Tuesday Reading List: Diversity on Campus, Special Education, and Promise Neighborhoods

Emily DeRuy of The Atlantic looks at the University of Michigan's attempt to diversify its campus:

A recent study by the Equality of Opportunity Project that was covered extensively by The New York Times found that the median family income of a student at the university is $154,000, the highest out of nearly 30 public colleges the report classified as highly selective. Fewer than 4 percent of students come from families in the bottom 20 percent income-wise. (For reference, the state’s median household income is around $50,000) ... Less than 5 percent of undergraduates in 2015 were black, and a similar number were Hispanic. The numbers aren’t much better at the graduate level. According to the university’s student paper, just 17 percent of students in 2016 were eligible for Pell grants. All of those not-great-on-paper numbers make for a day-to-day experience that isn’t always pleasant for students on campus who aren’t white and wealthy ...

The challenges at the University of Michigan stretch from staff to students to donors. This work seems particularly important at public universities, which serve as gatekeepers to privilege and power not just in their home states, but nationally. America's universities need to reframe what constitutes top performance. Admitting already-wealthy students and greasing their pathway to financial success isn't a terribly difficult thing to do, but that's what many "elite" high education institutions do.

Timothy Pratt of The Hechinger Report looks at how Georgia serves special education students, in its proprietary state system called "GNETS":

The Georgia program caught the attention of the Department of Justice, which launched an investigation that lasted several years, and resulted in a 21-page letter of findings in July, 2015, and a lawsuit in August, 2016. According to that lawsuit, the GNETS system violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, both by segregating children with disabilities and by denying them access to an equal education ... The GNETS program is spread across Georgia in 24 locations. Since opening in Athens, in 1970, the program has admitted tens of thousands of children, with a range of disabilities, under the umbrella of “emotional and behavioral disorders.” The Justice department’s case is the first time that the agency has charged a statewide educational system with violating the ADA, Title II, which guarantees people with disabilities full access to the same public services as the general population.

There are two important themes in this piece, the first of which being the way children with disabilities are treated by schools. On the one hand, creating a specialized system seems attractive, as that sort of system, in theory, can cater to the unique needs of individual students. On the other hand, it's very hard to prevent a system like that from becoming a caste system, which seems to be the case in Georgia. The other major theme of this story is the gap between the promise and reality of technology as an instructional aide. The Georgia system relies on a "personalized" technology platform that adapts to individual students' needs. In practice, that means students are sitting in front of computers all day, with little human interaction. The quality of instruction in these centers tends to range from weak to nonexistent. While I have never visited this Georgia program, I have observed educational centers with this particular design, and I find them not just educationally inadequate, but deeply depressing to boot.

In other news, Andrew Ujifusa of Education Week asked experts to predict which education programs may be vulnerable in the Trump administration's budget proposal. Among the programs on the chopping block is the "Promise Neighborhoods" initiative:

The program, started during the Obama administration, awards grants to local communities and other partners "to implement comprehensive, neighborhood-based plans for meeting the cradle-to-career educational, health, and social service needs of children and families in high-poverty communities." Both [experts] said that this program might be too closely associated with Obama to get much love from Trump's Education Department. Receives $73 million in the current budget.

This program was modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone in New York City, where a single organization manages a range of services and institutions that serve children and families. At the center of the "Zone" is a public charter school. The Promise Neighborhoods initiative is one of the few policy ideas that marries the best ideas of the "reformers" and the "traditionalists" in public education, and I'm disappointed that it didn't flourish. Policymakers were enthusiastic about replicating this idea, but the original program in NYC relied on a charismatic founder and millions of dollars in private capital from financial elites. It's hard to separate those factors from the program itself.

Finally, Breanna Edwards of The Root picks up a stunning story from southern California:

A California waiter has been fired after asking Latina customers for proof of residency as they dined at an upscale eatery in the city of Huntington Beach. According to the Los Angeles Times, Brenda Carrillo and a friend had just been seated and were waiting for two other companions on the outdoor patio of the Saint Marc restaurant when the waiter posed the intrusive and inappropriate question.

The restaurant tried to make amends:

The restaurant offered to host Brenda Carrillo and her friends as “VIP guests” over the weekend and to donate 10 percent of the weekend’s sales to a nonprofit of their choice. The friends also declined the VIP invitation but asked the restaurant to donate the portion of the sales to the Orange County Immigrant Youth United, which advocates for undocumented immigrants living in the country.

The behavior and rhetoric of our most prominent politicians is providing cover for individuals - like this waiter - to engage in private acts of racial and ethnic discrimination. There's a reason our forebears fought to integrate the lunch counter. Have a great day ...