Archives for category: Segregation

In a warning to the people of Massachusetts and Georgia, this parent in Red Bank, New Jersey, explains her community’s fight against a charter school that has drained resources from the town’s public school and increased segregation by luring mostly white students.

She writes:

Many years ago, a small group of Red Bank parents started talking about how upset they were that the Red Bank Borough schools were terribly underfunded and terribly segregated, mostly due to the charter school in our small town.

For years, a group of us did our best to ignore the negative effects the Red Bank Charter School was having on our schools and community. We hoped these effects would go away, and magically we would be properly funded and less segregated. We worked tirelessly on fundraising, asking for community support (for arts, music, etc.) and doing our own recruiting of parents to help even out the segregation issue.

But as time went on, evidence of the negative effects caused by the charter school continued to present themselves — whether it was in annual cuts to our school programs, broken friendships and neighborhoods, or simply being exposed to class pictures from the mostly white charter school.

I tried to turn the other cheek and focus on our schools and making them better. I became highly involved in the Parent Teacher Organization and worked with state politicians on our arts programs and underfunding.

Success was achieved. We restored our string instruments program with the help of our superintendent and many community partners. We also maintained our valuable elective classes such as Chinese, AVID (college-prep) and Project Lead the Way (engineering). We were making great strides through the leadership of our very smart administration, involved parents and community.

Then everything came to a head last year when the charter school asked to expand. We were faced with the already existing negative effects multiplying — less funding, deeper segregation. Our community was floored. But we pulled together to block the expansion. As we did, we had a chance to educate our larger community even more about the negative effects the charter school has on our district.

It was like unpeeling an onion, one layer at a time, and examining the funding model, segregation, student academic achievement, programming, budgeting, school communications, and more. And with each layer, we became more and more astounded and shocked. The data supported our deepest fears: We were indeed living in the most segregated neighborhood in New Jersey — yes, our “hip town,” our cool little town of Red Bank, the same Red Bank that Smithsonian magazine, The New York Times and many others have written about as one of the best small towns in America. The data and information we uncovered was the dirty little secret that creeped below the headlines.

Jeff Bryant writes here about a well-known phenomenon: School choice promotes self-segregation.

Donald Trump and the entire Republican party supports school choice.

The irony is that Secretary of Education John King, like Arne Duncan before him, also promotes school choice and believes that it will open opportunities to children of color. As Bryant shows, school choice has the opposite effect. The most advantaged families get the best choices. The least advantaged do not.

Mercedes Schneider recently wrote a book titled School Choice: The End of Public Education?, which documents that school choice was the central strategy of those who wanted to preserve racial segregation in the 1950s and 1960s.

In addition, there is international evidence that choice programs will exacerbate segregation, unless there is an effort to “control” choice by giving larger subsidies to disadvantaged children or limiting the enrollment of certain groups in the most desirable schools.

Steven Singer says that the charter school idea has been a massive swindle. It results in increased racial and ethnic segregation, yet its promoters have stealthily sold the idea to black and Hispanic parents.

He writes:

In Brown vs. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is Unconstitutional to have “separate but equal” schools because when they’re separate, they’re rarely equal. Having two parallel systems of education makes it too easy to provide more resources to some kids and less to others.

Who would have ever thought that some minority parents would actually choose this outcome, themselves, for their own children!?

After Bloody Sunday, Freedom Rides, bus boycotts and countless other battles, a portion of minority people today somehow want more segregation!?

It’s hard to determine the extent of this odd phenomena. Charter advocates flood money into traditional civil rights organizations that until yesterday opposed school privatization. Meanwhile they hold up any examples of minority support as if it were the whole story. However, it is undeniable that large minority populations still oppose their school systems being charterized.

It’s especially troubling for civil rights advocates because black and brown charter supporters have been sold on an idea that could accurately be labeled Jim Crow. And they don’t even seem to know it.

Give credit to propaganda, marketing, false promises. Some salesmen are so good they could sell coals in Newcastle or ice in Alaska.

Thanks to Mike Klonsky for calling attention to this article about state takeovers of districts and schools. A takeover nullifies parent and community voice. A disproportionate number of takeovers have been inflicted on African-American communities. As we know from the failure of the Achievement School District, these takeovers have a bad track record. What do they accomplish? They nullify parent and community voice.

In New Jersey – which, in 1987, became the first state to take over a school district – Camden is among several urban districts that have come under state control. The state hired Camden’s superintendent, while the mayor appoints school board members – a practice that predates the state takeover of the district in 2013.

