Tuesday Reading List: $100 Million for Criminal Justice Reform, Defining Integration, and Charter Mania

Robin Pogrebin of The New York Times reports that art collector Agnes Gund is starting a fund to reform the criminal justice system, with the proceeds from selling a single painting:

This new Art for Justice Fund — to be announced Monday at the Museum of Modern Art, where Ms. Gund is president emerita — will start with $100 million of the proceeds from the Lichtenstein ... The effort is noteworthy, not only for the amount of money involved — rarely do charitable undertakings start at $100 million — but because Ms. Gund is essentially challenging fellow collectors to use their artworks to champion social causes at a time when the market has made their holdings more valuable than ever ... The impetus for the fund was personal. Six of Ms. Gund’s 12 grandchildren are African-American ... She added that she was also deeply affected by Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” and by Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary, “13th,” about African-Americans in the prison system.

The fact that Gund's own family is affected by issues of racial inequality is a great example of what Bryan Stevenson calls "proximity." Unfortunately, due to racial wealth disparities, it's extremely unusual for someone in this country both to have Black family members AND to have the ability to give away money in $100 million chunks. The other important point here is that Gund is encouraging her peers to make similar decisions with their pricey art assets. I'm not mad at this.

Naomi Nix of The 74 looks at Connecticut state court rulings for signals about how the judicial system will think about segregation in the coming years:

Since [the 1996 ruling in Sheff v. O'Neill], Connecticut policymakers have struggled to answer a wonky but critical question: How many white students need to attend a school before it can be declared officially desegregated? The court left it to the state to negotiate with local civil rights groups over the remedy to segregation and its definition. The state’s current agreement with those groups, which expires June 30, defines a segregated school as having a student population that is 75 percent or more black or Latino ... But most Hartford students attend regular public schools that are still segregated — and are lower-performing and more poorly funded than the magnet schools.

It's important to remember that court-mandated school integration strategies never solved the actual problem of racial segregation in this country. There's a bit of magical thinking about this issue, especially among political progressives like myself. When public school racial integration peaked in the 1980s, we were still woefully segregated. It's also remarkable that many of the same people who lambaste charter schools - for not solving the problem of racial integration -are unmitigated boosters of Connecticut's selective-admission magnet schools ... which haven't solved the problem of racial segregation either, while admitting a small number of students who post high scores on standardized tests. It's almost as if performance and equity aren't the real issues ...

Speaking of charter schools, Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat looks at the most recent results from Stanford's ongoing study of charter performance:

A number of well known “no excuses”-style school networks like KIPP and YES Prep come out looking good, but others — including large virtual school networks and for-profit charters — don’t. And the authors of the report say too many schools aren’t being held accountable for their results. “Charter school authorizers are charged with acting as the gatekeepers to ensure schools of choice are beneficial to their students,” the authors write. “Some of them seem to be abdicating that responsibility" ... Students attending a school run by a charter management organization seem to benefit the most. CMOs lead to small but statistically significant annual gains in math and reading, relative to both traditional public schools and other types of charters.

Perhaps the most interesting result of the analysis is that for-profit charters and virtual schools worsen student performance. Overall, this study confirms the unsexy, pragmatic consensus on charters: the best ones are great, the average ones are average, and the worst ones are bad.

These results are unsatisfying if you are either:

1) An ideologue who wants to make the case that an all-charter system would be a radical improvement on our current one;

2) An ideologue who wants to stop the proliferation of charters at all costs; or

3) An organization like K12 Inc., whose for-profit schools do active harm to student performance.

Whatever the case, I'm sure everyone will have a totally balanced reaction to these results.

Finally today, Chris Stewart of Citizen Ed takes the NAACP to task for what he perceives to be an instance of #2 above:

Last year the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for a moratorium on charter schools. They said we need a “pause” until we can make sure charters are held to the same standards as district schools ... the NAACP could have used their considerable social capital to call a national convening of black educators who have demonstrable success with educating black children. They could have drawn from the best examples in traditional, charter, private schools, and even home schools. They could have asked these leaders the cardinal questions we need answered, like “what do we know about educating black children, what policies enable better outcomes for our students, and what is our evidence?" ... And, they could have asked black teachers, often pioneering teachers frustrated by incremental change in district schools, teach in charter schools. Alas, they didn’t ask. 

I share this piece, first and foremost, because Stewart raises important points about how it's specious to single-out one small segment of the entire American public schooling sector as responsible for the miseducation of Black children in this country. Beyond that, I think it's important for White readers to understand that no single organization or leader has a monopoly on what constitutes Black public opinion. I'm a White dude, and if my own lack knowledge is any indication, I know that my White peers, as a whole, have an unsophisticated perspective on the range of perspectives within the Black community.

That said ... I also see White folks - particularly those engaged in politics - engaging in the lazy strategy of finding the one non-White person who shares their political perspectives, then latching onto that person as a validator of their own heterodox beliefs. It's important to be wary of both fallacies. Have a great day!