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Thursday, June 28, 2018

School Desegregation Research Roundup: Secession in Memphis-Shelby County, and the meaning of local control

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher based in Massachusetts. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here.  

This post is about a great piece of recent research on school resegregation. I want to talk about the content of the article itself as well as the value, more generally, of research that relies on interviews and media analysis to understand the current moment with regards to race and schooling. I think this kind of research can tell us a lot about how things have changed, how things have stayed the same, and about how we might make progress in the future.

Research that measures school resegregation numerically or statistically has made its way deep into public discussion. Many - even mainstream - media outlets cite research findings that schools in some parts of the country are as segregated as they were in the 1960s, for example. And that’s great. 

Meanwhile, research that’s more qualitative (e.g., interviews and observations) is yet to approach this kind of impact. (See this piece for a much better, more holistic definition of qualitative research than I have the space for here.)  While statistical/quantitative studies can be relatively straightforward, it can be harder to describe the purpose of qualitative research for those who aren’t already on board. Qualitative research doesn’t “measure” as much as it documents lived experience or illuminates important aspects of the cultural context around the numbers. That can be harder to put into a quick headline. Perhaps as a result, it’s less common to find discussion of qualitative research in this field, which brings me to the specific piece I want to review here.

The article -- The Disintegration of Memphis-Shelby County, Tennessee -- looks at an extremely important (and currently unfolding) issue: school district secession. It was published in one of the most highly regarded education research journals by three very well-known researchers in this field - Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, Sarah Diem, and Erica Frankenberg.

The background on Memphis-Shelby County is complicated, but here’s the most important thing to know: school district boundaries changed three times in three consecutive years. In 2012, Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools were two separate districts. Then, they merged to one large district in 2013. And, then, in 2014, the district splintered, as six small towns seceded to form their own districts. As in many other places, the seceding towns were whiter and wealthier than the district they left behind. There’s more detail in the article itself as well as here, here, and here for those who want to read more.

The article focuses on the 2014 secessions and asks: how did this happen? How did political figures justify the decision to secede? The researchers interviewed people who were involved in the decision or who were affected by it, including members of the county’s transition planning commission as well as school board members, school administrators, other education researchers and activists.

The main rationale? Local control. This is maybe not surprising, but striking nonetheless: “Every white political leader representing the new municipal districts mentioned local control of public schools as the central rationale for secession.”

Their findings dig into the concept of local control, identifying the reasons that it has so much salience. Here are just a few selected findings:

  • They argue that the 2013 merger with Memphis aroused in white suburban leaders a kind of “resentment and fear related to resources, political power, and increased racial contact.” Part of this was that suburban leaders did not want to share resources or political decision making with city leaders. In the article, for example, one white leader is quoted as saying “we’re the ones that have the resources and therefore we have to bail the city out. We’re always having to bail the city out.”  
  • Black leaders were more likely than white leaders to say that the secessions were motivated by race. In the words of one of the black leaders who was interviewed as part of the study: “A statement like, I don’t want the people who run the Memphis City Schools to be running my schools isn’t the same as I don’t want black people running my schools, but it is the same.” 
In discussing the relevance of their findings, the authors connect the themes in the Memphis-Shelby County case to larger issues in school district secession. Here are perhaps two of the most salient topics:
  • Colorblind language. The authors observe that “local control, in short, became a favorable way to discuss the preservation and accumulation of resource advantages that mapped on to existing racial cleavages.” Of course, we saw exactly the same thing last week, in a North Carolina law that allows white towns essentially to secede (or, really, to wall themselves off) from Charlotte city schools. And we see similar language used all the time by Secretary DeVos.
  • Education as an individualized benefit. Importantly, the authors locate the local control argument “within a larger structure of reconceptualizing education as an individual good that allows individuals seeking local control for their communities to make decisions that impact many other communities beyond their own.” So here’s another important theme that we see over and over again in school resegregation: the idea that quality education is a limited resource that must be approached - by parents, lawmakers, etc. - as zero-sum competition. As an alternative, the authors note that “the Brown decision laid out broad social goals for public education, including its fundamental importance for democracy and citizenship.”
These are just samples. There’s much more in the piece, including race-conscious research and policy recommendations that I don't have the space to summarize here. One of the authors also took to Twitter to summarize the piece. In all, it's new research that thoroughly demonstrates that arguments about local control are really arguments about race -- that the boundaries of what counts as “local” are racialized (e.g., not “the city”) and that the feeling of needing “control” itself is racialized (e.g., control over the continued accumulation of resources for white communities, or control over access to what is viewed as a limited, individualized, competitive resource). 

