Archives for category: Segregation , Racial Isolation and Integration

Indiana blogger Steve Hinnefeld reviews Heather McGee’s The Sum of Us, which he highly recommends. As we saw in the Olympics, Americans are different that other countries. We are a remarkably diverse people, and we succeed when we work together across lines of race and class.

Hinnefeld writes:

There’s a “solidarity dividend” to be gained when we work across lines of race and class to improve lives for everyone, Heather McGhee writes in her excellent and incisive book “The Sum of Us,” published this year. Everyone gains when we work together and don’t waste our efforts holding others back.

Conversely, she writes, we all pay a penalty when we succumb to racism and to social and economic divisions. The zero-sum myth, which holds that someone else’s gain is necessarily our loss, lets politicians and the powerful divide us into warring, partisan factions.

Book cover of 'The Sum of Us'

One sphere where this plays out is education. The belief that there is a limited supply of “good” schools — and that they are in affluent communities and enroll mostly white students — hurts us all. Schools become more segregated by race and class. Many children attend schools that are stigmatized as failing while the fortunate pay a premium for the schools they want.

But what if the entire logic is wrong?” McGhee writes. “What if they’re not only paying too high a cost for segregation, but they’re also mistaken about the benefits?”

Evidence that white people are wrong about the benefits of being at the top of our nation’s racial hierarchy is at the core of “The Sum of Us.” McGhee, an economic policy expert and a former president of the research and advocacy group Demos, describes how racism robs people of all races of political power, economic security, health care and other amenities.

The book’s central metaphor is the drained swimming pool. In the first half of the 20th century, large public pools were the pride of many U.S. communities. They brought people together, including rich and poor, native-born and immigrants. But in many locales, they were open to white people only. This was especially true in the South, but there were plenty of examples in the North: for example, Engman Public Natatorium in South Bend, Indiana, initially banned Black swimmers and later let them in on a segregated basis, on designated days.

When the civil rights movement swept the country and courts ordered public facilities to desegregate, a common response was to close swimming pools or turn them over to private clubs. McGhee describes examples where white officials filled the pools with concrete rather than share them with Black families. As a result, white children had no safe place to swim unless they had access to private pools.

The writer Anand Giridharadas writes a blog called The.Ink. In a recent post, he interviewed author Courtney Martin about her decision to send her child to the neighborhood public school, which was majority black and brown. Anand wrote a book that is very relevant to readers of this blog: Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.
In it, he argues that the global elite engage in great acts of philanthropy that do little to help the great masses of people but preserves the status quo in which they are the winners.

This is Anand’s introduction to his interview with Martin about her new book:

A few years ago, like millions of parents, Courtney Martin had to decide where to send her child to school. Because she is an acute and thoughtful journalist and social chronicler, she understood what a complicated and fraught and historically loaded decision that was. And so, in addition to making the decision, she set out on a journey to understand the dilemma she was facing — being torn between sending her daughter to the same places all the other white kids were going and sending her daughter to the local, majority-Black-and-brown public school.

It was around this time that, in one of the signal essays of the era, Nikole Hannah-Jones grappled with her own version of this dilemma as a Black woman highly accomplished in journalism, with the options and resources to choose among many places.

Courtney approaches the dilemma from the very different standpoint of a white woman in Oakland, California, trying to understand the deep and enduring segregation in places that, on the surface, seem progressive and woke.

I caught up with Courtney for her first interview anywhere about the much-anticipated new book that grew out of this searching: “Learning in Public: Lessons for a Racially Divided America from My Daughter’s School.” You’ll find that below.

Read the entire interview. This is an excerpt:

“The racism on the left is obscured and full of guilt and shame”: a conversation with Courtney Martin

THE INK: Tell us the story of how you decided what school to send your daughter to.

COURTNEY: When I would take walks around our gentrifying neighborhood in Oakland with my first daughter strapped in snug in the carrier on my chest, I would always walk by our local elementary school. The kids seemed joyful and the grounds seemed beautiful, but I noticed that there were almost no white kids in the playground (which seemed strange given all the white families I’d seen living here). When my baby grew up, and was old enough to go to transitionary kindergarten, I sort of put my journalist hat on and started researching where all the white kids are. That led me on a journey of thousand moral miles. 

Ultimately, I learned that despite all the hype about Brown v. Board and Ruby Bridges, our schools hit the peak of integration in the 1980s, and it’s only been downhill from there, largely because of white parents like me who either disinvest from public schools entirely by sending our kids to private schools, or navigate to make sure our kids go to the whitest, most highly resourced public schools in our district. I also learned that integration is the only thing we know that actually works to break the cycle of poverty for Black and brown kids, and that white kids who go to integrated schools do fine. It felt hard, in some ways, to choose a school that most of our friends weren’t choosing, and one with a 1-out-of-10 rating on to boot, but the research I did (thank you, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Rucker C. Johnson!) helped us get over that initial fear. And thank goodness it did, because we all love our kid’s school so much.

