The problem we all live with

I finally listened to Part II of This American Life’s two-part series on desegregation in America, and I highly recommend taking some time to listen to the series if you care about school assignment policy and diverse schools.  Part I is about the benefits of integrated schools, and has some truly awful-to-hear excerpts from public comment at a Missouri school board meeting after a white-majority district learns that students from a black-majority school in a neighboring district will be coming to their community.

Part II is fascinating. It’s about Hartford, Connecticut, a majority high-poverty black/latino district, and how after a long court case, the district is trying a voluntary desegregation program. There are several important ways that the Hartford situation differs from San Francisco, and some important parallels.

In many ways we are already trying a voluntary desegregation program  here in San Francisco and failing badly. Maybe the attractions of the new Willie Brown MS will help us turn that corner — building a program that clearly will attract white and asian families. Maybe. But if these programs make one thing clear, it’s that desegregation policy is not easy.

Listen to the programs (free if you stream them from the web site) and let me know what you think.


8 responses to “The problem we all live with

  1. Regarding the degree of integration at these split schools, I agree that the best solution are schools that offer the same unique program to the whole school. Many language programs do this already. Maybe Willie Brown will prove to be a good example of this, and science, math or music schools may be other good ideas along these lines.

    However, JR and Don E exaggerate the failings of both Starr King and Rosa Parks, especially the latter. The programs are segregated but the schools do what they can to integrate them. For example, at Rosa Parks, English literacy class is completely mixed, various activities during the day are mixed and the after-school program is completely mixed, etc. Yes they keep separate budgets but the district doesn’t pay fully for the language programs. And the JBBP parents are very involved in the general PTA, so they demonstrate vested interest in the school as a whole.

    I don’t know as much about Starr King but the Mandarin Immersion program is full going into K (they ran a waitlist at least to the start of the school year). They do supposedly lose some kids over the years who they can’t replace because you can’t just fill an upper-grade immersion slot with anyone. But if a family ultimately decided it wasn’t “worth it” do drive their kid from the Outer Sunset to Potrero Hill daily for Mandarin Immersion, is it any surprise? Hardly proof of failings of the school.

    Lastly, as far as testing goes, Rosa Parks fairs pretty well. According to the SBAC scores, African American scores at Rosa Parks are very competitive as compared to African American scores at other SFUSD elementaries. African American English literacy is, I believe, 2nd in the district, for whatever that is worth (the scores are still lamentable, but less so than at many other schools). You can draw your own conclusions about whether the integration has helped there.

  2. Language programs are NOT integrating our underperforming schools. It is an illusion–fun with numbers. Yes, the aggregate statistics for racial diversity and test scores at schools like Rosa Parks, Starr King, Jose Ortega, etc might be impressive on the surface, on printed paper, and in PowerPoint presentations. Who are we fooling with these statistics? Open the doors and walk into these schools and what do you find…covert segregation. Isolated student populations with racial lines drawn down the divide of GE versus immersion classrooms. Even fundraising is sometimes divided along these lines, as if there were 2 schools, the “haves” and “have nots,” under one roof. Is this how we measure success? Is this truly integration?

    We are spending too much time on failed social engineering experiments. SFUSD should stop trying to rig the lottery with tie breakers and feeders. How does New York City do it? Children go to their neighborhood schools. NYC doesn’t make social engineering a priority for public schools–they focus on education.

    Are we asking too much of our public schools in San Francisco?

  3. Jim C, Integration is supposed to be means not an end. In theory, because integrated schools have better facilities, teachers, curriculum, and a lower concentration poor, Black children will have better academic outcomes. The data does not support that theory based on the schools you mentioned: Starr Kind and Rosa Parks. Both are at the top of the scale of the diversity rating.

    Interestingly of all the eligible applicants who live the Starr King attendance area only 5% made it their first choice; only 16% put Starr King on their list in any order. Half the Starr King seats are reserved for the Chinese language program which is undersubscribed. I know one parent from the Outer Sunset who started his child at Starr King, but moved his child back to the Outer Sunset. The program was not worth the commute.

    African American children at Starr King don’t perform as well as African American children at neighboring racially isolated schools. Black Academic proficiency at Drew and Starr King are about the same. If not for the children from the White affluent enclave nearby or Asian students drawn in by the language pathway, Starr King School would probably fall into the group of lowest performing schools.