To advance policy, you have to make an argument of some kind, and it’s no longer acceptable to make an argument for secession that is explicitly about race. So instead, secession advocates have to use coded language. This research defines that coded language in detail and provides the insight necessary not only to puncture holes in today’s prevailing arguments but to promote better arguments - and specific policy strategies - for a race-conscious approach to public education. I hope this will catch on in the public discussion as much as startling statistics about how far we’ve regressed already have.  

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

School Desegregation News Roundup: HB514 and Resegregation in North Carolina

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher based in Massachusetts. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here.  

In the last update, I wrote about a promising school integration lawsuit in New Jersey. This week, the news is not as good: On Wednesday, North Carolina passed a law#HB514 – that will allow 4 majority white suburbs of Charlotte to secede from the countywide Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. Although secession efforts have been common across the country recently, this one is unique for at least two reasons.

First, other places have sought to secede by splintering smaller public school districts off from a larger/more diverse district (e.g., Gardendale, AL, Memphis-Shelby County, TN). However, the NC law uses charter schools as the vehicle for secession. It authorizes charters specifically in 4 suburbs, allows them to limit enrollment in these schools to municipal residents. The graph below shows the suburbs and their racial compositions.



(CMS schools are on the left and the 4 suburbs are on the right; credit: Justin Parmenter)

Second, one barrier to secession via charter school is that there are more restrictions on the use of property tax revenue for things like school building construction. But the NC bill takes care of that by including a provision that allows town governments to indeed use public funds for charter schools the way they would for traditional public schools. Previously, only county governments or the state had the power to spend money this way.

However, proponents of the bill claim that it has nothing to do with race:



“How is this an issue of race?” I’ll attempt to answer the question by taking a broad look at the history of segregation, integration and then re-segregation in Charlotte and its schools.

To start, we have to look way back at the turn of the century, because events then still resonate today.

This great piece in the Atlantic notes that segregation in Charlotte (as in so many other places) had to be invented. Between the end of the Civil War and 1899 (when NC passed its first Jim Crow law), “black and white people lived next to each other in Southern cities, creating what the historian Tom Hanchett describes as a ‘salt-and-pepper’ pattern.” Wealthy political elites were concerned about a growing political alliance between low-income blacks and whites, so they encouraged residential segregation as a way to, well, divide them.

We see similar efforts if we zoom ahead to NC’s resistance to Brown v. Board. In the immediate aftermath of Brown, NC voters overwhelmingly supported the Pearsall Plan, which “allowed districts to shutter schools that became integrated, and provided state-funded vouchers to allow white students to flee integrated schools.”

But 1969 ushered in a new and uniquely successful era of school integration in Charlotte. That year, the Pearsall Plan was declared unconstitutional in Godwin v. Johnson County Board of Education. And, famously, in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg, a federal district court approved busing as a remedy for school segregation. Swann was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1971, and Charlotte quickly became a model for integration across the country. Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools began busing on September 9, 1970, with 525 buses across the countywide school district. It was enormously successful:


  • During this time, many NC cities and towns merged forming countywide school districts. This article cites a NC-based policy analyst who reflects that “In North Carolina, consolidation was the way forward on integration,” adding that “there was no other way.”
  • By the 1980’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg become one of the most racially integrated school districts in America.
  • A Charlotte Observer editorial wrote that Charlotte’s “proudest achievement of the past 20 years is not the city’s impressive new skyline or its strong, growing economy. Its proudest achievement is its fully integrated schools.”
  • And, being from Boston, I found this particularly touching– after the virulent response to busing in Boston, students from CMS “invited students from Boston to come down South, to see that integration could be done peacefully, to the benefit of all students.”