A judge last week dismissed a lawsuit from Camden residents seeking the right to elect school board members, questioning the rationale for electing a board that has been stripped of its power by the state.

In Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia School District is governed by a five-member School Reform Commission, with three members appointed by the governor and two by the city’s mayor. The Chester Upland district is also under state control. Camden, Philadelphia, and Chester Upland have large minority populations.

Be sure to read the descriptions of districts where democracy was snuffed out.

They are districts hollowed out by poverty, deindustrialization, and white flight. The state takeover didn’t help. It stripped away one of the few ways in which residents had a voice. Now they have lost that too.

This is how the story of Highland Park, Michigan, begins:

“Highland Park, Michigan, a small city within Detroit’s boundaries, was once called the “City of Trees.” Thick greenery lined suburban blocks crowded with single-family homes built for a growing middle class. Henry Ford pioneered the assembly line at his automobile plant on Woodward Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare. The suburban school district was considered one of the top 10 in Michigan, according to a report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1962.

“Today, most of Highland Park’s trees are gone. Overgrown, empty lots and burned-out houses outnumber occupied homes on some blocks. The Ford plant stands empty. And parents say Highland Park’s once-proud school district has collapsed, hastened by four years under state control.”

As you read these stories, ask yourself the question: seeing the problems, why was state takeover of the schools supposed to be a good idea?

Perhaps you don’t know who Peter Cunningham is. I didn’t know until he went to Washington as Arne Duncan’s chief PR guy (Assistant Secretary for Communications). I met Peter a few times, and I thought he was charming. We always disagreed with a smile or a laugh. He knew he would never persuade me, and I knew I would never get him to admit that Race to the Top was all wrong.

I recall a discussion of testing. I tried to persuade him that the most important things in life can’t be measured. He replied, “You measure what you treasure.” I of course responded, “what you really treasure can never be measured.” What about your children? Your spouse? Your parents? Your pets? Come on! I love certain paintings, certain music, certain movies. How much? I don’t know. What difference?

Mike Klonsky has been arguing on Twitter with Peter.

Peter has decided that it’s too late to worry about racial segregation. Apparently he thinks that talking about poverty is a distraction from school reform. Peter has become the voice of corporate reformers. They have controlled the narrative for at least 15 years. Where are the success stories?

Ann Cronin is puzzled by the stance that Connecticut officials take toward charter schools. They consider charter schools to be the salvation for children of color. They ignore the public schools, which enroll 98% of the state’s public school children, compared to 1.5% in charter schools.

Bear in mind that Connecticut has long been recognized as one of the best state systems in the country. Yet Governor Malloy and the legislature keep cutting funding for their excellent public schools in order to increase funding for privately managed charter schools. This despite the huge charter scandal in the state, when the governor’s favorite chain (Jumoke) imploded after the revelations of nepotism, misspent funds, and a lack of accountability. This despite the fact that most charters do not outperform public schools. This despite the fact that Connecticut is still bound by a court order to integrate its schools and charters are seldom integrated.

She invites her readers to thank the NAACP for calling for a moratorium on new charters.

Mike Klonsky notes that Peter Cunningham (former flack for Arne Duncan, now paid millions to run a blog promoting charters schools and testing) basically gives up on any meaningful effort to reduce segregation and poverty. Arne himself once said that he opposes “forced integration,” strangely enough, the same phrase used by southern segregationists.

Poverty and segregation may be root causes of poor school performance, but Cunningham says it is just too darn expensive and politically too hard to change things.

Better to keep on reforming schools without addressing root causes.

Rita Rathbone, an NBCT teacher in Durham, explains how the increase in charters in Durham is causing more segregation in the Durham public schools. Curiously, this post appeared at Education Post, which is normally cheerleading for charter schools.

Rathbone reports that when the legislature lifted the state cap on charters in 2011 and loosened state regulation of charters, charters became a vehicle for white flight.

As a result of these policies, charter schools in the state are more segregated than traditional public schools. Researchers at Duke University have pointed out that 20 percent of all charter schools in the state are 90 percent or more White. Durham, a district with less than 40,000 school-aged children, now has 13 charter schools with number 14 scheduled to open this fall and number 15 already approved for the future.

The net result of the growth in charters is that they have concentrated poorer children of color in the district schools and complicated district planning with unanticipated student movement. According to the 2010 census, 40 percent of Durham County’s population is White.

As of last school year, only 18 percent of Durham Public School students were White. Meanwhile, four Durham charter schools are 54-67 percent White. Essentially, since the growth of charter schools beginning in the 2007-08 school year, approximately 1200 White students have disappeared from Durham Public Schools.