    Rosa Parks has a similar situation. Black academic proficiency at Carver is higher than black academic proficiently at Rosa Parks. Black math proficiency at Carver is 65% compared to 41% at Rosa Parks. White academic performance at Rosa Parks is below average for Whites. But even so, the gap is still large. White English proficiency is 69% compared to 35% for Blacks. White math proficiency 72% compared to 41% for Blacks.

  4. PS. I accidentally edited this out, but the overall point I’m making is that carrots are better than sticks here. If you can find the budget, follow the examples of Hartford, and a few of SFUSDs integration successes: Rosa Parks JBBP, Starr King MI, Willie Brown maybe? Find compelling ways to get diverse parents in the door.

  5. I wonder whether you are overselling the mission of the current assignment system. Was the current assignment system really expected to *solve* segregation? IS it a “voluntary desegregation program?” From reading the First Annual Report on Student Assignment, I get the sense that desegregation was on the minds of the district and those who created the system, but that they admitted it could not possibly offer the whole solution. In fact it seemed like they were mainly trying to improve quality and access, district-wide (which I believe they have achieved).

    But here is an important point, that underscores the folly in trying to use choice to solve the problem of isolated schools. *Bringing diversity in* is more powerful than *sending isolated families away*. Some very basic but somewhat non-intuitive math backs this up. If you take a heavily “isolated” school like Cesar Chavez which is 87% Latino, and convince 50% of that demographic to leave to a more integrated school, Cesar Chavez will still be 77% Latino. If instead you keep all the same kids there, and you add a mere 13% of non-Latino families you get the same result — 77% Latino. In other words, getting “reduced isolation” students in the door has a way greater effect than getting existing isolated students out.

    And it doesn’t require that you shoo families that like Cesar Chavez elsewhere, or promote the idea that Cesar Chavez is somehow a lesser school.

    Is it completely unsurprising that white, Asian and middle class families aren’t opting in to isolated schools? Did the district honestly believe that this form of voluntary desegregation would just happen? What historical precedent is there for this? It’s easy to be disgusted by the Francis Howell parents’ response to the busing of the Normandy kids; that is a really hard listen. But even while I feel like parents in SF could open their minds a bit more about their local schools, in a choice system it’s nevertheless hard to blame parents for being choosy.

  6. Segregation or integration is not the cause of the gap. Some of the gap is due to the factors related to segregation that Nicole mentions; facilities, teachers, curriculum, and concentration of poor students.

    Nicole is basically correct but SF does not have all the problems she highlights. Our facilities, teachers and curriculum are just a good. The problem we still have is the high concentration of poor students. Some teachers at these schools complain they are baby sitters not educators. It is no wonder students in that disruptive environment don’t get an equal education.

    Getting bright poor Black children out of their bad learning environment probably helps to reduce the gap. In K-5 schools there is a positive correlation between African American percent language and math proficiency and percent white enrollment. The highest African American proficiency levels (language and math combined) are achieved at majority white schools. African Americans also score above average at diverse schools where whites are the largest group. However, African Americans are below average at diverse schools where African Americans or Hispanics are the largest group.

    On the other hand, there is no evidence that the converse is true. There is no evidence that bringing in more White and Asian students to a poor school will improve the performance of Black and Hispanic students at that school. More Asian students will improve the school’s performance but it may also harm those Asian students. There is a negative correlation between white percent proficiency and African American percent enrollment. White children also perform far below average at diverse schools where African Americans are the largest group.

    However, these data are not evidence that white schools cause high African American performance or that African American schools cause low white academic performance. Not all African American children are equal. We don’t know how many of these African American children would have gone to one of the Black isolated schools. It could be that many of the Black children at these white schools are more middleclass.

    Related to teachers as babysitters’ issue, I wonder if the safe and supportive school policy to keep disruptive children in class has made their job any easier. Have we heard from teachers how well that program is working?

  7. It is all about resources and commitment. In the Hartford case, it would appear they are running short of funds, of which they appeared to have a lot of from the lawsuit, to continue the program as well commitment from all SocioEconomic parties
    With respect to SF, it would have been great if they did an analysis on this district. Its is so frustrating that, according to recent reports, the current system in SFUSD is only creating further segregation, but ALSO has the lowest percentage of kids going to public schools. In this incredibly liberal city you would think everyone would be supporting public school.

  8. Marivi Lerdo de Tejada

    Sigh… Ironically,it is our private schools that are most segregated 😉

    Sent from my iPhone