Nearly 30 years after busing began in Charlotte, school integration received a devastating blow. A white parent filed suit against the city, claiming that his daughter had been denied admission to a local magnet school because of her race. In that case – Capacchione v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg – a federal judge ruled that the segregated “dual system” in the Swann case was no longer in existence. In a haunting piece of foreboding, the deciding judge wrote that “racial imbalances existing in schools today are no longer vestiges of the dual system; and that it is unlikely that the school board will return to an intentionally-segregative system.” That decision was later upheld in an appeals court. Busing ended, and resegregation accelerated rapidly. A recent report found that Charlotte-Mecklenburg is by far the most racially segregated district in the state. To achieve racial balance today, more than half of the students in CMS would have to be reassigned to different schools.

The effects have been stark. There are a lot of resources for those who want to dig into the data. Here are a few points that I found most compelling:

  • In a study of America’s 50 largest cities, Charlotte ranked 49th in economic mobility for poor children. A separate study, published by Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, found the same, noting that “If you are born poor in Charlotte, you are likely to stay that way.” These reports look at income, but of course race and income are highly correlated. 
  • And we shouldn’t lose sight of how school segregation ripples through virtually all aspects of social life. This fantastic piece by Clint Smith connects school segregation to the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the protests that followed his death. Smith notes “In Charlotte, the chances of black males coming into contact with the criminal-justice system increased with the resegregation of their high schools.” There’s a lot in his piece that can’t be summarized her -- I highly recommend a full read.
As you know, the story does not end here. In 2017, NC lawmakers took aim at consolidated districts. Last year, the legislature passed a bill (despite considerable Democratic dissent) that authorized a committee to decide whether consolidated districts should be allowed to splinter. That committee had its first meeting in February of 2018, initiating a process that, in part, led to Wednesday’s enactment of HB514.


It is significant that the bill seeks to break up countywide districts. As noted earlier, consolidation was viewed as the only way to pursue integration. Indeed, counties that splintered before HB514 have become more segregated afterwards.

And it is also significant that the bill uses charters as the vehicle for secession. As noted here by Jeff Bryant, “In North Carolina, there’s little doubt parents use charters to segregate.” And, more specifically, as avenues for wealthy, white students to leave traditional public schools. When charter schools were originally approved in North Carolina, they were required to “reasonably reflect the racial and ethnic composition” of their home district. However, in 2013, the bar was lowered to require only that charter schools “make efforts” to reflect the demographic makeup of their communities. Duke University recently looked at charter schools in North Carolina, and the results are pretty straightforward:

  • Over the last 15 years, the proportion of white students in NC public schools has decreased, while the proportion of white students in NC charter schools has increased.
  • In traditional public schools, only 30% of students attend schools that are “highly segregated.” Meanwhile, at NC charter schools, more than 2/3rds of students attend “highly segregated” schools. This article has a map of the demographic breakdown of Charlotte schools in 2015.
I just don’t see how this bill could be separated from the history here. After Brown, there were pitched debates about things like school district boundaries and the use of public funds (at the time, it was vouchers) to finance white flight. Although the specific policy mechanisms are different, the debate today still centers around similar core issues. However, proponents want us to believe that HB514 is somehow disconnected from the history outlined above, claiming that the law is about things like local control or choice -- definitely not about race. Could anyone believe this?

It brings me back to this quote from Clint Smith’s piece, referenced above. What he says is relevant not only for major stories like HB514, but for all the many and much smaller ways that we choose to ignore race in education policy and practice: 
When we operate as if the past is irrelevant, and propose ostensibly race-neutral policies in a deeply racialized world, we inevitably create social institutions that perpetuate that social stratification.

Friday, June 1, 2018

School Desegregation News Roundup: Spotlight on New Jersey

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher based in Massachusetts. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here.  

There was major news out of New Jersey last week: civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against the state for laws that codify school segregation. This post is a very quick summary of the case for and then an attempt to put the lawsuit in the larger context of the decades-long push and pull for racial justice in New Jersey public schools.

