denver Prep as an example, where would those kids be attending school?

It’s an easy question to answer: In a low-performing neighborhood school, filled with low-income kids of color. Does anyone honestly believe that if these students weren’t attending a West Denver Prep they would be transported to some mythical, integrated school? Where in Denver does such a school exist? It doesn’t.

Are people making the segregation argument so blinded by their ideology that they would rather condemn students to low-performing schools than allow them to attend a much better school, just because they don’t like the governance model?

One gentleman who regularly submits vehemently anti-charter comments to the Education News Colorado web site, argues that school districts should focus on magnet schools rather than charters, because “magnet schools are more effective than charters as a tool to integrate, ethnically and economically, and that students achieve more in magnet schools.”

In theory, that sounds great. In the local context, it’s a fantasy.

Denver created magnets back in the busing days to promote voluntary integration. Since busing ended, however, many of those original magnets have become at least as racially and socio-economically isolated as neighborhood schools. They’re now either enclaves of the privileged or low-performing neighborhood schools dressed up with fancy names.

Just take a glance down the list. Denver School of the Arts: 10 percent low income. Knight Fundamental Academy: 84 percent low income. Gilpin Montessori: 78 percent free and reduced lunch. The George Washington High School International Baccalaureate program does not break out its statistics, but is overwhelmingly white and Asian, and has a huge attrition rate among its few African America and Latino students.

There are exceptions as well: The dual-language Academia Ana Marie Sandoval and Denison Montessori are well balanced racially and socio-economically. The Center for International Studies, since moving into its own building a few years ago, has become more diverse.

But those exceptions, rather than making a case against charters help prove another of my long-standing arguments. If DPS decided diversity was a primary value, the district could create attractive models and locate them strategically to attract diverse populations. But that has never happened in a systematic way.

It makes sense to continue pressuring DPS to see the light and promote integration. I will keep advocating for that approach. I suspect, however, that many of those currently crying for integration and against charters won’t be there with me.

Why? Because this isn’t about integration. Not really.

I’ve heard some of these same alleged integration advocates criticize the Denver School of Science and Technology charter for being too integrated. If the school really wanted to prove its mettle, one leading charter skeptic told me, it would take on a population that reflects the district – about 70 percent low-income — rather than wimping out by serving a population that is only 50 percent poor.

So much for consistency. When ideology trumps all, consistency becomes a nuisance. Fox News has taught us that from the right, has it not?

At times, this inconsistency looks  cravenly cynical. I ask again: How can people of good conscience argue with straight faces that putting a high-performing, high-poverty school in a low-income neighborhood, within blocks of a low-performing, high-poverty school, somehow promotes segregation? The segregation is already in place. What was missing before was a good option for those kids and their families.

I can’t help concluding that what some of these people really want is to preserve jobs and institutions that serve adults pretty well, even if this condemns thousands of low-income kids to lives of economic and social struggle.

How, exactly, is that progressive?

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