Monday Reading List: The Limits of Choice, Integration is Not a Panacea, and Boston Keeps Being Boston

Elizabeth A. Harris and Ford Fessenden of The New York Times looked at the New York City policy allowing students to choose any high school in the district:

There is no doubt that the changes yielded meaningful improvements. The high school graduation rate is up more than 20 points since 2005, as the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio has built on Mr. Bloomberg’s gains. The graduation gap between white and black or Hispanic students, while still significant and troubling, has narrowed. But school choice has not delivered on a central promise: to give every student a real chance to attend a good school. Fourteen years into the system, black and Hispanic students are just as isolated in segregated high schools as they are in elementary schools ... Within the system, there is a hierarchy of schools, each with different admissions requirements — a one-day high-stakes test, auditions, open houses ... Those admitted to these most successful schools remain disproportionately middle class and white or Asian, according to an in-depth analysis of acceptance data and graduation rates ...

The reporters follow families from a low-income neighborhood to demonstrate that the outcomes above are the result of structural barriers, not chance. I'm not sure how much more evidence folks need to see in order to realize that choice alone is a woefully inadequate way to achieve quality and equity in a school system. All families - irrespective of social status - should have options when choosing a school for their children. Those options are an illusion, though, if they lead to the same structurally inequitable outcomes.

In Education Week, Rafiq R. Kalam Id-Din II argues that we should spend less time arguing about integration, and more time talking about the research indicating the power of having more black teachers in the classroom:

The study, issued last month by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, found that low-income black students who have just one black teacher in grades 3-5 are more likely to graduate and consider college, their likelihood of dropping out reduced by 29 percent ... Embracing the placebo of black-white integration as the answer to black underachievement in K-12 education allows reformers to ignore effective evidenced-based solutions while inequity festers unresolved. In New York City, where I teach, state testing sets the stage for the annual hand-wringing over the achievement gap between black and white students, which has barely budged in more than a decade. In 2016, the black-white achievement gap in English for students in grades 3-8 was staggering, with only 27 percent of black students achieving proficiency compared with 59 percent of white students. Even in Brooklyn, where charter and traditional public schools put tremendous effort into integrated classrooms, the achievement gap remains.

To be fair, this shouldn't be an "either/or" situation, although I'm afraid that the national debate is drifting in that direction. There is some historical precedent for the author's fear that the conversation will trend in a zero-sum direction. Historians have looked at the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education and determined that one of the unintended consequences of school integration was the dissolution of Black-led educational institutions, and reductions in the non-white teaching force nationally.

In other news, Meredith Kolodner of The Hechinger Report examines schools designed for refugee students in Kentucky:

Last August, despite some opposition, Bowling Green opened a new high school dedicated solely to immigrants and refugees, adjacent to Warren Central High School in the poorer section of town. GEO International High School, with about 185 students, is connected to the Internationals Network for Public Schools in New York City; its schools have been more successful than traditional schools at educating new, and often traumatized, immigrants, and at boosting their emotional and social well-being, as well. But was GEO International the right response? The question remains whether separating the students in high school, especially in a place that doesn’t have the built-in diversity of New York City, will result in the kinds of academic and social gains that lead to greater integration and eventually greater success as adults in the United States.

Kolodner addresses the elephant-in-the-room later in the article: does this arrangement constitute segregation? 

I struggle with this conversation, because I am 100% in favor of government intervention to support greater racial integration. I'm also a privileged white dude. My life is enriched and enhanced by being in closer proximity to people who are not white. Further, I believe that the world will be better when there is more deliberate interaction across lines of racial difference. In practice, however, integration requires actual cultural and policy tradeoffs, which are rarely as simple as we want them to be, because racism.

Speaking of which, here's Renée Graham in The Boston Globe, discussing Boston's ongoing struggle with racism, in the wake of a group of Red Sox fans shouting racist slurs at an opposing team's player:

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, along with the Boston Red Sox organization, quickly apologized to Baltimore Orioles player Adam Jones, who was jeered with racist taunts and had peanuts thrown at him during Monday night’s game at Fenway Park. The offender was eventually kicked out. Yet, as usual, both Baker and Walsh were just as fast in claiming that these kinds of “unfortunate” incidents do “not reflect the city, who we are as Boston.” Except they do. State and city leaders need to realize that to address honestly as grievous a sin as racism, they need to acknowledge how deeply embedded it is in the culture of this city.

I lived in Massachusetts for a number of years. I know many white people in Boston who insist that Boston is held to an unfair standard and is "no more racist" than other American cities ...

Boston being *ahem* exceptional in this category might be the only thing that every person of color I know agrees about. Get your shit together, Boston. Have a great week!