Wednesday Reading List: Integration is Hard (Part 1,624,314) and What the Heck is Happening to Testing?

Kate Taylor of The New York Times revisited the few Manhattan schools that tried to integrate last year:

The mayor has held it up as an example of what the city needs to do to desegregate its public schools: A year ago, a local education council redrew the boundaries of 11 elementary school zones on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in an effort to reduce overcrowding and, it hoped, chip away at the stark racial and economic disparities that separated several neighboring schools. A year later, with data available on the first class of kindergartners enrolled, the results of the rezoning are mixed ... In a complex dance, the catchment areas of all three schools were redrawn and two of the schools moved ... Of the three schools, P.S. 199 appears to have seen the least amount of change. The rezoning shrank P.S. 199’s zone, and this year’s kindergarten class, at 110 students, is smaller than last year’s, at 135. But this year’s class is also whiter than last year’s group: 67 percent white compared to 61 percent.

I wrote about these schools last year, when white parents were organizing to prevent the integration plans from moving forward. The results of these actions are sobering. The city endured significant political upheaval to get this done in a relatively small corner of the district, and even so, it is unclear whether the schools will sustain a permanent demographic shift in favor of more integration.

This story reinforces an important, if uncomfortable, fact about school integration: there is no magic policy wand for desegregating schools.  I am eager for schools, housing, and the other aspects of public life to become more integrated. Because I know the history of negotiating integration through public policy, I'm realistic about the difficulties involved in that process. 

There are many things that we should have learned from the last era of school integration that I'm not sure enough people are talking about. The first, and perhaps the most important, is that you need a groundswell of public support to counteract the inevitable backlash from privileged families that want to maintain their privilege. Creating that public support requires grassroots organizing. There are some examples of that work nationally, but the constituency for integration is not yet strong enough to counteract the forces that will push back.

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In other news, Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat wonders whether we'll ever be able to compare educational results across states:

In 2010, then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made the case for common state tests that would allow parents and educators to find out — and predicted that the comparisons would lead to dramatic policy changes ... It was a heady moment: Most states had signed on to at least one of the two cross-state testing groups, PARCC and Smarter Balanced. Though their numbers have since dwindled substantially, the two groups still count over 20 members between them. But seven years later, it remains difficult to make detailed comparisons across states, as a potent mix of technical challenges, privacy concerns, and political calculations have kept the data relatively siloed. And there’s little evidence that the common tests have pushed states to compare notes or change course.

The issues that prevent states from comparing their data are real, and this is a great example of the point I made above vis-a-vis integration. The only real constituency for state-by-state accountability comparability are the policy wonks themselves (Hi!). The average parent wants usable data about her own children's schools and is ambivalent - at best - about testing consortia. The failure to cultivate a real constituency for the Common Core State Standards and its attendant assessments remains one of the greatest failures of the last era of school reform.

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Finally today, Tara García Mathewson of The Hechinger Report looks at whether states are going to use their greater flexibility on assessment to do anything meaningful:

The reason some schools today are developing performance-based assessments, where students are graded on their ability to apply things they learn in class in scenarios that reflect the real world, is because advocates argue they uniquely evaluate skills students need to succeed in their future careers. But multiple choice-based standardized tests are cheaper to administer, and with strict annual testing requirements enshrined in federal law since No Child Left Behind, they have become the easier path to compliance.

García Mathewson examines the states that are moving beyond multiple choice and finds both bright spots and caveats. If you're interested in more discussion of accountability, The 74 is hosting a series of essays from experts about the future of measuring progress in schools called "The 'A' Word."

Have a great day!