Monday Reading List: The Debate About Segregation Is Not Going Away; The Question Is Not Whether We Address The Issue, But How

Photo: Marley Dias

Photo: Marley Dias

Welcome, reader. If you're a regular to the Reading List, you know that I usually save good, inspiring news for the end. But let's start with the positive stuff today! Marley Dias wants to make sure there are more girls of color represented in children's literature:

The middle schooler began to notice that the reading selections at school failed to represent people of color and not just minorities, black girls in particular. Instead of just settling for less, she sparked a movement; #1000BlackGirlBooks. In late 2015, Marley put her mind to collecting 1,000 books about black girls with a deadline of February. She didn’t quite meet her goal…Marley exceeded it. With the help of her mother and community support, she received well over 4,000 books and counting.

Dias's project is critical, because as Marilyn Rhames points out, we need to remember the unique needs of our Black girls in schools:

While Black females have made significant gains in college enrollment rates, we are also the fastest growing population in the juvenile justice system. Worse, no one seems to be paying attention. The report Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected argues that discipline and behavior studies tend to be laser focused on Black boys, and according to the webinar accompanying the report, discourse regarding gender is largely centered on White girls in more well-off schools that don’t have zero-tolerance policies. Meanwhile, African-American females are traveling at full speed along the school-to-prison pipeline, a trend virtually ignored by researchers. For example, the report found that Black girls are suspended six times as often as White girls and 10 times more in New York State.

I've covered the disproportionate impact of discipline policies on Black children, and Rhames's focus on young women is critical, as too often the conversation about school discipline policies treats the problem as if only boys are affected. We need all of our students to rise to the great challenges of the world around them, and Sharif El-Mekki wants to ensure that we are listening to what children and communities really need:

Please recognize the immense amount of trust that a community invests in schools because anyone is vulnerable when strangers have access to their children. This is a huge gift and a trust that we don’t dare to squander. Too often we hear about what businesses want from graduating students and not enough about what our communities are asking for and deserve.  Our communities are asking for leaders, problem-solvers, thinkers, doers, and nation builders. We are not here to spurn the growth of business directly. We are here to directly support the galvanization, empowerment, and the development of communities. So please promise to be leaders that are doing that. Promise to never (again) say anything to our students about getting an education in order to get a job. Our role is not to inspire students to work for anybody. You volunteered to be here. You chose to be here.  We call on you to inspire our students to touch and change the world.

El-Mekki's message is important, as sometimes we narrow the focus of schooling to what businesses and the economy need, which is merely a part of the puzzle. He wants the interests of children and communities to be centered in the schooling conversation, and Nate Bowling wants to remind us that the segregation in those communities is intentional, whether we like it or not:

Segregation was constructed by the government, at the behest of the people (for more on that construction see here, here and especially here). It something we chose to build; it is no different than the transcontinental railroad or the Washington Monument. We make a choice, we make it everyday. When young, white professionals, live in a working class, mixed race neighborhood as long as they must, but flee to whiter wealthier confines, as soon as they can or when it’s time to have children, they serve as the foot-soldiers of neighborhood and school segregation. Most urban segregation is the result of the absence of white families--white flight. Put differently, people of color do not choose to live in segregation. Segregation is created by white families when they make the choice, conscious or otherwise, to leave communities, en masse. This framing is essential in understanding and solving the problem.

Bowling's points are uncomfortable, but true. Lest we think those segregationist behaviors are a thing of the past, I wrote last week about a school on the Upper West Side of New York City where parents are actively protecting a segregated environment. There's a real debate brewing about schools segregation right now; it's not going away, and the question is less about whether we address the issue, but how. The painful memories of the last efforts at desegregation are still with us; if America tries again, the country must not just get the policies right ... we must also deal with the underlying cultural biases and institutional racism upon which segregation lives. One of those structural underpinnings of segregation is hyper-local financing of schools, which New Jersey governor Chris Christie is using as justification for reversing the state's progressive school funding scheme:

In 1990, in Abbott v. Burke, New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled that the state’s school funding formula betrayed the state constitution’s promise of providing a “thorough and efficient education” for all by sending more money to affluent suburban schools in towns with high property values. To remedy that, the court required supplemental funding for the state’s 31 poorest districts, including Newark, Trenton, Camden, Union City, Jersey City, and Hoboken. Today, thanks to a revised funding formula crafted by both Democrats and Republicans, the state sends extra per-pupil dollars not only to those 31 “Abbott districts” but to students in any district who are poor, learning to speak English, or disabled. Cities and towns with large groups of those kids receive additional money to compensate for the challenges that come with concentrated poverty, such as the need to hire social workers or bilingual teachers. This system is considered a national model in getting resources to the kids who need them most. But Christie has always opposed it.

In other words, New Jersey was funding schools more equitably than most states, and Christie wants to undo that. As a product of New Jersey public schools, I can tell you that funding alone was not the cure for the systemic woes in the Garden State. This current gambit, though, is an unconscionable backward step to a more unjust past. Congratulations, Governor. Your Trump is showing.

Alexander Russo wants to know if Slack is the new teachers' lounge, after a brouhaha in Rhode Island unearthed a bunch of terrible comments about children; it looks like that particular school had strong enough relationships with children and families to weather the storm, though. In other news, a new study looks at the effectiveness of the Diplomas Now program:

Diplomas Now increases the percentage of sixth- and ninth-graders with no early-warning signs in attendance, behavior and course performance, according to a major new study released today. This finding is important because prior research shows that sixth- and ninth-graders without early warning indicators graduate at rates two to three times higher than students with such issues. Prior research shows that graduation rates for sixth-graders with just one early warning sign can be as low as 25 percent.

This research is a reminder that we don't know all of the right things to measure in schools. We make large judgments about which factors matter, based on the data to which we have access. When we start looking at other factors, however, we often find that they matter more - or less - than we once thought. Science!