Wednesday Reading List: Voluntary Integration, Disempowering Principals, and Stark Inequity

(Note to Loyal Readers: due to both professional travel and family vacation plans, my posting during the second half of June will be sporadic. My apologies for the extent to which this causes severe lapses in your news and/or gif consumption.)

Dana Goldstein of The New York Times looks at the Dallas Public Schools and that district's attempt to cultivate socioeconomic integration:

Dallas is one of just a handful of cities trying ambitious integration programs, even though nationwide, public schools are more segregated today than they were in 1970. A third of black and Hispanic students attend schools that are more than 90 percent nonwhite, according to research from the Century Foundation, and those racially segregated schools are overwhelmingly low-performing. Research shows that poor children who attend school alongside more privileged peers score higher on standardized tests and earn more money as adults.  But fearful of stoking a fresh round of middle-class flight or another busing revolt like Boston’s in the 1970s, most cities have shied away from addressing the issue. A typical approach is New York’s, where gifted programs and magnet schools have not made a great dent.

First of all, that's A+ journalist-shade from Goldstein, given New York's lack of progress on this issue.

Second, the details of the Dallas plan are important. The superintendent is working to attract more privileged families from outside of the city to the district, on a voluntary basis. Achieving that goal will mean catering to those families' interests, which may not always jive with those of the district's current students and families. Pay attention to whether or not that tension becomes a manageable challenge, or an existential crisis.

Speaking of New York City, Monica Disare of Chalkbeat examines how the role of principals has shifted under the current administration:

While principals’ opinion of Chancellor Carmen Fariña started high, their satisfaction with her handling of school oversight has dropped by 10 points on a city survey since 2014. In more than a dozen interviews, principals told Chalkbeat that while the administration had brought some welcome changes to the city’s schools, it has also ramped up its scrutiny of their daily decisions and made it harder to get some of the help they need. Part of Fariña’s goal in trying to rein in a disjointed system was to make it tougher for struggling principals to slip through the cracks. But for some principals, the shift to centralized decision-making — with newly empowered superintendents playing a leading role — has had unintended consequences.

Later in the article, we learn that paperwork requirements have increased under the new administration, and that principals' supervisors often ask for multiple rounds of revisions of compliance documents. There are few issues on which I take a hard stance, but I'm comfortable saying that there is literally no upside in having school principals conduct more paperwork. When it comes to principal empowerment, the pendulum tends to swing from greater autonomy to more centralized control - or vice versa - when administrations change. Chancellor Carmen Fariña argues that struggling principals need more support; that's all well and good, but paperwork is not support, and you cannot prop-up your struggling leaders in a way that hampers the capabilities of your stronger ones.

Finally today, Erin Einhorn of The Atlantic looks at how disparities manifest in Detroit pre-k programs:

LaWanda Marshall and Candace Graham both teach pre-kindergarten at the Carver STEM Academy on Detroit’s west side. Both have colorful, toy-filled classrooms, computers for students to use and assistant teachers to help guide their 4- and 5-year-olds as they learn and explore ... Marshall’s students—part of the Grow Up Great program funded by the PNC Foundation—go on regular field trips and get frequent visits from traveling instructors. The parents of her students get access to support programs like one that connects job seekers with employment opportunities ... Graham and her students, meanwhile, hang back when the kids down the hall board the bus to go on field trips. Few packages or visitors arrive.

The dramatic tension is high in this article, because the disparities are so stark and present within a single school. But let's be clear: this sort of disparity is not unusual; it is the absolute norm in American schooling. The divisions can appear more inequitable when they are juxtaposed in a single pre-k hallway, but the financial disparities within - and across - communities lead to enormous differences in the quality and magnitude of schooling from pre-k through college in America. There are interesting tidbits in this article, but folks who read this piece shouldn't leave with the impression that private funding of pre-k extra is somehow responsible for education inequities. Have a great day!