Wednesday Reading List: Revisiting That Segregation Article & Measuring School Quality

Robin Lake has a short piece in The 74, responding to the Associated Press's now infamous analysis on segregation in charters:

America is inexcusably segregated today, but it is ridiculous to imply that charter schools are to blame. Decades of housing choices, largely driven by suburban and intra-urban white flight, are reinforced today by inequities that are hardwired into our neighborhood school systems where funding, quality teachers, and other resources are unfairly distributed. The parent choice that helped create segregated schools is the kind driven by a moving van, not by public charter schools.

As Lake points out, the segregationist tendencies of white, affluent families plays an enormous role in segregation across sectors. Rachel Cohen and Will Stancil, writing in Pacific Standard, remind us that these patterns are the result of policy:

... recent work has helped expose the government's pivotal (and heretofore frequently overlooked) role in the creation of housing segregation. In 2014, as part of an explosive Atlantic cover story, Ta-Nehisi Coates traced how the government redlined black neighborhoods and denied their inhabitants good mortgages, trapping residents in place. This year, Richard Rothstein followed up on Coates' work with The Color of Law, a book that takes aim at the myth that racialized living patterns are the result of individual choices. Instead, he shows, they are mainly the product of government policies developed to maintain the racial character of neighborhoods. With these developments have come a subtle shift: Where housing segregation was once cited as a legal defense excusing districts from the obligation to integrate, it is now raised as a practical obstacle that makes integration impossible.

The dialectic happening here is one that interrogates the relative importance of personal choice versus statute in upholding racial segregation. You'll be shocked to hear that BOTH phenomena matter. That said, choice advocates tend to overstate the role markets can play in driving desired social outcomes, while policy enthusiasts overestimate the power of regulation to overcome entrenched prejudices and preferences. Not to mention, both analyses downplay the role of politics, which is susceptive to demagoguery and fear-mongering on the very power dynamics that underscore racial segregation. Racism is not fundamentally about hate, it is about power; my belief is that the desegregation of schools does not have to be a zero-sum game ... but privileged communities sure seem to perceive it that way.

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In other news Emily Badger and Kevin Quealy of The New York Times examine a new school quality measure:

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The data, based on some 300 million elementary-school test scores across more than 11,000 school districts, tweaks conventional wisdom in many ways. Some urban and Southern districts are doing better than data typically suggests. Some wealthy ones don’t look that effective. Many poor school systems do. This picture, and Chicago’s place in it, defy how we typically think about wealth and education in America. It’s true that children in prosperous districts tend to test well, while children in poorer districts on average score lower. But in this analysis, which measures how scores grow as student cohorts move through school, the Stanford researcher Sean Reardon argues that it’s possible to separate some of the advantages of socioeconomics from what’s actually happening in schools.

The article has interactive graphics, where you can look at how your local school district compares to nearby systems!

This method of analyzing school quality seems superior to others in almost every conceivable way, and I'd love to hear more from researchers about whether they agree. Whether we like it or not, some schools are better at educating children than others. We should be able to both assess that quality differential, and determine which interventions are likely to improve instruction in schools that are lagging. Unfortunately, even THAT statement is controversial in education policy!

Have a great day!