THE INK: In your introduction, you say that “this book is very much about racializing white people” and that you “attempt to write with a ‘white double-consciousness.’” What does that mean?

COURTNEY: There are so many incredible books about educational inequity and the failed promise of integration, but they tend to be academic. I wanted to write a book that would serve as a gateway drug of sorts to all those great books — a fast-moving, personal story that would draw people in and then hit them with a bunch of new knowledge about race and education, and leave them with some good self-searching to do. My audience is white and/or privileged parents, though I did a lot of work to make sure the book felt useful and true to BIPOC folks in my own community, but also in the educational space writ large. 

In any case, I wrote about myself and my family in a deeply vulnerable way, trying to force myself to see the water I swam in and describe it for other white people. Part of what keeps white supremacy in place is that whiteness is treated as a default, as neutral, instead of a distinct culture with its own language, norms, and problems. In a sense, I was trying to center whiteness, so we can get better at decentering white people. 

THE INK: You write about Dr. Janet Helms’ “framework for white racial development” that she developed in the 1990s. You quote her as saying: “In the first stage, you are basically oblivious, interacting with very few people of color, and when you do, you do your best to pretend as if nothing is different about them.” A lot of white Americans are still very much in this stage, at best — the colorblind stage. But I would imagine that a lot of your fellow white parents in places like Oakland think they’re different from that, further along the journey. Are they, in fact?

COURTNEY: Exactly. I think Americans who live in largely white neighborhoods and mostly interact with white people — of which there are A LOT — are probably still hanging out in this stage. But most of the white people I know who have chosen to live in hip cities like Oakland, Brooklyn, Minneapolis, etc., pride themselves on wanting to live in multi-racial community. And yet I think many of us, in fact, only have this as an aspiration, not a lived experience. When we actually look around the table at our dinner parties, or check out our kids’ soccer teams, we are confronted with the reality that we live in multi-racial cities, but many of us also lead very segregated lives, particularly socioeconomically. 

In this post, Thomas Ultican reviews Steve Suitts’ devastating new book about the origins of school choice.

Advocates of school choice like to claim economist Milton Friedman as their godfather but Suitts, who has spent his career working in civil rights activism, shows that the true originators of “freedom of choice” were Southern governors and legislatures who were determined to thwart the Brown decision of 1954. Suitts doesn’t ignore Friedman. He points out that his 1955 essay proposing freedom of choice proposed that in a choice system, there would be all-white schools, all-black schools, and mixed-race schools.

The segregationists loved Friedman’s ideas because it mirrored their own. They knew that in a free-choice regime, the status quo would be preserved by racism and intimidation.

So when you hear libertarians and right wingers talking about the glories of choice, think George Wallace. Think Bull Connor. Think James Eastland. Think White Citizens Councils. Read Steve Suitts’ book and be informed. Don’t be fooled by those who claim falsely that choice advances civil rights. It does not. It never has.

Do you remember General Tata?

After a career in the military, retired Brigadier General Anthony Tata entered the Broad Academy in 2009, launching a new career. He was soon hired as Chief Operating Officer of the District of Columbia Public Schools, when Michelle Rhee was chancellor. Then on to become Superintendent of Schools in Wake County, North Carolina, where a new school board hired him to dismantle one of the nation’s most successfully integrated districts. He managed to alienate and offend enough people so that the board that hired him was soon swept out by voters.

Mike Klonsky picks up the story of General Tata’s career post-education. As a noted Islamophobe and Trumper, he soon caught the eye of Trump recruiters and is in line for a powerful position in the Defense Department.

Klonsky writes:

FAST FORWARD…So quite naturally, who should pop up yesterday as Trump’s proposed appointee to the third-highest post in the Pentagon? None other than Brig. Gen. Tata himself. The job includes managing policy decisions on everything from Afghanistan and the Middle East to China, North Korea, and Russia, as well as artificial intelligence, hypersonic weapons, and more.

Tata would succeed John Rood, who was ousted as undersecretary for policy in February after being viewed as insufficiently loyal to Trump. He could even be next in the line if the secretary of defense and the deputy resigned or were removed.

Only this time, the recommendation caused the shit to hit the fan.

Among his notorious remarks: He called President Obama “a terrorist leader.”

Another notable citizen-rightwing nut job for this itinerant administration.

Nancy Bailey here presents a vision of schools that create a new realty and build a better society.

Public schools can bring us together. When children learn to care for each other with tolerance and understanding, they will grow to respect one other as adults. Honor the memory of George Floyd and black citizens who have unjustly died, by reconsidering our past efforts to integrate public schools. One place to start is by reading Gerald Grant’s book, Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There are No Bad Schools in Raleigh.