A brief summary: New Jersey is the 6th most segregated state for Black students and 7th for Latinx students. In response, the Latino Action Network and the New Jersey NAACP filed suit on the 64th anniversary of Brown last week. The suit is specifically focused on state laws that (a) require students to live in the town where they attend school (for traditional public schools) and (b) require that charter schools give preference to students who live in their home districts. The plaintiffs argue that residency requirements (or, for charters, preferences) essentially guarantee schools will be segregated, given housing segregation across New Jersey’s many small towns. If these laws are struck down, the state’s ed commissioner and governor would have three months to come up with remedies. Plaintiffs have considerable reason for hope: New Jersey’s constitution actually prohibits segregation of any person “in the public schools, because of religious principles, race, color, ancestry or national origin.” And New Jersey courts have also ruled against so-called de facto segregation, which is much harder to legally challenge at the federal level.

For a more detailed summary, I recommend checking out the always-great Ed Law Prof Blog. With this suit, New Jersey joins a similar case in Minnesota as civil rights advocates pursue integration through state courts amidst an inhospitable federal environment (one that will likely be made worse by judicial nominees who refuse to endorse Brown and who just recently moved closer to Senate confirmation).

In the past, New Jersey courts have been at the forefront of educational equity. Famously, the Abbott v. Burke case ordered significant funding increases to under-resourced school districts across the state. There were many iterations and re-litigations of Abbott (outlined nicely here), but its initial decision came in 1988. Between Abbott and this new case, you can see a microcosm of the larger struggle for educational/racial justice.

Some of this struggle was the subject of a great discussion of this on a recent episode of the Have You Heard podcast. The main takeaways from that discussion:
  • A new book by Domingo Morel, called Takeover, uncovers an interesting historical symmetry in New Jersey ed policy: that the state’s takeover of Newark public schools (one of the earliest takeovers in any state) directly followed the state supreme court’s initial ruling in Abbott. 
  • Morel’s book aims to understand why certain schools were taken over, while others were not. On the Have You Heard podcast, Morel argues that “if you don’t have plaintiffs winning court cases [for school funding] during this period, 1980-2000, you essentially don’t have any takeover laws.” In other words, once money was directed towards schools that serve Black students in Newark, state politicians implemented new policies to take control of that money away from Black local leaders. 
  •  This didn’t just happen in New Jersey. The podcast notes that, during the time period explored by Morel, 18 states won cases for school funding and 14 of those passed state takeover laws, including my home state of Massachusetts. The four states that didn’t were among the whitest states in the country. 
  •  New Jersey and other states around the country also either had existing laws or created new laws that essentially blocked Black and Latinx from attending schools in other districts that were getting adequate funding, and which were not subject to state takeover. (These are the same policies that are the target of the current lawsuit.) In New Jersey and elsewhere, this persisted for decades while segregation increased, until new plaintiffs come along to secure access to adequately resourced schools for Black and Latinx students.
For me, it all illustrates a decades-long push and pull: all the work that goes into keeping non-white students in under-resourced schools and keeping white students in majority-white spaces. And, then all the complex legal activity and (frankly) bravery required to push back against that work. Here’s hoping for some success - it is long-deserved and it never should have been this complicated in the first place. I’ll post updates.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Minneapolis subsidized housing policy contributes to segregation

Historically, affordable housing policy in Minneapolis worked, explicitly or implicitly, to concentrate subsidized housing development in low-income and racially segregated areas. These policy helped perpetuate racial and economic segregation within the city, and insulated more affluent, whiter neighborhoods from the putative costs of subsidized development. The practice of concentrating subsidizing housing reflected a common prejudice among affluent and white families: that low-income neighbors, especially neighbors of color, would degrade property values, quality of life, neighborhood schools, and attract crime.

The long-term consequence of these policies has been to deny lower-income Minnesotans residential access to some of the most affluent neighborhoods in the state, which are often served by high-performing schools and offer networks of economic opportunity. On a systemic level, the perpetuation of residential segregation helps divide the region into haves and have-nots, contributing to economic inequality, urban sprawl, and Minnesota's already-severe racial disparities.

Unfortunately, the Minneapolis City Council has recently taken action to exacerbate these divides.

Minneapolis operates an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, or AHTF, which provides funding for construction of subsidized units within the city. On May 11, citing gentrification fears and broader skepticism of the concept of housing segregation, the Minneapolis City Council changed the process for awarding funds from the AHTF to incentivize greater concentration of subsidized housing. It did so without public notice or comment, and without staff recommendation.