Rathbone is concerned about the future as charters continue to open:


While each student who leaves the district for a charter school takes with them their per-pupil spending, the district has been left with students who are more expensive to educate. In a district with a 30 percent child poverty rate, Durham Public Schools now has a 65 percent free- and reduced-lunch rate as well as higher concentrations of students with disabilities and English-language learners.

In a vicious, self-fulfilling cycle, the exodus of White and middle-class families may cause the district schools to look more like those very schools those families want to avoid. Concentrated poverty and disadvantaged students have impacted school test data and the district faces greater testing pressures.

The future holds even more uncertainty. While area charters still claim long waitlists, insiders express concerns of a charter market over saturation with some new charters failing to meet enrollment goals and charters investing more time and money into recruitment efforts. Area charter teachers also quietly express concern about practices of grade inflation and lack of rigor as charter schools try to keep students and families satisfied.

The intersection of race and school choice is complex. Given the known benefits of school integration for all students, it is time to consider policy approaches that ensure that school choice leads to more integration rather than contributing to more racial and economic isolation in our public schools.

Jersey Jazzman takes pundit Alexander Russo to the woodshed in this post.

Russo is a good writer who leans reformy and can be counted on to stick a dagger in critics of corporate reform, like me. He recently slammed me on Twitter for daring to express concern about segregation as a problem. He claimed this was unheard of from me. I suggested he read “Reign of Error,” wherein I identify segregation and poverty as a “toxic mix” that harms children.

This is not the first time he has given me one of his not so subtle jabs. Usually I ignore them because I know that he lashes out in hopes of driving traffic to his Twitter account.

JJ doesn’t worry about defending me–I can do that on my own–but he takes the time to correct Russo’s mistaken belief that social justice is somehow disconnected from over-testing and underfunding. JJ argues that you can’t separate these issues from any discussion of social justice in schools, because there will be no sustained social justice in our schools in the absence of adequate and equitable funding.

JJ has honed his research skills and his rhetorical skills to a point where it is fruitless for critics to take him on. He wins every time. That’s what his experience as a teacher, a writer, and a doctoral student has produced. He is formidable. And right.

John Thompson, teacher and historian in Oklahoma, writes here about the resurgence of segregation in America’s schools.

He writes:

Are we heading into another resegregation era? A half century ago, at least in terms of urban education, “White Flight” gave Jim Crow a new lease on life. Then, Reaganomics subsidized more “suburban flight” as “Supply Side Economics” provided subsidies for moving good-paying jobs from cities to the exurbs. This further stimulated the “Big Sort,” or resegregation based on personal preferences. Segregation by choice, this time accompanied by gentrification and competition-driven corporate school reform, fired a second shotgun blast at inner city schools; this occurred as the Rightwing accelerated the destruction of our industrial base, and they were followed by New Democrats seeking to “end of welfare as we know it.”

Research by Cornell’s Kendra Bischoff, Stanford’s Sean Reardon, Ann Owens of the University of Southern California, and others raise the specter of a third wave of resegregation. Bischoff and Reardon recall that income segregation increased by 4.5% per decade since 1970. It has accelerated greatly since 2007. By 2012, more than 1/3rd of families in large metropolitan areas lived “in neighborhoods of concentrated affluence or concentrated poverty,” as “middle-class neighborhoods have become less common.” Moreover, Bischoff further explains why this segregation is so damaging to schools, “Local environments are important for children’s early and adolescent development, so the more polarized communities become, the more unequal the opportunities available to high- and low-income children.”

Reardon and Ann Owens add nuance to the sorry tale that we’ve always known – how flight from desegregated urban schools played a huge part in dividing modern America against itself. In doing so, it severely damaged our social and physical environments and our physical as well as moral health. Owens finds “that neighborhoods in the 100 largest cities became steadily more isolated by income between 1990 and 2010–but the segregation was driven by families with school-age children.”

She explains:

Whenever we talk about neighborhood and school segregation, they really go hand-in-hand. … There’s really a feedback loop, and it’s often framed as, we can never have integrated schools while we have segregated neighborhoods, but the flip side is true, as well. As long as schools are unequal and linked to neighborhoods, that’s going to play a big role in neighborhood segregation.