Learn how, once upon a time, Raleigh brought children together to learn, thereby reducing the gap between the rich and poor.

Vouchers and charters divide. Private schools and charter schools segregate. Remote learning, or learning at home or anyplace anytime, does little to bring students together.

This country needs strong public schools that unite students and families.

Who’s considering how to address the growing racial chasm that, along with the virus, could be America’s undoing? It has been 66 years since Brown v. Board of Education. How have public schools changed?

As we watch the unrest in Minneapolis and around the country, how, after all these years, can America bring students together? How, when Covid-19 separates us, can we find our way back to schools that are better than before? What will public schools be like when this disease is over?

Garrison Keillor writes today about the life and achievements of Malcolm X. Today is his birthday. Just a small apercu: on February 21, 1965, I read in the newspaper about a sale of Tiffany lamps in uptown Manhattan. Growing up in Texas, I had never seen a Tiffany lamp. I was a young housewife in search of a lamp. I took the subway and was about to go inside the shop when I saw a huge commotion across the street. People were running and screaming. Police started arriving and swarming, and an officer told me to leave as fast as I could. “Just go!,” he said. I complied. The Audubon Ballrooom was right across the street.

Today is the birthday of Malcolm X (books by this author), born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska (1925). When he was four years old and living in East Lansing, Michigan, white supremacists set fire to the family’s home. The East Lansing police and firefighters—all white—came to the house when called, but stood by and watched it burn. When he was six, his father was murdered. Police declared his death a suicide, which invalidated the family’s life insurance policy. Little’s mother never recovered from her husband’s murder, and entered a mental institution when the boy was 12. When he was 14, he told his high school teacher that he wanted to be a lawyer. The teacher told him to be realistic and consider a career in carpentry instead. Little dropped out of school the following year.

He was arrested for larceny in 1946, and while in prison, an older inmate encouraged him to use his time to educate himself. Little began checking out books from the prison library, and when he found his vocabulary too limited for some of them, he copied out an entire dictionary word for word. He also began a correspondence with Elijah Mohammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam, and once released, became one of their most prominent organizers. He took the surname “X” to symbolize his lost African heritage.

But in 1964, Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam when he learned that his mentor was having multiple affairs, contradicting his own teachings. Seeking clarity, Malcolm that year made the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Here, for the first time, he related to people of all races, and returned to America with a new message. He stopped preaching the rigid separatism that had been his trademark, and instead called for people to work together across racial lines.

At the end of 1964, over many conversations, Malcolm X dictated his life story to the writer Alex Haley. The book was almost finished when, in February of 1965, Malcolm X was shot and killed while speaking at a rally at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. He was 39 years old. A few months later Alex Haley published The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965). It has since seen over 40 editions and sold in the tens of millions.

Courtney Everts Mykytyn was a force of nature in Los Angeles, where she led the fight for racially integrated schools. She founded an organization called “Integrated Schools,” which posted on its Facebook page the news of her tragic death in an automobile accident on Monday. She was struck and killed in front of her home.

Go to the website to read more about Integrated Schools and its mission. 

To learn more about this remarkable woman, read this recent interview.



John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, reviews an important recent book. It is ironic that the evidence for the value of integration grows at the same pace as resegregation.


Surely we can agree with Malcolm Forbes on one thing: schools should nurture “the art of thinking individually together.” Can we agree that the path to such a goal requires school integration?

Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works, by Rucker Johnson and Alexander Nazaryan, cites Forbes’ statement when presenting a powerful case for a new era of desegregation. Johnson and Nazaryan refute the widely held belief that integration and the War on Poverty failed. They offer a compelling, evidence-based vision of equality in education and the economy where diversity is a driving force.

Misconceptions about school desegregation contributed to the contemporary school “reform” movement, which was based on the false premise and glib assertion that our children can’t wait for a victory over racism and poverty, so we must seek individual levers for immediately transforming schools. This simplistic hypothesis morphed into corporate school reform which used the stress of test-driven competition to overcome the stress of poverty, and segregation by choice to overcome the legacies of Jim Crow and de facto segregation.

Reformers have thus imposed a series of disconnected “quick fixes” on schools. Their gambles included: the building of a “better teacher,” who would do “whatever it takes” to end inequities; data-driven, top-down and, supposedly, less expensive mandates; and charter schools. Few reformers bothered to read education history or the social science which Children of the Dream builds on.  Johnson and Nazaryan, however, draw upon experts like the New York Times’ David Shipler who explains, “Every problem magnifies the impact of dollars.” Shipler concludes, “if problems are interlocking, then so must solutions be.”

De jure school segregation was outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v Topeka decision in 1954. But, only 6% of districts that would be desegregated had been integrated by 1968. Then, Green v County School Board of Kent County did more than order a recomposition of student bodies. It extended desegregation “to every facet of school operations.” Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote to Justice William Brennan that the ruling would mean the “traffic light will have changed from Brown to Green. Amen!”

