Friday Reading List: A Boatload of Articles to Keep You Warm This Weekend

I was derelict in my duties this week and failed to bring you a reading list on Wednesday. To atone for that sin, I'm providing EXTRA readings today!

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But I'm on a train with slow internet, so I might go light on the gifs ...

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Melinda D. Anderson, writing in The Atlantic, wonders what schools are actually teaching children about American slavery:

... Teaching Tolerance conducted online surveys of 1,000 American high-school seniors and more than 1,700 social-studies teachers across the country. The group also reviewed 10 commonly used U.S.-history textbooks, and examined 15 sets of state standards to assess what students know, what educators teach, what publishers include, and what standards require vis-à-vis slavery. Among 12th-graders, only 8 percent could identify slavery as the cause of the Civil War. Fewer than one-third (32 percent) correctly named the 13th Amendment as the formal end of U.S. slavery, with a slightly higher share (35 percent) choosing the Emancipation Proclamation. And fewer than half (46 percent) identified the “Middle Passage” as the transport of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to North America.

Anderson provides other illuminating details, while talking to teachers who explain the complexities of teaching the most shameful components of American history. It's important to remember that teaching slavery isn't important just for understanding "black history," but rather for reckoning with American history as a whole. While many white Americans might have an interest in distancing themselves from this particular component of the past, that's exactly why we need to make our discussion of slavery more explicit.

In other news, Patrick Wall of Chalkbeat looks at school governance changes in Newark, NJ:

For years, votes cast by Newark’s elected school board carried mostly symbolic weight. On Thursday, as the board reclaims full control of New Jersey’s largest school district after a 22-year state takeover, even its smallest decisions will acquire new significance ... The return to local control marks a watershed for Newark, a vote of confidence more than two decades after a state judge decried “failure on a very large scale” within its schools and “nepotism, cronyism and the like” among its school board. It comes as a number of states pivot away from takeovers — an extraordinary intervention whose outcomes have varied — and allow districts from Philadelphia to New Orleans to reclaim authority over their schools.

Using state takeover as a school improvement strategy is something that comes in and out of fashion. Unsurprisingly, governance change alone does little to solve educational problems. In order for governance shakeups to hasten instructional improvements, those changes need to be accompanied by rigorous supports and reforms in the classroom. Those instructional reforms require sustained attention and focus, which are often lacking after the splashy, headline-grabbing takeover event.

One city that never lacks for drama in the education sector is Washington DC. The latest hubbub about graduation rates keeps getting more complicated, as Perry Stein of The Washington Post reports:

One of every three graduates from the District’s public schools last year missed too many classes or improperly took make-up classes, undermining the validity of hundreds of diplomas, according to a report released Monday. The study, commissioned by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, takes the district’s central office to task and is the latest bolt of bad news for a school system reeling from a graduation scandal. The analysis concluded the District’s schools are plagued by a culture that encourages educators to hand out diplomas to meet lofty graduation goals, even if that means giving a high school degree to a student who missed half of the academic year.

More shoes are bound to drop here, so it will be important to separate important information from rumor of scandal.

Meanwhile, Mimi Kirk of CityLab looks at the role of white families in school integration, in an interview with Courtney Myktytn of Integrated Schools:

In many U.S. cities, enrollment in urban public schools is dominated by kids from lower-income households, often black and Latino. More affluent white urbanites who’ve moved to gentrifying city neighborhoods often send their children to private or charter schools, because of fears about underperforming local public schools—and the predominantly non-white kids who attend them. “If you could just get white liberals to live their values,” [journalist Nikole] Hannah-Jones said, “you could have a significant amount of integration.” That’s the argument that Courtney Everts Mykytyn of Los Angeles has been making for years. 

It's a great conversation, and one that we should be having more. Still, it's important to remember that integration alone will not solve all of our challenges with educational equity. Here's Elizabeth Harris of The New York Times on a new report from the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School:

The academic gaps between groups of students — the poor and the middle class, or black and Hispanic children and their white and Asian peers — often are examined in broad strokes, across a district or an entire city. But a new analysis from the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School takes a closer look by mapping the achievement gaps within each public elementary school in New York City. The results reveal the challenges of integrating students across the system, and of integrating under one roof ... Almost all students in the study with estimated household incomes below $30,000 were black or Hispanic, while students with household incomes above $80,000 were predominantly white. And the poorer students were, the lower they tended to score on the test, even when they went to the same school as wealthier children.

I share this research not to pour cold water on the idea of integration, but to highlight the fact that there is no panacea for educational equity. Integration is a worthy pursuit on its own. The public and policymakers need to understand, though, that integrating schools will not automatically hasten the kind of improvements in instruction, cultural competence, and content that are required to drive excellence in the classroom for all children.

If you need one more article to get you through the weekend, here are Robin Lake and Paul Hill in The 74, arguing for a new kind of political strategy for charter school supporters:

The charter movement has focused on a few localities, hoping to build exemplars of completely transformed public education systems where districts have either gone out of business or completely embraced chartering. As we have argued elsewhere, this tipping strategy has proved much more difficult than expected, as charters end up competing with one another for talent and facilities so that charter growth in key cities is slowing, not accelerating. Further complicating the politics of reform, charter-receptive local civic and business groups often also support efforts to improve district-run schools — particularly neighborhood schools. The attempt to tip a few cities also has opportunity costs, because it bypasses localities that need and might welcome new charter options.

I know there are a lot of politically savvy education policymakers who read this blog, so I'd love to hear reactions to the Lake-Hill piece in the comments.

Have a great weekend! Go Eagles!