The precise change involved the reduction and alteration of an "economic integration" bonus in the AHTF priority scoring system. The number of priority points awarded under this criterion was halved. Moreover, the allocation of priority points was changed. Under the new formulation, projects in areas of racial or poverty concentration will, in most cases, receive more priority points than projects outside of those areas.

The City Council may be operating under the belief that poverty concentration or subsidized housing segregation are no longer a problem in Minneapolis. It, however, would be severely mistaken in that assessment.

IMO analysis of current subsidized housing locations -- conducted with data from the HousingLink Streams database -- indicates that subsidized housing density and economic concentration are highly related. In Minneapolis neighborhoods, the share of housing stock that is subsidized ranges from zero percent to over 80 percent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, correlation between this share and a neighborhood's poverty rate is very high, as can be seen in the graph below. (Indeed, it is difficult to see how a neighborhood in which over half the units are income-restricted could support a representative mix of family incomes.)



Our analysis shows the share of subsidized units in poorer areas is highly disproportionate to the share of population in those areas. While areas of racial and economic concentration contain only 30.7 of Minneapolis housing units, they contain 58.7 percent of Minneapolis subsidized units. Among subsidized units receiving funding from the city itself, that figure rises to 61.4 percent, indicating that Minneapolis's funding policies -- even before the recent change -- have made concentration slightly worse. (Click the tables to enlarge.)



The AHTF funding criteria essentially divide the city into two types of neighborhoods: concentrated and non-concentrated. However, when subsidized housing siting is examined on a gradient scale, the concentration is even more obvious. The very poorest neighborhoods receive a share of subsidized housing (32.9 percent) over three times their share of all housing units (10.5 percent). Meanwhile, nearly four out of ten Minneapolis housing units are located in areas with a poverty rate below 12 percent, but those same areas contain fewer than one out of twenty subsidized housing units.



Measures of racial concentration produce similar findings. Only 26.4 percent of Minneapolis housing is located in neighborhoods in which the majority of the population is nonwhite, but those areas contain 54.6 percent of subsidized units. Meanwhile, areas in which more than three-quarters of the population is white contain over 40 percent of housing but 10.3 of subsidized units. This reflects the long-running success of very white neighborhoods at preventing the construction of subsidized housing within their borders.



These trends are stark enough to be immediately and obviously visible on a map. The map below depicts all subsidized projects in Minneapolis as bubbles, with each bubble scaled to the number of units in the project. As is obvious, virtually no units whatsoever exist in predominantly white areas. Virtually the entire subsidized housing stock is concentrated in areas of significant racial diversity. The major notable exception to this trend is recently-developed areas in the North Loop and St. Anthony neighborhoods, which have been the subject of proactive efforts to produce a mix of housing types and affordability levels.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

School Desegregation Research Roundup, 3-10-18: More evidence about charters and resegregation

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to begin featuring the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher based in Massachusetts. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here.  

Two new studies came out last month that add to a growing body of literature suggesting that charter schools contribute to school resegregation. The first looks at the impact of school choice policies and zoning changes in New Castle County, Delaware. In case you are not aware, the school segregation story in DE is somewhat unique. Here’s the background.

  • Schools in New Castle County were desegregated via court order in 1975 and (as in so many places) the schools were released from their desegregation order in 1995.
  • And there’s an interesting nuance to the story: Although the 1974 Milliken v. Bradley decision prevented federal judges from creating integration plans that crossed district lines, it only did so in cases where the courts ruled that the existing interdistrict segregation was de facto (i.e., based, supposedly, on individual choices), not in cases were segregation was de jure (i.e., a function of explicitly discriminatory policy).
  • In the Delaware case that led to the 1975 order, Evans v. Buchanan, interdistrict segregation was ruled de jure, so Milliken didn’t apply. The result was “the nation’s first multi-district, city-suburban busing program,” and one that was widely regarded as successful.
  • Among many massive changes, New Castle County consolidated 11 districts down to 4, which were intentionally designed to balance the county’s demographic mix. 
  • In 1996, immediately after the court order was lifted, the Delaware legislature passed two laws - one establishing charter schools in the state, the other allowing school choice via open enrollment across public districts. The county later shifted back towards residential-based attendance zones and expanded to 5 districts. 