Only four years later, the South had become more integrated than the rest of the nation. Then, the 1974 Milliken decision built on Green’s comprehensive approach, ruling that compensatory spending could be mandated to address generations of discrimination. And, desegregation led to sharp increases in per student funding and class size reductions for black students.

Johnson and Nazaryan draw upon social science to document the victories achieved by integration when combined with equitable spending on schools, and with high quality early education. Blacks who were not exposed to integration didn’t see increases in education attainment. Similarly, black students with greater exposure to white classmates, but without significant increases in funding, didn’t make gains comparable to those who those who benefited from investments in smaller class size and better paid teachers.

Black students’ gains correlated with years of integration exposure. The estimated effect of integration over all 12 years was the elimination of the white-black achievement gap! Blacks who were desegregated in elementary school had a decline of 22% in the probability of incarceration. A five-year exposure to integration led to a 30% increase in annual earnings, an 11% decline in the annual incidence of poverty, an 11% increase in very good or excellent health, and a 25% increase in family income. A major reason for that gain was that integration correlated with an increase in marital stability.

A 25% increase in funding over all school years could eliminate the achievement gap between low-income and non-poor students.

Integration’s benefits were especially noteworthy when combined with increased spending and early education. A 10% increase in funding for a low-income student’s 12 years in public schools led to 9.6% increase in earnings. When low-income students were exposed to Head Start and the same 12-year increase in funding, their subsequent earnings doubled. The effects of Head Start often washed out, however, when students then attended under-funded K-12 schools.

It should also be stressed that high-quality pre-K was a holistic process that produced a range of longterm benefits. D. Keith Osburn, a founder of Head Start, warned that Head Start should not just be a reading program, but a whole child process. And though worthy, children can’t wait until they are old enough for Head Start or pre-K. One million new neural connections are formed each second in the first years of life, so public school and public sector desegregation work best when integrated with high-quality pre- and post-natal care.

Early school desegregation successes often followed the pattern of hospital desegregation in Mississippi, which led to decline in black mortality rates by 65%, driven in part by infants’ improvements. This outcome was echoed by the reduction of obesity due to early Head Start interventions.

I learned the most from Children of the Dream when it described the successes and failures in expanding diversity. It explains that school integration peaked in late 1980s when almost 45% of black students attended majority-white schools. However, a political counter-attack resulted in resegregation, and lost opportunities.

The New Jersey Abbott case was one of the greatest success stories. The ruling reversed the previous pattern where high income districts received more funding. But, now, N.J. schools have resegregated. My take is that the state’s subsequent high-profile corporate school reforms displaced efforts to desegregate and distracted from integrated, whole child policies.

A similar pattern emerged in Memphis. After Shelby County “flipped” from a Democratic to Republican majority, it became a victim of secession policies, where affluent whites were propelled by racism and/or rightwing ideology to separate from urban districts. Now, 30 states have “explicit secession policies” codified in law.

But, Johnson and Nazaryan also emphasize institutional racism, “white flight” and “black flight” to the suburbs and charters, and mistaken reform policies pushed by some civil rights advocates, including President Barack Obama (who I otherwise support.) It is my understanding that Memphis has had a pretty solid record in more traditional school improvements before the Obama administration incentivized the test and punish, winners and losers, Race to the Top (RttT) mentality. It and Tennessee would become major players in the RttT.

In 2011, President Barack Obama gave the commencement address at Booker T. Washington in Memphis. His market-driven reforms were supposed to be a “curative force” for inequality. Accountability-driven reform was credited with increasing the school’s graduation rate from 55% to 82%.

By 2016, Booker T. Washington was a “poster child” for failed schools. It proved to be easier to fire teachers than staff high-poverty, segregated classrooms. Johnson and Nazaryan explain how students who were taught by one substitute after another were not provided an equal education.

Finally, Children of the Dream explained what worked in Louisville, Ky., Wake County, N.C., and some other districts. These socio-economic integration efforts show how desegregation efforts can learn from each other.  Johnson and Nazaryan described Louisville, for instance, as a “partial blueprint for how diversity in schools can be achieved.” Nearly 90% of parents supported the district’s diversity efforts.

Johnson and Nazaryan also praise the Cincinnati’s campaign to desegregate housing, and those efforts are consistent with that city’s partnership-driven efforts to build full-service community schools. My reading of the narrative is that these interrelated solutions can bring the qualities of integrated communities into high-challenge schools. But, fighting the legacies of generational poverty and racism is difficult enough; it’s even harder to create integrated environments when fighting off corporate reformers and the Tea Party.
Desegregation is a daunting challenge. But, Children of the Dream includes even more case studies that could inform a real commitment to diversity. At minimum, it makes the case that integrated schools must be our goal. Johnson and Nazaryan show that, sooner or later, we must tackle the challenge of integration if we really seek equity.


