Wednesday Reading List: The Meaning of "Public," AP Scores, and Alex Trebek Rapping

Nikole Hannah-Jones ponders the meaning of the word public, in the context of schooling, in an essay in The New York Times Magazine:

As the civil rights movement gained ground in the 1950s and 1960s, however, a series of court rulings and new laws ensured that black Americans now had the same legal rights to public schools, libraries, parks and swimming pools as white Americans. But as black Americans became part of the public, white Americans began to pull away. Instead of sharing their public pools with black residents — whose tax dollars had also paid for them — white Americans founded private clubs (often with public funds) or withdrew behind their fences where they dug their own pools. Public housing was once seen as a community good that drew presidents for photo ops. But after federal housing policies helped white Americans buy their own homes in the suburbs, black Americans, who could not get government-subsidized mortgages, languished in public housing, which became stigmatized. Where once public transportation showed a city’s forward progress, white communities began to fight its expansion, fearing it would give unwanted people access to their enclaves.

Hannah-Jones points out that opting out of public systems, particularly when done by people with power and privilege, is tantamount to disinvestment. She also notes that the pushback against Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been an immune response against an existential threat to the concept of public schooling. Hannah-Jones has sparred with educators on all sides of reform debates in the past, but I can't find a single word in this essay that I disagree with.

Alex Zimmerman of Chalkbeat looks at the challenges implicit in turning around a chronically struggling Harlem high school:

The school zooms in on students who don’t earn passing grades during the first few months of school, and offers extra academic help. ([Principal] Valcin keeps a color-coded spreadsheet on her desk that tracks student progress toward graduation.) If a student is showing up late — or not at all — they’ll likely get a knock on their door, sometimes from Valcin herself, or from a staff member at Partnership with Children. And if they’re routinely showing up late to class due to an extra-long commute, school officials might help the family find a school that’s closer to home.

It's important to track how many students fall into that last category, because there's a slippery slope between "Let's find a more convenient school for you" and counseling a student to withdraw. This approach to managing the student population happens in both traditional public and charter schools.

In other news, Joe Heim of The Washington Post looks at increasing advanced placement scores:

College Board President David Coleman said in a conference call with reporters that while the number of students taking AP tests continues to grow, the bigger news is that performance on the tests continues to improve ... “Most people tend to believe that if you increase access in a big way, you’re likely to compromise on quality,” Coleman said. “Against all those instincts . . . the Advanced Placement program has radically expanded access without compromising quality" ... a senior vice president at the College Board, said the research was a “landmark” finding that showed more students had the same academic ability “as the much smaller population that was getting into AP classrooms so many years ago. In other words, educators have been eradicating both the written and unwritten rules that restricted college credit opportunities to artificial thresholds like the top 10 percent of a high school.”

I spent time on this issue when I ran a nonprofit in Boston. For many years, advanced placement courses were little gated communities. Many teachers were allowed to hand pick their classes, limiting enrollment to a small number of academic overachievers. This research confirms what I, and many others, have said for years, which is that making access more equitable and democratic comes at no expense to more privileged students, while providing more and better opportunities for traditionally underserved kids.

Finally, Bee Pollard at Blavity found the best thing on the internet yesterday:

On Monday's episode of Jeopardy!, three college-aged students took on the themed board in an attempt to win big. One of the categories, "Let's Rap, Kids" took on a life of its own when host Alex Trebek had to recite famous lyrics from popular rap songs, include Kanye West's "Famous" and Desiigner's "Panda." Twitter users were quick to put the host's a cappella bars to their respective beats:

Enjoy your day!