Reardon uses a massive Stanford database to analyze “16 different facets of racial segregation: school and residential isolation, segregation within and between districts, racial or socioeconomic isolation, and differences in how likely students are to be exposed to students of particular races or socioeconomic groups.” He shows how the racial achievement gap is not just a legacy of discrimination, personal racism, and poverty. Reardon explains:
Even after you control for kids’ family backgrounds, it’s quite clear in the data. … it’s something about school quality–not only about racial segregation, but about the fact that racial segregation in America almost inevitably leads to these kind of disparities in [students’] exposure to poverty and differences in the kinds of resources that schools have.

My Oklahoma City provides a clear illustration of the patterns these scholars document – of the devastation produced by Jim Crow, the Big Sort, and the devotion to personal choice, as well as our failure to face the moral facts of segregated life. The metropolitan area spreads over 621 square miles. The sprawl created a culture dominated by the automobile, and the resulting social and health care costs. Once a sturdy, frontier culture characterized by neighborliness, Oklahoma City became increasingly obese, isolated and susceptible to the politics of fear. Faced with desegregation orders, the Oklahoma City Public School System (OKCPS) immediately lost nearly half of its 75,000+ students. Now, the OKCPS is an underfunded, 86% low-income district which competes with 26 other school systems.

As Steve Lackmeyer’s Daily Oklahoman in-depth analysis, “Unsustainable,” explains, “After decades of sprawl, Oklahoma City officials know something must change.” Lackmeyer describes the way that previous forms of school choice drove the most destructive patterns of mindless geographical expansion. Developers would overbuild apartments on the edges of the city limits, outside the OKCPS boundaries. Then, to paraphrase one businessman, apartment growth “on the fringe” prompted expansion “beyond the fringe.” These complexes then deteriorated into violent and chaotic eyesores, undermining the quality of life in the areas that became inner-ring suburbs. This nudged the affluent further out into exurbs and school systems serving concentrations of children from extreme privilege.

It’s no surprise that developers overbuild apartments in those areas. Parents make the safest decisions for their own children, as opposed to what would be a best for society as a whole. Sean Readon’s database shows that the average OKCPS student’s test scores are about 2-2/3rds years behind the average student in Edmond, the rich suburb just to the north. However, these outcomes are explained by the deficits children bring to the school, not the quality of classroom instruction. Adjusting for socio-economic factors, student performance increases at very similar rates in the OKCPS and Edmond. (Both are below the national mean, however.)

It’s great that business and political leaders now understand that Oklahoma City must control suburban sprawl as it creates an even more vibrant downtown. But, we should not repeat the sins of the past and promote this third wave of segregation in the central city. There is no reason to believe that charter schools could provide a better education for the children of the Millennials who are moving into the central city. But, today’s developers, who criticize their predecessors for promoting destructive suburban sprawl, often embrace charters in the belief that they are a better “brand.” The worst example of this short-sightedness is the once-secret plan to create up to ten new charters, including a ring around downtown. Its advocates claim to believe that they could find high-performing charters that would not push out harder-to-educate children.

Of course, the new charters designed for upwardly-mobile professional families would not be “No Excuses,” teach-to-the-test schools. A new charter conversion law would allow a long list of institutions to sponsor selective and niche schools – even without the consent of teachers and patrons. The goal would be a “Portfolio” model like New Orleans. The reward and punish behaviorism of KIPP would be subsidized by turning the nicest buildings serving 100% low-income, predominantly black students over to that charter. The poorest children of color, special education students and English Language Learners, and survivors of extreme trauma, would be rejected from both the new charters designed for privileged families and the higher-poverty No Excuses schools. They would not be welcome in affluent charters. And, those that would be unwilling or unable to put up with the endless hours of nonstop teach-to-the-test at KIPP and other higher-poverty charters would be pushed out of the buildings that once housed their neighborhood schools.

In other words, Oklahoma City is just one example of today’s corporate reformers selectively learning the lessons of history. Segregation is awful for children and other living things. Integration is crucial to success in the 21st century, and urban revitalization is necessary to recruit the children of the suburbs and exurbs back into the city center. But, business leaders remain oblivious to the damage done to poor children by segregating them into charter schools.

There is a serious danger that the federal government, and top-down reformers who used the stress of high stakes testing to overcome the stress of the poverty which undermines student performance, will refuse to heed the lessons of history. Families with choices were bound to flee the bubble-in malpractice which corporate school reformers incentivized, prompting more separation. The market-driven reformers also used the stress of competition between charters and neighborhood schools, and the segregation which inevitably resulted, to supposedly reverse the legacy of Jim Crow. It will be even worse, however, as the failure of test-driven, competition-driven reform becomes apparent to corporate reformers, if they continue to respond by doubling down on charter schools and ignoring the ways that they contribute to resegegration.