In this article, Nikole Hannah-Jones reviews the history of racial desegregation and the term “busing.” This article is a good reason to subscribe to the New York Times. Nikole Hannah-Jones is a staff writer for the New York Times Magazine.

David Safier is a journalist in Tucson who often writes about education.

He wrote the following two articles about charters, enrollment decline, and white flight in Tucson.


A Multi-Factored Look At TUSD’s Enrollment Decline

POSTED BY  ON THU, JUN 20, 2019 AT 1:32 PM


Tucson Unified School District has been losing students steadily since 2000. Lots of students. At its turn-of-the-millenium high point, the district had 62,500 students. This school year, the number was 46,000. That’s a loss of 16,500 students, over 900 a year.

Why is TUSD losing students year after year? The answer you’re most likely to hear is, the district is the problem. It’s the administration. It’s the teachers. It’s the curriculum. It’s “D,” all of the above. Fix the administration, fix the teachers, fix the curriculum, and the numbers will climb.

But the standard answer is far too simple. The district may deserve part of the blame for declining enrollment, but most of the drop was inevitable, created by changes in Arizona’s educational landscape and a slowing of Tucson’s population growth.

For the sake of argument, let’s start with the assumption that TUSD is no better or worse now than it was at its 2000 high water mark of 62,500 students and see what else is causing the district to lose students.

I see three factors beyond the control of the district as the major reasons for the enrollment decline. 

Two of the factors were created by the Arizona legislature’s push for “school choice.” The first is the emergence of charter schools. The competition for a limited pool of students means that every student inside the TUSD boundaries who attends a charter is one less student in the district. The second is the state’s open enrollment policy, which lets parents send their children to schools in nearby districts. Open enrollment gets far less attention than charter schools, but it is a significant force pulling students living inside the TUSD boundaries to suburban school districts with more affluent, whiter populations.

The third important factor is the slowdown of Tucson’s population growth. Students lost to charter schools and open enrollment haven’t been replaced by an influx of new students.

Let’s look at the factors one by one.

Charter Schools

Arizona’s first charter schools opened their doors in 1995. They grew steadily, but since they started from zero, it took awhile for them to have an impact on school districts’ enrollment numbers.

In 2000, 50,000 Arizona students were enrolled in charters. I don’t have any direct data on how many of those charter students lived inside the TUSD boundaries, but a reasonable estimate is about 3,500. TUSD students made up about 7 percent of the state’s public school population in 2000, and 3,500 is 7 percent of the state’s charter school population.

Assuming charters exert the same draw on Tucson-area students as they do in Arizona’s other urban areas, about 13,000 students who would otherwise be in TUSD are now attending charters, 9,500 of those added since 2000.

So we can subtract 9,500 from TUSD’s student population since 2000 due to the advent of charter schools.

Open Enrollment

In 2019, TUSD had 16,000 fewer Anglo students than it did in 2000, a number, not coincidentally, almost identical to the district’s overall enrollment decline of 16,500. Where did those students go?

Anglo parents who moved out of the city with their children during those years account for some of the decline. In 2018, Tucson had about 5,000 fewer Anglo residents than in 2000. A significant portion of charter school students are Anglo, accounting for more of the decline. But those two factors don’t add up to all the Anglo students who left TUSD. Open enrollment played a significant role as well.

Open enrollment became state law at the same time the first charter schools opened their doors. With open enrollment, students were no longer bound to the attendance area of their local schools. For the first time, if a district school anywhere had an empty desk, any student could fill it regardless of where he or she lived. That means parents can pick and choose between schools inside or outside their home districts.

Open enrollment doesn’t get much press coverage, but it is a major change in the options parents have when choosing schools for their children. For TUSD, it has led inevitably to parents living in the district sending their children to schools in neighboring districts. Districts like Catalina Foothills and Vail are two big draws for TUSD-area parents who want their children to have the kind of education offered in affluent suburbs, and other nearby districts may pull some students from the TUSD areas as well. Other than University High, TUSD has few schools which draw a significant number of out-of-district students.

Think of open enrollment as the most recent version of “white flight.”

Before there was an open enrollment policy, beginning in the 1960s, Anglo families around the country fled from cities and moved to the suburbs in search of schools they believed would give their children a better education. White flight hit TUSD the hardest from 1975 though 1985, with the district’s Anglo student population dropping by 10,000. After 1985, the number of Anglo students in the district stabilized until 2000, when it began dropping again.

With open enrollment, Anglo families — and, of course, families from other ethnic groups — could send their children wherever they wanted without hanging a “For Sale” sign on their homes. All they needed were nearby districts with room for out-of-district students and the ability to transport their children to those schools.

