Wednesday Reading List: When Closing Schools is a Bad Idea, Gaps in Teaching, and Difficult History Lessons

Lori Higgins, writing at Ed Week, discusses a new plan from Michigan's education authorities to close the state's lowest performing schools:

The number of schools expected to be shuttered isn’t known, said Natasha Baker, the director of the State School Reform Office. In 2014, more than 100 Michigan were ranked in the bottom 5 percent, but Baker cautioned against assuming that the state would close that many schools. She said that even the most aggressive school reformers have never attempted to close that many schools at one time ... There are some caveats in the closures, though. Schools wouldn’t close if there are no high-performing options for the kids who are displaced.

That last sentence is important, because there unfortunately are not a ton of high performing schools with excess capacity in Detroit and the state's other struggling cities. Also, Michigan's charter schools are, on average, pretty bad, so it's not as if the charter sector is well positioned to pick up the slack and start a bunch of new great schools. Closing schools is a last resort in all circumstances, but especially in cases wherein there don't exist other great options for displaced children. This plan feels like another grasp at straws from a state that can't seem to get its act together, so color me skeptical.

In other education news, it looks like the wage gap between teachers and other professions is growing, and Chris Stewart is worried about that:

Teachers often say they don’t enter the profession for the money. It’s a rejoinder meant to express they have noble intentions for pursuing teaching. I appreciate the thought, but I think they should stop saying it. Whether you like it or not money matters to Americans and it will always be difficult to entice new entrants into the field if it is widely known that doing so means vowing to poverty and being viewed as the one profession least valued in terms of compensation.

I don't know anyone serious who wants to depress the value of the teaching profession, so this is something that ought to unite disparate parties. How to achieve greater status, and pay, for the teaching profession should be a matter of public policy debate, but whether to do it should not be. There are, however, legitimate differences in quality among members of the teaching profession, some of which are uncomfortable to discuss, as Emily Deruy notes in The Atlantic:

In yet another sign that the lack of teacher diversity is a pressing issue, a new study suggests that white teachers expect less academic success from black students than black teachers do from the same students. The study, conducted by Johns Hopkins University, found that when a white teacher and a black teacher consider the same black student, the white teacher is 30 percent less likely to think the student will graduate from a four-year college. White teachers, the researchers also found, are nearly 40 percent less likely to think their black students will graduate from high school ... It bears repeating that while it is true that high-school graduation rates are lower for black students, the discrepancy has to do with unequal access to opportunity and resources, not innate ability.

If we cannot discuss these empirically verifiable biases that large percentages of White teachers harbor against Black children, we will never get at the root of our challenges with both education specifically, and institutional racism more generally. We have to be honest about both our present, and our history, if we're going to make any progress; Campbell Robertson has a piece in the New York Times about a new memorial in Alabama that hopes to help with the history part of the equation:

Next year ... one of the first — and certainly the largest — memorials to the victims of the thousands of racial lynchings in United States history is scheduled to open. The Equal Justice Initiative, a legal rights organization in Montgomery, is to formally announce the plans on Tuesday. The group will also unveil plans for a museum to open in April, in its roughly 11,000-square-foot headquarters, that will trace the country’s racial history from slavery to the era of mass incarceration. The memorial will sit on six acres, the highest spot in the first capital of the Confederacy, on the site of what used to be a public housing complex.

If you're not familiar with The Equal Justice Initiative, and its brilliant founder - Bryan Stevenson - you should check them out. As James Baldwin said:

To accept one’s past – one’s history – is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.
— James Baldwin

In other news of modest progress on issues of racial justice, a federal judge - in repudiating the stalling tactics of police unions in Seattle - declared that "Black lives matter":

U.S. District Judge James Robart, pointedly reacting to the Seattle police union’s rejection of a tentative contract, said Monday he would not let the powerful labor group hold the city “hostage” by linking wages to constitutional policing. “To hide behind a collective- bargaining agreement is not going to work,” Robart said during a dramatic court hearing he opened by laying out a path for police-accountability reform and closed with an emotional declaration that “black lives matter.”

Ok then. That's something. I'll leave you with this advice from Michael Harriot at The Root, who wants more White people to understand what declaring "Black lives matter" really means:

While Black Lives Matter is an organization with local chapters, it began as an affirmation and grew into a movement. Many of the people you hear use the phrase don’t belong to an organization or go to meetings. They are simply affirming the importance and value of black lives in a world that seems to systematically extinguish or ignore them.