The article tries to untangle the mix of factors that contributed to resegregation after the order was lifted, including the school choice and charter bills from 1996 as well as changes in district attendance zones and in so-called de facto residential demographics. It uses a large data set, looking at changes in five districts across 26 years (1987-2013). The authors found “a significant contribution of charters to the overall pattern of segregation and of growing segregation.” A few interesting highlights:


  • “Reflecting the growing percentage of black students and the decreasing overall percentage of white students over the 26 years, there has been a steady decline in the level of exposure of black to white students, from 69% white in the typical black student’s school to 41%, although the rate of decline slowed around 2006.”
  • “All but a few of the 16 charter schools are either overwhelmingly white or overwhelmingly black; half of charters are above 80% black. By contrast only 5% of the traditional (noncharter) schools are above 80% black. In 1995-96, before the charters emerged, none of the traditional public schools were majority black.”

The paper is careful to note that “charter schools’ emergence certainly played a role [in resegregation], but there was no single policy cause,” also citing the open-enrollment law and the transition back towards neighborhood-based student assignment. Nonetheless, the research finds ultimately that “segregation was increasing modestly in the years prior to 1996, but the 1996 policy changes significantly accelerated the rate of segregation. Thus it is a reasonable to infer a causal relationship.”

Another study, released by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, has a much more straightforward finding: charter schools are driving segregation in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools (here's the full text). There’s an important point to highlight here. The report is doing more than just saying charters are highly segregated -- it’s saying that charters are making traditional public schools more segregated.

This happens in a few ways. First, charters in Charlotte allow for flight by white and Asian students. Unlike the example from Delaware, charters in Charlotte served a “racially isolated white” population. The report notes that “their departure to the charters leaves fewer middle class white and Asian students in the traditional school, thereby contributing to more segregated schools in both sectors.”

Charters also fueled political activism against school diversity. There's some interesting history here. The key points:

  • When charters were created in NC, they were subject to existing desegregation orders and they were required to “reasonably reflect” the racial composition of their surrounding area. 
  • After a 1998 lawsuit, “the North Carolina Board of Education agreed not to enforce the diversity requirements.” In 2002, Charlotte’s desegregation order was lifted and, like Delaware, Charlotte transitioned back to neighborhood-based student assignment. Then, to make the state more competitive for Race to the Top money, the state lifted its charter cap in 2011, leading to a proliferation of charters in Raleigh and Charlotte.
  • By 2016, Charlotte was the most racially segregated school system in NC. 
  • To try to stem school resegregation, policy makers actually pursued student assignment changes for the 2017-2018 school year; however, the threat of charters limited their efforts. The report notes that “if policy makers believe too ambitious a plan will trigger flight to charters, they are likely to scale back their efforts to expand equity through creating more diverse schools.” Indeed, after “months of heated public hearings,” the board approved a paltry new assignment plan that affects less than 5% of the district’s students. 

As a result, the report concludes: “[T]he proliferation of charters in Mecklenburg County served as grist for the political activism of suburban parents who threatened a middle-class exodus from CMS to the charter sector if new assignment boundaries did not honor their current neighborhood school assignments. These threats indirectly undermined policy actors' initial willingness to act boldly and decisively in revamping pupil assignments to curb segregation.”

In short, there are some troubling findings about charters in both studies, not only because of the clear association between charters and segregation in both places, but also because of the multiple ways that charters stand in the way of school diversity: by serving isolated populations of black and white students (in Delaware and North Carolina, respectively) and even by preventing pro-diversity school policy in North Carolina. In this way, these studies join research from Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Minneapolis-St. Paul (to name just a few!). All have important nuances specific to their local context, and all find that charter schools accelerate school resegregation.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

School Desegregation News Roundup 2-20-18: School Secession Updates - the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to begin featuring the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher based in Massachusetts. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here.  

There was big news in the school segregation world, and good news at that! In case you haven’t seen: a federal appeals court blocked a majority white community (Gardendale, AL) from seceding from a majority black community (Jefferson County) and forming its own school district.

