Wednesday Reading List: School Closures and Recruiting Low-Income Students to Elite Colleges

The city of Detroit is poised to close more than two dozen schools. Erin Einhorn of Chalkbeat took a close look at the plans:

In Detroit, where 25 schools serving roughly 12,000 kids are on the chopping block, there are only 19 schools with scores above the bottom quarter, many of which are full to capacity. Just two of the higher-performing schools are high schools —  and neither is likely to take many new students ... That means that the more than 4,000 students who are now attending the 10 Detroit high schools that are slated for closure are not likely to land in a school whose ranking is much higher the school they attend now. Students who live near the city’s borders could attend schools in the nearby suburbs but city bus lines often don’t connect with suburban ones so traveling to a suburban school can often be difficult.

The situation described here is identical to almost every other mass school closure we have witnessed in the last decade. When a city experiences dramatic changes in population and school attendance patterns, as Detroit has, municipal leaders face the unenviable task of either continuing to operate too many schools on a shoestring budget, or consolidating. Those schools that close are the ones in the most vulnerable communities, and the remaining schools are unlikely to be be that much higher performing. Moreover, if we're being honest with ourselves, the transportation issue is the lowest of the barriers to attending the suburban schools. The institutional classism and racism that created the suburbs in the first place is the biggest culprit.

These "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situations frustrate school leaders like David McGuire. He wrote about the no-win situation facing many poor families in Citizen Ed:

I refuse to sit around and allow families of color and poor families to send their children to schools across the country let alone in my city that do not treat them as king and queens they are ... What really gets me is that many entities try to make parents of color and poor families feel bad for wanting to send their child to a better school. They spread lies about how alternative schools such as charters only care about the money. They tell parents to trust their neighborhood school, which all too often has been failing kids for years.  In reality the  schools they make the parents feel bad about leaving cannot meet the needs of many low income or children of colors need both educationally and emotionally.

I hear this sentiment a lot. The national conversation about education gives a lot of air time to ideological arguments about school choice, and far too little time to pragmatists like McGuire.

Speaking of charters, Dale Mezzacappa of The Philadelphia Public School Notebook interviewed charter school leaders in the city of brotherly love and found a range of opinions about #BetsyWithTheGrizzBear:

Some of the most prominent charter proponents in Philadelphia don’t have an opinion they are willing to share about Betsy DeVos, President Trump's nominee to be the U.S. secretary of education. Those who did have something to say were not all unabashed fans ... Sharif El-Mekki, principal of Mastery-Shoemaker, had concerns, especially about whether she would support holding charters accountable for student outcomes. In Detroit, she opposed legislation imposing strong charter oversight. “If you don’t push accountability as a lockstep with choice, then it’s a false choice” for low-income parents of color who have long been ill-served by traditional public schools, he said.

Hm, where have I heard that argument before?

In other news, Mikhail Zinshteyn has a terrific piece in The Hechinger Report about how some private colleges are taking significant steps to enroll more low-income students. Recruitment is an area of focus for all of the profiled schools:

Recruiting academically talented low-income students is expensive, in part because institutional budgets tend to rely on students who can pay close to the sticker price of attendance. To attract more students from humble origins, colleges must consider it integral to their identity, leaders from the four colleges said ... the biggest impact comes from regular interpersonal connections with prospective low-income students, their leaders said. In addition to visiting high schools across the country during college fairs and information sessions, Williams [College] spends $250,000 per year on airfare to bring high-performing, low-income high school students to campus in the fall of their senior years, said Elizabeth Creighton, deputy director of admission. The college invites 50,000 to 60,000 low-income students a year to apply for the program, called Windows on Williams.

Read. The. Whole. Article. In addition to throwing money at recruitment, these schools dedicate resources and time to both financial aid and providing customized supports for students from low-income families. If schools in America want to be a ladder to prosperity, and not a barrier to it, they must start emulating these tactics.

Finally, to do a bit of self-promotion, I have a new article in Education Next magazine this quarter, about the micro-schooling trend! Please check it out and share it with your friends. Here's a teaser:

Education futurists have predicted the disintegration of the 19th-century model of American schooling for many years, but the barriers to that transformation have been limited by both the intransigence of the current system and a lack of imagination about what might replace it. Micro-schooling and its teacher-led, entrepreneurial spirit might solve both of these problems, by evading the old habits, sclerotic bureaucracies, cultural biases against experimentation, antiquated labor arrangements, and low tolerance for risk that prevail in traditional schools. The ground-up genesis of the movement, however, offers as many challenges as it does opportunities. And there is the existential question of whether such small-scale individualized programs should aim to become something other than alternatives on the educational fringe.

Have a great day!