Wednesday Reading List: When School Improvement Works, Trump Backtracks on HBCUS, and Cultural Appropriation

Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat looks at two new studies on the Obama administration's school improvement grant (SIG) program:

The San Francisco study — appearing in March in the American Educational Research Journal — compared nine schools in the city that received SIG money to similar schools that didn’t participate in the program. A 2013 San Francisco Chronicle article reported that the grants led to an influx of staff and services: “The money bought summer school classes, computers, books, social workers, nurses, literacy and math coaches, and more. All told, 70 people were hired with the grant funding this year at nine city schools" ... After three years, the SIG schools had higher test scores and attendance rates, and more parents wanted to send their kids to those schools. The schools did a better job of retaining effective teachers, and offered more professional development, according to surveys of teachers. The gains were largest in the schools that dismissed half their staff. The Ohio report, recently published through the Ohio Education Research Center, showed that students in 74 schools receiving SIG funds saw large test score gains and higher graduation rates after two or three years.

In my prior life, I helped states and districts operationalize this program to maximize its impact. As most of us predicted, some states used the money well and have results to show for it, while many states flushed the money down the toilet on ineffective reforms. Policymakers on the political right have a frustrating - borderline disingenuous - reaction to this program. Trump and DeVos label this program a "failure," while promoting vouchers, which research consistently finds do not work. They also fete charter schools, which have a roughly similar aggregate performance profile to school improvement efforts: some are great, most are meh, and many are terrible.

The broader point is this: nobody in this country knows "what works" to improve schooling at scale. Just because something works for a small number of students, doesn't mean it will work everywhere. Massive expansion of promising public policies involves managing both politics and economies of scale, neither of which are easy to predict in education. If someone tells you, "We know what works, we just need to do more of it," your reaction should be:

In other news, Yamiche Alcindor and Charlie Savage of The New York Times are following President Trump's threat to defund historically black colleges and universities:

When President Trump signed a $1.1 trillion spending bill on Friday, he zeroed in on a tiny sliver of it, suggesting that he might disregard $20 million in funding for loan subsidies and other aid to historically black universities. Two nights later, after a storm of criticism, the White House walked back the threat in a statement that declared the president’s “unwavering support” for such schools. But the two days in between left some African-American educators feeling used, many black politicians enraged and some demanding that Mr. Trump back his “unwavering support” with a show of budgetary support. It also, once again, revealed a White House where one team does not necessarily know what another team is up to.

This "say one thing in public, do another behind closed doors" approach to governance is a pattern for the Trump administration. Sady Doyle is in Elle, describing the administration's approach to undermining reproductive choice:

... for all that, the huge, watershed events many of us expected after his inauguration—the formal overturn of Roe, the conclusive defunding of Planned Parenthood, everyone getting white bonnets and red cloaks in the mail, etc.—haven't happened. Instead, Trump's attack on choice has been far more corrosive and subtle than most of us expected, and has occurred without drawing much outrage from anyone but dedicated activists. Rather than making big, polarizing moves, Trump is hand-selecting some of the nation's most extreme anti-choice activists and placing them in the precise government positions where they can do the most damage.

Finally today, Damon Young of VSB tries his best to be charitable when he learns that at White person opened a hip-hop themed fried chicken restaurant in a historically Black neighborhood:

When you first read the title of this piece, and said “Wait. Um…WTF?” And then read some more just to make sure that the sheer absurdity of the title reflected a thing that was actually happening? Those feelings exist because you’re aware of that historical connection between Black people and fried chicken. And you’re also aware of the salmagundi of racially, culturally, and politically charged feelings that exist whenever Black residents and businesses are displaced or priced out of historically Black neighborhoods ... Whenever something like this happens, there’s a tendency to dismiss the act as tone deaf. This is perhaps the most optimistic way of assessing these situations, as it implies that the person’s heart was in the right place, but they’re just oblivious to the factors and histories making their decision a gauche one. It’s understandable why that would be the first reaction, as it’s easier to regard people as ignorant and in need of an education instead of intentionally reckless. It just reflects a less dire feeling about humanity.

Read the whole thing, because it's both funny and insightful. Regular readers know that I try to note when White people cross the line from appreciation to appropriation. (Hi, Justin Timberlake!) You can't find that line drawn in bright red ink anywhere on a map, or even in the May edition of "How Not To Gentrify EVERYTHING You Touch Monthly." Young's argument, which resonates for me, is that it's pretty transparent that when a White person does something like this, he probably doesn't have a single Black person in his life who could have been like:

Have a great day!