The Gardendale secession has been a topic of earlier roundups (see here & here) and of course was covered extensively by Nikole Hannah-Jones in the NY Times magazine. For those unfamiliar, here’s a summary from a recent Mother Jones article:
  • “Last April, US District Court Judge Madeline Haikala ruled that although majority-white Gardendale’s attempt to break away from majority-black Jefferson County was racially motivated, the new district could start to run two elementary schools and eventually purchase a high school from the county if, among other things, it created a court-approved desegregation plan within three years.”
The district court judge acknowledged that the secession was racially motivated and allowed it to happen anyway. The federal appeals court decision (full text here) reverses the district level ruling, arguing that the secession violates of a desegregation order that’s been in place since 1971. Jefferson County’s order was the result of litigation in 1965 - we’re still fighting over litigation that is more than 50 years old. Unlike many American communities, Jefferson County’s desegregation order is still in place, and it was the deciding factor here.

Gardendale will now appeal. Here’s what the school board president said:
  • “The Gardendale Board of Education is deeply grieved and disappointed by the opinion of the three-judge panel refusing to allow us to operate our own city schools in Gardendale. We believe our actions have always reflected only our desire to form a new, welcoming, and inclusive school system to help schoolchildren and parents succeed, and we will continue to fight to achieve this by seeking further review in the federal courts.”
The flyer depicted here (source: Michael Harriot’s article in The Root) was created by a white parent organizing group that led the secession effort. For Jefferson County locals, the racial message is overt: it lists four predominantly black communities (the ones at the top) and then the four predominantly white communities at the bottom are described as “some of the best places to live in the country.”


Despite the good news here, secession is a nationwide issue and it continues. Here’s a recent article from North Carolina, where “state lawmakers will begin studying next week how to break up North Carolina school districts, potentially paving the way for splitting large school systems like Wake County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg.” This is especially damaging in the South - as Nikole Hannah-Jones noted on Twitter:
  • “Countywide school systems are what have allowed the South to be the most integrated part of the country for four decades” because “up North you can avoid integration by moving to an all-white town that operates its all-white school system. In the South with its countywide school systems, you can move to all-white town and still have to send your kid to school w black kids from the city.” 
This is perhaps one of the reasons Jones has said that “white folks have to fix segregation.” Along these lines, there were a few thoughtful pieces this week on the role that white families can play in pushing back against the social/parenting norms that reinforce segregated schooling. This article from Courtney Everts Mykytyn, the founder of Integrated Schools, is a personal reflection on the decision to send her two children to integrated schools. Among other things, she notes:
  • “Learning how to find our common humanity through shared experience is a gift and living outside of a privilege-segregated bubble makes this possible.”
And this article from On Being tackles a major issue that helps lock segregation in place: the problem of exclusively prioritizing the best outcome for one's own kids. The article argues that progressive parents should live their values:
  • “I’m starting to grasp just how much parenting is a place where our values are most powerfully demonstrated, despite the fact that we publicly pretend as if it should be apolitical.”
The On Being article is a part of a series that will unfold over the next few months. To that end, the author solicits feedback from others “who have made radical decisions outside of social norms, like sending your children to low-performing neighborhood public schools rather than pursuing more privileged options.” She asks: “Do you ultimately stand by your decisions? What did you learn? How have your kids, your neighborhoods, your social worlds been affected?” If you are inclined, you can reach out at stories@onbeing.org.

Many news outlets covered the Gardendale decision; that coverage is collected below.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Research Roundup, Jan 2018: Social Justice Philanthropy and Funding Inequity

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to begin featuring the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher based in Massachusetts. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here.  

New to the SD notebook in 2018, I am planning to do research roundups every month or so. This is the first of 2018, and it includes two reports that take very different looks at the relationship between money/funding and school segregation.

The first report is from the Sillerman Center at Brandeis University. If you’re not familiar with it, the Sillerman Center (@sillermancenter) aims to promote “social justice philanthropy,” largely by connecting grantmakers to groups who are doing work oriented towards social justice. Their director is Susan Eaton, whose long history of publishing on school segregation includes the widely cited Dismantling Desegregation book published with Gary Orfield.