I don’t have solid figures for the number of students living inside TUSD boundaries who attend nearby school districts, but it looks to be in the thousands.

Catalina Foothills School District is one of the places where parents living in the TUSD boundaries are likely to send their children. According to the CFSD website, 3,000 students used open enrollment last year. That’s an extraordinarily large number for a district of 5,200 students, far more than you would expect from in-district parents opting to send their children to a school outside their attendance area. 

Some of the people making use of the open enrollment policy are certainly district residents. But CFSD has only one high school, meaning there cannot be in-district high school transfers. When you take the approximately 1,700 students attending Catalina Foothills High from the district total, that only leaves 3,500 attending the district’s two middle schools and five elementary schools. It’s unlikely that more than a few hundred of the open enrollment students are children living in the district whose parents choose to send them to a district elementary or middle school outside their enrollment area.

A high percentage of the 3,000 open enrollment students are likely to be from outside the district. They can come from any nearby district, but because of the number of students living in the TUSD attendance area and the likelihood of a significant number of those parents wanting to place their children in a suburban school, it’s probable TUSD students make up the largest group of out-of-district students.

Vail is the other affluent district adjacent to TUSD. Because it sits to the southeast of Tucson, away from other suburban population centers, most out-of-district students are likely to come from TUSD.

Unlike Catalina Foothills, Vail doesn’t list how many of its 4,000 students take advantage of open enrollment. I know from anecdotal evidence that Vail actively courts TUSD students, but I don’t know how many attend schools in the district.

I can only estimate a range for the number of students living in the TUSD area who attend schools in other districts since I don’t have hard figures to go on. I’ll put that number at anywhere between 1,500 and 3,000 students, acknowledging it could be lower or higher.

Tucson’s Population

To say Tucson has grown since the beginning of the 20th century is an understatement. In 1900 it was a small town of 7,500 residents. By 1950, its population had increased six times, to 45,000 residents. In the next decade the city had a growth spurt. By 1960, the population tripled to 213,000.

After 1960, the city settled into a slower but steady pattern of population growth of about 20 percent per decade. Tucson took 40 years to double its population again, reaching 487,000 residents in 2000.

Then in 2000, the city’s population growth hit a wall. It continued growing, but at a quarter the rate of the earlier four decades, adding just 46,000 people by 2017. If it had continued at the post-1960 rate, it would have added 180,000 people.

It was at the beginning of the slowdown in population growth that TUSD began losing students.

If Tucson’s population growth had been higher since 2000, newly arriving students would have masked the loss to charter schools and open enrollment by replacing the students who went elsewhere. But the slow growth meant, when parents chose to send their children to charters or to schools in neighboring districts, they made a large dent in TUSD’s enrollment numbers.

Population Movement Within Tucson

The number of students who I have estimated live in the TUSD area but attend charter schools or other districts is 4,000 to 5,000 students short of the actual 16,500 drop in enrollment. It may be that my charter and open enrollment estimates are low. I believe they are, but I would rather lowball the numbers than inflate them. However, there is another aspect of TUSD’s enrollment decline I haven’t mentioned yet, and that is the shifts in population within Tucson.

Four school districts other than TUSD have part of their enrollment areas inside the city of Tucson. Flowing Wells and Amphitheater school districts are on the northwest corner of the city, Vail is on the southeast corner and Sunnyside is in the south. That means a number of Tucson children live in those districts’ attendance areas.

I haven’t delved into the Tucson census data in detail, but what I have looked at indicates that, since 2000, the areas served by those four districts have grown faster than the part of Tucson served by TUSD. It makes sense that the outer areas of Tucson would have put on more growth than the more central portion of the city. The rest of the metropolitan area outside of the city of Tucson grew at about three times the rate of the city, so you would expect the area on the periphery of Tucson to follow a similar pattern.

If the Tucson growth patterns I’ve seen in census data are an accurate indication of where Tucson has added people since 2000, that would mean that the population inside the TUSD boundaries hasn’t grown significantly in the last 18 years. It may even have decreased a bit. If true, that would also play a part in TUSD’s enrollment decline.


From 2000 onward, TUSD’s enrollment fell victim to two “school choice” initiatives from the legislature and a slowdown in the city’s population growth.

Whenever charters set up shop in an area, they take students from the local school district, as they did with TUSD. When parents of means decide to take advantage of the state’s open enrollment policies and send their children to schools with high test scores and low numbers of minority students, the students leave TUSD for suburban pastures without actually leaving the city. When those two factors pull students from TUSD and not enough children move into the district to replace them, the district’s enrollment numbers plummet.

That’s what happened in TUSD. Similar factors have led to declines in urban district enrollments around the country. It’s less the quality of the district’s administration, instruction and curriculum than outside forces which have led to shrinking enrollment numbers.

