Tuesday Reading List: Listening to #MeToo ... Plus a Rumination on Policy Hubris & Desegregation Strategy

Sophie Gilbert is in The Atlantic examining the phenomenon of women posting #MeToo statements online:

For a long time, most women defined their own sexual harassment and assault in this way: as something unspoken, something private, something to be ashamed of acknowledging. Silence, although understandable, has its cost. A decade ago, I couldn’t have conceived of the fact that so many women had experienced sexual coercion or intimidation; now, I’d be surprised if I could find a single one who hadn’t. On Sunday afternoon, the actress Alyssa Milano used her Twitter account to encourage women who’d been sexually harassed or assaulted to tweet the words #MeToo. In the last 24 hours, a spokesperson from Twitter confirmed, the hashtag had been tweeted nearly half a million times.

Every woman I know - including my wife, mother, and sister - has experienced things that should make men feel ashamed. Assault, harassment, and the abuse of power are problems that all men perpetuate through their passivity. I'm still learning a lot about these issues. Many women are sharing their stories right now, so my primary advice to other men is to A) listen to the women in your lives, and B) believe the stories they tell you.

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In other news, Katy Reckdahl of The Hechinger Report looks at the pressure to produce quick results in New Orleans's charter schools:

In 2008, a few years after Hurricane Katrina, school officials in Louisiana asked aspiring charter-school leader Andrew Shahan to consider taking over the failing Dr. Charles Drew Elementary School in New Orleans’ Upper 9th Ward. Shahan submitted a 170-page application, outlining his plans ... Shahan predicted that Arise’s test scores would increase by 10 percent each year over the course of five years, starting at 40 percent “proficiency” on state tests and stair-stepping up each year ... A Hechinger Report analysis found that such lofty goals were common in the 10 years after Hurricane Katrina, particularly between 2008 and 2013, when dozens of new charter schools opened across the city.

The punchline is this: very few schools achieved the lofty short-term goals that were established. Reckdahl presents an important story about weighing ambition against reality, and how that balancing act becomes combustible in a politicized context.

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Speaking of which, Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat takes a fresh look at academic results in the city of Newark:

It was announced with much fanfare on Oprah in 2010: dramatic changes were coming to Newark’s schools, financed with $100 million from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Those changes — including a new teachers’ contract and the expansion of charter schools — proved controversial and challenging to implement. But there hasn’t been a clear answer to the key question: Are students learning more now than they were then, thanks to the reform effort? A new study, released Monday through the National Bureau of Economic Research, is among the first to try to answer. It finds that by 2016, Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011. But the results are not uniformly positive. It finds no impact in math. And in both subjects, the reforms seem to have come with a cost: student achievement declined substantially in the first three years of the changes.

Because of the size and nature of the philanthropic investment in Newark's schools, the city became a rorschach test for education policymakers. Dale Russakoff's book, The Prize, attempted to assess the reform project in its early stages. That book was the best of the "examining a single city to epitomize the reform agenda" genre of the last decade.

In light of these results, though, I wonder if the outsized attention to these initiatives in the short-term is damaging to their long-term viability. Consider, for example, the current narrative about school segregation, which is perhaps best captured in the oeuvre of New York Times Magazine journalists Nikole Hannah-Jones, who just won a MacArthur Genius Grant. Alexander Russo, writing in Phi Delta Kappan, looks at how her writing affects the discussion on this particular policy issue:

It’s incredibly exciting that Hannah-Jones, writing about what many might think of as the least sexy, most outdated topic imaginable, not only influences large numbers of educators, parents, policymakers, and reporters but also has been recognized as one of the top thinkers and doers in the world. But what about the ideas she’s describing? Boiled down to its core, Hannah-Jones’ work – three much-discussed pieces in particular – makes the argument that school segregation has been and still remains a central factor in depriving black Americans from fully participating in society. “Nikole’s work vividly highlights the degree to which we as a nation have so far failed to live up to the promise of the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision,” says former Obama education secretary John B. King, now head of the Education Trust.

School segregation is a massive problem, which is upheld not just by education policy, but also by housing segregation, the school-to-prison pipeline, wealth inequality, and a host of other local and national issues. Like all examples of institutional racism, we cannot solve the problem by erasing the "hate in our hearts." Segregation was created through the careful, multi-generational manipulation of public policy, and it must be unwound similarly. 

As such, I worry that too many of the people lauding Hannah-Jones's work exhibit the same policy hubris that I saw in the charter leaders of the early 2000s. 

The challenge of achieving school integration is just as complicated - if not more so - than producing increases in student achievement on standardized tests. "Busing" was the preferred mechanism of the last generation, but that concept places extraordinary transportation burdens on families who already live in economically insecure communities. I would love to see a busing scheme that takes kids en-masse from the suburbs to the city, but I sometimes wonder how that's substantively different than gentrification?

Another idea that wins favor among policy elites is the idea of the metropolitan school district, wherein officials draw school system boundaries over a large enough geographic area such that diversity is achieved through re-districting. This sounds great in theory, but given housing segregation, it's not practically different from busing. Moreover, recent attempts at re-districting highlight how technical change can cause equal and opposite policy reactions. That's what happened in Memphis and Shelby County several years ago, when in response to re-districting, the white communities of Shelby County literally seceded from the new, theoretically-more-diverse district. See also Charlotte-Mecklenburg, where decades of award-winning de-segregation work was unwound for similar reasons.

While we tend to think of the American South as the culprit on this issue, perhaps the most visceral episode of attempted de-segregation in the North happened in Boston in the 1970s. I spoke with Colin Diver recently, who famously appeared as the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed technocrat in charge of Boston desegregation in Tony Lukas's complicated book, Common Ground. I asked Diver to compare his experience in the 1970s to what he sees happening in education policy today. He mostly demurred, as he hasn't worked on K-12 education policy since the late 1970s, but he was forceful on one issue: we cannot eradicate institutional racism with policy alone, and there is no algorithm that will erase white America's sense of entitlement and unearned superiority.

I consider myself luck to have attended unusually diverse public K-12 schools. (Shout out to Eastern Camden County Regional.) As a white kid, that experience was not just important, but essential, to my personal growth and development. As I've gotten older, however, and I have had more explicit conversations about race with my non-white classmates, it has become clear that the experience was far more complicated for many of my peers. This personal experience, coupled with a career working in education policy, makes me very suspicious of elite policymakers in predominantly white institutions who have expedient ideas for how to improve education for Black children.

Which brings me back to the articles in today's reading list. The hubris of the predominantly white charter school organizations, whose preferred policy was all the rage in the early 2000s and 2010s, should be an important learning experience for the policymakers of today who are eager to dive through the Overton Window on the issue of school integration.

When technical ideas get ahead of both policymaking expertise and political strategy, overreach and under-performance is a foregone conclusion. On the issue of school integration, where centuries of institutional and interpersonal racism are at play, all of these risks are heightened.


I am a deep admirer of Hannah-Jones and her work, and I congratulate her on her well-deserved recognition. I am a proud graduate of a racially diverse public schools. I have chosen to live my life in a mixed-race community. I - quite selfishly, in fact - want racial integration to be a de facto feature of American life.

All of the experiences that make me desirous of that end, however, are the same things that make me clear-eyed about the process.

Have a great day ...