Sillerman’s new report is called “Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive K-12 Schools: A New Call for Philanthropic Support.” As implied in the title, the report was written to address a major problem in the school integration movement: lack of funding. I found the background on this to be interesting and somewhat unexpected. The report notes that:

  • “In our work, we regularly talk with grantmakers who recognize that segregation drives inequality and at that same time, are also deeply committed to moving resources to uplift and empower people and organizations in their current contexts. Funders may have the sense that they are powerless in the face of entrenched segregation in schools and neighborhoods.”

The premise here is that funders would be more interested in supporting school integration work if they had better “on ramps” to the school integration movement. The report then outlines where there is common ground between existing priorities of funders and existing school integration work.

For example, the report notes that youth leadership is a major focus of existing funding efforts, and that this could be directed towards the school integration movement through “grants to organizations that train youth leaders to advocate for greater school diversity or that train them to take the lead on fostering greater racial equality within their schools.” Other on-ramps include:

  • Racial Equity, Economic Inequality & Social Mobility
  • Economic Prosperity/Regional Prosperity
  • Empathy & Cross-Racial Relationship Building
  • Deeper Learning & Critical Thinking
  • PreK-12 - Social and Emotional Learning
  • Immigrant Integration
  • Strengthening U.S. Democracy
  • Closing Opportunity and Achievement Gaps

Each of these has at least four specific grant funding ideas/opportunities, similar to the one quoted above for youth development, that connect these topics to the school integration movement.

I did want to highlight a few interesting things that I found digging through the appendices. The first appendix is a scan of national and regional work in the school integration world. (In the spirit of full-disclosure, I should note that the School Desegregation Notebook is listed among the national actors - pg. 28! -  I was thrilled and honored to see this.) If you’re looking for more information about school integration work, the scan is easily one of the most comprehensive resources out there.

A few other things I found -

  • A Diversity Database that can “create customized reports describing over 100 measures of diversity, opportunity, and quality of life for 362 metropolitan areas.”
  • An interactive map, currently being updated, that “provides contact data for organizations and actors in the school diversity/integration landscape.”

The second report addresses the connection between funding inequity, school segregation and access to affordable housing - “Public Education Funding Inequity in an Era of Increasing Concentration of Poverty and Resegregation.” It was led by Catherine Lhamon, who was the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights under President Obama. (As noted in an earlier post, her successor in the current DOE has troubling views on civil rights - and has even written a country song about it.) Lhamon is now the Chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights, which has stepped into the vacuum left by the Trump Administration.

This report is extremely thorough and deserves a close look from anyone who is interested in these issues. It has chapters on the political history that led to current forms of inequity, inequitable funding structures and the corresponding effects on student achievement, and on the connection between housing policy and educational opportunity. Based on extensive review of literature and policy history, the report offers a number of findings that are extremely important (if not unexpected). Here’s a few examples:

  • “Low-income students and students of color are often relegated to low-quality school facilities that lack equitable access to teachers, instructional materials, technology and technology support, critical facilities, and physical maintenance. These absences can negatively impact a student’s health and ability to be attentive and can exacerbate existing inequities in student outcomes.” 
  • “Many students in the U.S. living in segregated neighborhoods and concentrations of poverty do not have access to high-quality schools simply because of where they live, and there is potential for housing policy to help provide better educational opportunities for these students.”

It then offers several recommendations for governmental action that can address educational inequity. My favorites:

  • “Congress should make clear that there is a federal right to a public education.” Yes - this would be a very, very big change (to put it mildly) and it seems impossible now; but I think it’s important for reports like this to keep this ideal alive in case it one day becomes politically viable. 
  • “Federal, state, and local government should develop incentives to promote communities that are not racially segregated and do not have concentrated poverty, which in turn would positively impact segregation and concentrated poverty in public schools and the educational challenges associated with such schools.”

I was happy to see that the report got decent media coverage. This PBS Newshour and Al Dia articles focus on what the report says about the persistence of segregation in American public education. Meanwhile, this NPR article has a nice overview of the historical background in the early parts of the report.

Finally, in a Twitter thread, Lhamon herself connects the reports to recent major issues in public education, including the Cruz-Guzman Supreme Court case and the research on school district attendance zones, discussed in an earlier SD news roundup.

Lhamon says that if we, as a country, care about these issues, we really need to start doing something about them.