It’s impossible to know if the decline in TUSD enrollment would have been lower if the district had put together more successful efforts to hold onto its students and attract new ones, but the difference would have been a few thousand students. Certainly TUSD could have done better, and it can do better in the future. But most of the student loss over the past 18 years has been due to factors beyond the district’s control.

Why the Common Wisdom About TUSD’s Declining Enrollment Is Wrong

POSTED BY  ON FRI, JUL 5, 2019 AT 1:34 PM

Two men I admire, Jim Nintzel, the editor here at the Weekly, and talk show host John C. Scott, have frustrated the hell out of me recently. Both men know more about Tucson and Arizona than I would if I lived another lifetime. Both are intelligent, perceptive analysts of the political scene. Neither accepts the “common wisdom” just because it’s what other people think.

Well, they don’t accept the common wisdom in most cases, anyway. When it comes to TUSD, though, Scott and Nintzel seem to go along with the prevailing notion that the school district is doing a terrible job and has brought its problems, specifically its loss of students, on itself.

Common wisdom always has a kernel of logic to it. If TUSD has lost an average of 900 students a year for the past 18 years, it’s only logical, it’s something they’ve done. Isn’t it? How can it not be the district’s fault?

The problem is, the common wisdom about TUSD is wrong.

This all came up because of one of my recent posts, A Multi-Factored Look At TUSD’s Enrollment Decline. My main point was that the district’s precipitous enrollment decline over the past 18 years has more to do with outside factors than with the district itself. Two of the factors were created by the state legislature when it green-lighted charter schools and open enrollment in 1994, creating two new forms of competition for students. The third factor is the city’s population, which essentially stopped growing around 2000, meaning TUSD hasn’t had an influx of new students to replace the ones who left.

When I talked about this on John C. Scott’s show, he came back with a litany of sins TUSD has committed which have led to parents pulling their children out of the district — problems with student discipline, poor administration, poor money management and so on. 

Most of what Scott said about TUSD is true, but not his contention that the problems he listed are the primary reasons students have left the district.

Nintzel agreed with me about the mechanism for TUSD’s enrollment decline, but said I haven’t paid enough attention to parents’ dissatisfaction with the district which led them to send their children elsewhere.

Nintzel is right that dissatisfaction with TUSD leads many parents to seek other options for their children, but often, their dissatisfaction has more to do with the changing ethnic and economic makeup of Tucson than anything the district has done.

The arguments made by Scott and Nintzel aren’t wrong factually. They’re wrong in emphasis, putting too much blame on the district and too little on national demographic shifts and Arizona’s Republican politicians’ continuing efforts to dismantle our district-based, publicly run school system by encouraging school privatization. Compound those factors with Tuscon’s glacial population growth over the past few decades, and you have a recipe for plummeting enrollment.

Unfortunately, their views mirror the local “common wisdom” about TUSD. Attacking TUSD has turned into a blood sport, and that’s bad news for the district and the city. When people magnify TUSD’s problems, it encourages even more people to leave the district. And the notion that TUSD is responsible for the problems it faces gives the impression that the district should be able to turn this thing around if it can just get its act together. What the district actually needs is thoughtful, incremental improvements to help it better serve the needs of the community.

Let me lay out what I believe to be true about the changing nature of TUSD and many similar urban districts across the country. Admittedly, this is a subjective view, but it’s based on extensive study of urban education in the U.S.

TUSD is like a lot like urban school districts around the country which find themselves educating an increasing number of low income students, many of whom are African American and Latino. Over the past few decades, the districts’ test scores have declined, and their enrollment has dropped.

The first thing that happens to a school district when a city’s population becomes increasing low income is, student achievement falls. Student achievement correlates more strongly with family income than any other variable, whether in Tucson, in other areas of the U.S. or around the world. Anywhere you look, high income students do better on every academic measure than low income students. Schools matter, of course. Some schools are more successful at raising low income students’ achievement than others. But a scholarly ballpark estimate is that family income is three times more important to students’ academic achievement than the schooling they receive.

No one should be surprised by low test scores at TUSD schools when a majority of their students come from low income families where parents often have a high school education or less. By the same token, no one should be overly impressed with the high test scores in districts like Catalina Foothills and Vail when their students come from homes with comfortable incomes and parents with college educations.

But maybe I’m going too easy on TUSD. Even if it makes sense to expect low test scores from its current student population, should they be as low as they are? Maybe if TUSD had its educational act together, the scores would be higher.

Fine. That a reasonable assertion. Let’s test it out.

If TUSD is doing a lousy job, if schools run by excellent administrators and staffed with competent teachers would get better results, local charter schools with student populations similar to those in TUSD should be kicking the district’s ass. After all, charters aren’t burdened by hide-bound administrations, musty old educational practices, unionized teachers and burdensome state regulations, all of which are said to bring down the quality of school district education. That’s why charters were created, right? To show school districts how it’s done.

