Friday Reading List: Diversity Among Charters, Teacher Shortages, and Understanding Racism

Erin Einhorn of Chalkbeat looked at a charter school in Detroit that is trying to create a socioeconomically diverse student body. Micromanaging the demographic makeup is difficult:

In some states, charter schools can set aside seats for specific groups of children, such as poor kids or those who speak another language. In others, charter schools are allowed to prioritize students from certain neighborhoods. But in Michigan, strict “open enrollment” rules only allow charter schools to offer priority admission to the siblings of current students and the children of current staff.That means that if educators want to build diversity — or influence their student populations in any way — they have to get creative. For Smitley this year, creative meant holding her two-week open enrollment in November for next September’s kindergarten class ... By holding her enrollment early in the year, Smitley said shed hoped the process would stay largely under the radar, drawing few applications and enabling her to spend the rest of the year doing targeted recruitment — similar to the approach she used to attract this year’s class.

There are ways to "game" a process like this, so the founders of this school will have to be vigilant about ensuring that they achieve a diverse student body. Other schools with intentional diversity strategies use zip codes - which often are racially segregated - to achieve similar results. The other major takeaway here is the complexity of creating diversity in schools, set again a housing milieu that reinforces segregation, and an education policy environment that still endures a half-century-long hangover from desegregation. Maybe I'm too optimistic, but I'm excited to see what other creative ideas emerge to cultivate diversity, in both traditional and charter public schooling.

Speaking of charter schools, Monica Disare, writing at The Atlantic, investigates why charter school activists in New York aren't celebrating the appointment of Betsy DeVos as education secretary:

The charter sector in Michigan, which has an unprecedented number of for-profit charter schools, looks nothing like the sector in New York. In Michigan, there are many charter-school authorizers, some of which are strict while others are more lax, said Michael Petrilli, the president of the conservative-learning Thomas Fordham Institute. “There is a sense that in Detroit, nobody is in charge,” Petrilli said. That contrasts with New York, which has a small number of authorizers focused on school quality, he said. Having a school-choice advocate associated with Trump also puts New York City’s sector in a bind. Particularly in the wake of the NAACP’s call for a moratorium on charter schools, some in the sector are trying to win progressive support, rather than squander it.

As I wrote earlier in the week, there are both substantive and political dimensions to the pushback. If nothing else, perhaps this appointment will encourage people to realize that charter schools - like public schools more generally - vary widely from state to state. Nobody thinks that investigating public schools in Mississippi can tell you much about the state of schooling in Connecticut, and the same logic applies to charters.

In other news, Sarah Gonser at The Hechinger Report covers the teacher shortage in Nevada, and what that experience can tell us about teacher preparation requirements:

The biggest push by far happened early this year when Nevada governor Brian Sandoval issued an emergency teacher-hiring regulation allowing school districts to issue provisional licenses to teachers who otherwise would not qualify to teach in Nevada schools. The regulation immediately raised concern that hundreds of subpar teachers would fill the vacancies ... As a result, the emergency hiring directive — coupled with ongoing programs that allow schools to hire mid-career professionals like Boccia after prepping them at “lightning speed” — has allowed the district to fill more than half of its vacancies this school year. As of early November, Gentry said, 323 spots remain open.

Read the whole article, because some of the stories that Gonser shared defied my expectations. While there are examples of inexperienced teachers getting rushed into classrooms, there are also examples of effective teachers from other states - like California - who used this program to fast-track their Nevada certification process. At the risk of getting a little wonky, teacher licensing requirements vary from state to state, and having a license says somewhere between little and nothing about the effectiveness of a person's teaching ability. It is a bureaucratic requirement, not a quality control mechanism.

Damon Young at VSB helps us understand why so many White liberals can't bring themselves to admit that the election of Trump was about race, when people of color are unequivocal:

One of the more positive byproducts of existing while Black in America is that it forces you to be multilingual. Ebonics, the King’s English, code-switching, Cardi B — we’re well-versed in several different dialects and means of communication. We’re also more in tune to the language of race and racism. We know what’s really being said when Chicago is seemingly randomly name-dropped by a conservative; we immediately knew what “Make America Great Again” meant to convey. It’s a linguistic sensitivity taught to and learned by us; perfected and fine-tuned to the point of virtuosity.

Young has a point. Most White folks either:

  1. lack an understanding of how race functions as an institutional phenomenon, and therefore are unskilled at applying the idea to social analysis
  2. are still living in a colorblind fantasy world wherein race cannot be an explanatory factor for said social phenomena, or
  3. are actually racist, and are therefore committed to denying the impact of race on social outcomes.

I'm sorry to leave out the sliver of hardcore anti-racist White folks in the list above, but until further notice, that group has to put up, or shut up. Because of articles like this from Drake Baer in New York Magazine:

... just about the worst way to get someone to open up enough to think critically about their views is to call them something they find offensive. (Cut to: basket of deplorables.) Racist in particular holds a charged and ambiguous space. Benjamin Bergen, author of What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves, says that the word is emotionally fraught like a conventional swear word, but it’s not quite the same thing: If you were to ask a representative sample of Americans if it should be bleeped on television and radio, they’d say no — even those offended by it ... If you’re trying to talk to someone who lives in a bubble opposite yours, it might be helpful, Bergen suggests, to borrow from disability advocacy and the notion of “people first” language. Instead of saying, “She’s autistic,” say “She has autism.” Rather than “the handicapped,” “people with disabilities.”

First of all, having racist attitudes is not at all like having a disability, and likening the two downplays the complexity of actual disabilities, so this metaphor needs to die. More importantly, however, this article is perhaps the most glaring example of the post-election genre of racism-empathy-porn. Racism is a thing. Get over it. Empathy is fine, but I do not want to live in a country wherein we award special empathy points to people who vote for bigots.

Until racism goes away, we're going to have to keep using words to describe racist things. If your worldview is too narrow to accommodate the idea of racism, and are offended by hearing the word in practice, perhaps you should do some deep thinking about why you are so sensitive about words. Have a great weekend!