Well, Arizona charters have had 25 years to prove they can succeed where school districts fail. But it hasn’t worked out that way. Students at some charters exceed expectations while others perform below the level you might expect. Which is exactly what you find at various schools in TUSD. Specialty schools like BASIS attract successful, motivated students and get stellar results, but the same goes for TUSD’s University High which attracts a similar type of student.

If you ignore the charter hype and look at the numbers, whether it’s in Tucson, across the state or around the country, charters and district schools that share similar student populations tend to group together in their high stakes test scores and other measures of academic success. There isn’t the night-and-day difference you would expect if the districts like TUSD were failures.

With all TUSD’s flaws and shortcomings — as with any educational institution I’ve ever known, it has plenty of flaws and shortcomings — district schools are doing the educational job you would expect them to do with their students, sometimes a little better, sometimes a little worse than local charter schools with similar populations.

Here is the conclusion I draw from the district/charter comparison: If local charter schools haven’t been able to put TUSD to shame, then the people of Tucson should stop shaming their district as well.

But that begs the question: If charters are no better than district schools, why do students continue to leave districts and head over to charters? Right now, 15 percent of the state’s school children are in charter schools, and the number keeps growing.

Charters have a few advantages over districts which have nothing to do with the quality of the education they provide. Their growth has been stimulated by the encouragement they have received from our state’s Republican politicians, including those who have run the department of education, since the first charters opened in 1995. And they have gotten additional help from the national school privatization industry which spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year pumping up charters’ reputation and infusing the schools with funding beyond what they receive from the state. Put those forces together, and Arizona has the highest percentage of students in charters of any state in the country.

Charters have been sold as the Next Big Educational Thing. And I use the word “sold” advisedly. A full-blown public relations campaign has made charters look like New! Improved! versions of the public schools which preceded them. Parents who are looking for something better for their children hear again and again, charters are the answer.

With charter school names including words like “College” and “Preparatory” and “Academy,” who wouldn’t think the schools will guarantee their children a shot at a college education? With charter cheerleaders chanting, “You say charter, we say BASIS! You say charter, we say BASIS,” who wouldn’t think their children will attend a charter school like BASIS, which claims, falsely, to turn ordinary students into academic superstars?

The rapid growth of charter schools is a matter of PR over performance.

But charters aren’t the only thing drawing students in the TUSD attendance area away from the district’s schools. Open enrollment, which began at the same time as charters, allows parents to enroll their children in any school with an empty desk, in any district they want. That means for the past 25 years, TUSD area parents have been able to load their children into their SUVs and drive them to schools in neighboring districts like Catalina Foothills and Vail.

As with charters, it’s possible to say, if TUSD-area parents take advantage of open enrollment and send their children to schools outside the district — I estimate there are between 3,000 and 6,000 children in that category — that proves TUSD is doing a poor job educating its students. Clearly, the district is driving parents away.

But there is another, more likely explanation which is as old as the push for school integration in the 1950s and 1960s: White Flight. Ever since white parents have seen their children’s schools filling with students from other ethnic groups, they have been fleeing to the suburbs where they built shiny new school buildings filled with students who look like their children and come from similar backgrounds. White flight feeds on itself. The more white parents leave the city, the more black and brown the city schools become, which encourages more white families to follow the earlier emigrants.

According to a population graph on the city of Tucson’s website, Tucson in 1960 was 80 percent Anglo and 18 percent Latino. Latinos became the city’s majority ethnic group in 2015. Currently, Tucson’s population is 37 percent Anglo, 50 percent Latino.

Prior to 1995, Anglos who wanted to send their children to schools in other districts to escape the ethnic diversity of TUSD schools had to pull up stakes and move. Now, with open enrollment, they can stay put and ferry their children across district lines.

I don’t blame TUSD for Whites fleeing the city any more than I blame the African American family which moves into an White neighborhood for the For Sale signs sprouting on their neighbors’ lawns. It is all part of our country’s shameful heritage of racial animus and discrimination.

It’s no coincidence that when TUSD’s enrollment declined by 16,500 from 2000 to 2019, its Anglo enrollment dropped by 16,400 students. 

Regardless of the reasons for TUSD’s declining enrollment, the drop in student population leaves the district in a precarious situation. And we can expect enrollment to continue its decline unless the city’s population takes an upward turn or charter schools become less popular. Either is possible, but neither can be counted on.

Regardless of the reasons for TUSD’s declining enrollment, the district has to marshal whatever powers it has to slow or stop the downward trajectory. One hope is, from knowledge, the district and the city can draw strength. If we understand the underlying causes of the district’s enrollment decline and support the efforts to improve the quality of its education incrementally rather than condemning TUSD out of hand, we have a reasonable chance of creating a stronger, more successful school district.