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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.

Monday, January 22, 2018

School Desegregation News Roundup 1-22-18: Community organizing in Denver, two new books and some good news

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.


The roundup this week covers a few (maybe) under-the-radar type stories, some of which have promising implications for the school integration movement. The first is a story about what appears (to me, at least) to be a relatively new community organizing group in the Denver area. Park Hill Neighbors for Equity in Education (here’s their twitter account) was founded by Laura Lefkowitz, a former DPS school board member, to develop solutions for segregation in Denver, which has increased steadily since the city was released from its court desegregation order in 1995. In case you are interested, this Denver Post article has a good overview of school segregation trends there, including the following:
  • "55 percent of the district’s schools have concentrations of more than 90 percent minority populations."
  • "Only 29 of the district’s 188 schools are considered integrated in the group’s report."
  • "Just 36 percent of the 104 minority-concentrated schools met district expectations for performance in 2014, while 94 percent of the 31 white-majority schools met the same standards."

Those numbers (and the graph here) come from a report developed by a group called A-Plus Denver. In the Denver Post article, Lefkowitz is quoted as saying "We’re tolerating some schools that would not have been tolerated in the past."

In the previous news roundup, I wrote about the fantastic Vox story on school district attendance zones. That article references a new book - called Cycle of Segregation - that looks into the maps of segregation that we’ve internalized based on our understanding of the world around us, leading indeed to a cycle of reinforced segregation. The Vox story summarizes it this way: "White respondents had a blind spot for neighborhoods that were more diverse, even if they were majority white. Meanwhile, African Americans were less likely to know about far-flung suburbs." Last week, the Pacific Standard published an interview with the authors, where they say, in part:
  • "There is explicit discrimination, where people refuse to rent to you. But there's also this issue of anticipated discrimination, which factors into the decision-making process. It's not that discrimination doesn't matter, but to some extent it matters even more profoundly than has been characterized.
  • "Even if you develop affordable housing in a currently exclusive neighborhood, it you don't address the social processes that lead people to sort themselves into those neighborhoods, it's pointless. You have to address those social sorting processes as well."
You may have heard about I Will Not Fear on a Fresh Air episode last week, or on this KERA podcast. It is a memoir from Melba Pattillo Beals, one of the Little Rock Nine. She also recently published a book about her childhood that is aimed a younger readers, called March Forward, Girl. Beals, who has a Congressional Gold Medal, talked about what it was like when she was finally able to make it inside Central High School:
  • "Here I had to begin thinking about, how can I save my life during this class? Do I need to sit in the back or the front? Shall I sit where I can look at the soldier? Although, I could look at my soldier sometimes. He couldn't come through. He might signal me to move over here, do this, do that. But the fact of the matter was that I was, you know, completely open to whatever happened."
She was about 16 years old and the soldier that she refers to was one of several Airborne Division members who were assigned to help keep her safe. 

And, this roundup includes MLK Day - I found a lot of good, short pieces that used the day to reflected on current state of school segregation (like this one), but this commentary from Errol Lewis had the most bite of anything I read. Reflecting on progressive leaders in NYC, he says:
  • "Today’s festival of liberal self-congratulation, in which members of New York’s establishment pat one another on the back, actually isn’t very King-like. To truly follow in the great man’s footsteps would mean summoning the courage to tackle the same issue he fought and died for — unraveling our city’s web of segregated housing and schools."
  • "Honoring King would mean finally pressing for passage of a City Council bill, bottled up and ignored in past years, that would require boards of the city’s 300,000 cooperative apartments to abide by the fair-housing laws and provide applicants with the reason they were accepted or rejected."
From there, it seems only fitting to end with a story from New York. Last week, the state’s Education Department announced that it will award $1.4 million in grants to support district plans for school integration. The department will also host "workshops to support the foundational understanding that integration is possible, beneficial to all students, and critical to achieving equity" and "will help leaders identify causes of segregation within their districts and identify and test potential solutions for integration, ensuring the strategies are tailored to the unique conditions in each district." Good news is rare, and I will try to follow this as much as I can. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Charter Schools Contribute to Racial Sorting and Segregation

A recent AP report about racial segregation in charter schools has spurred controversy, as some charter advocates have pushed back against the idea that charters could be a cause of segregation.

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity has conducted new analysis of national school enrollment data from 2014-2015. This analysis supports the conclusions of the AP report. It suggests that students in charter schools are more likely to be sorted by race than students at traditional schools.

The analysis compares the racial enrollment demographics of charter and traditional schools to the demographics of resident students in the municipalities in which the schools are located. The data, obtained from NCES, includes virtually all American public schools, with the exception of a small number of schools for which demographic figures are unavailable.

Key findings include:

  • 81 percent of black students in charter schools attend a school that is more black than the overall student population of their city, compared to 66.4 percent of black students in traditional schools.
  • 72 percent of white students in charter schools attend a school that is whiter than the overall student population of their city, compared to 57.8 percent of white students in traditional schools.
  • Compared with traditional schools, a substantially smaller percentage of black and white students in charter schools attend a school with a higher share of Hispanic students than the overall student population of their city.

In short, charter enrollment shows clear signs of racial "sorting," in which students attend schools that are disproportionately composed of their own racial group. A table with full findings is included at the bottom of this post.

The following graph, depicting almost every American charter school, helps illustrate the basic nature of charter sorting. Each point is a single school. The horizontal axis represents the white percentage of the overall public school enrollment of the school's municipality; the vertical axis is the white percentage of the school's own enrollment. Bubbles are scaled to the absolute number of white students enrolled in a school. (Click the graph to enlarge.)



Any school above the diagonal line is more white than the municipality's students overall. Any school below the line is less white.

As can be seen, the vast majority of white students are enrolled in charters that are whiter than the overall enrollment in their city. Moreover, most white students enrolled in a more diverse school are already located in a very white city.

The next graph depicts the same data, but instead scales the bubbles to overall nonwhite student enrollment. Once again, it is clear that a large share of nonwhite students are enrolled in a school that is more segregated than their city's overall enrollment (i.e., below the diagonal). Indeed, the pattern is stronger than it may initially appear, as a huge number of overlapping schools are concentrated in the bottom left quadrant of the graph.



In order to better highlight this concentration, a third graph uses the same data, but removes the scaled bubbles for clarity. In this graph, an orange box contains all charter schools that are both less white than the surrounding city's overall enrollment, and more than 90 percent nonwhite (or, the parlance of our earlier reports on charter segregation, "hypersegregated.")



53 percent of all nonwhite charter school students attend a school in the orange box. In other words, 53 percent of nonwhite charter students attend a school that is both highly segregated and more segregated than nearby traditional schools.

Below is a table with full data on racial sorting in charters. As can be seen, compared to traditional school students, charter students are typically more likely to be exposed to members of their own racial group and less likely to attend schools with a disproportionate share of other racial groups.



This is not the final word on charter segregation, of course. A city may be diverse overall but segregated internally; the traditional schools nearest a charter may be themselves segregated. In addition, although municipal boundaries permit for more convenient comparative analysis, district boundaries are often more relevant for students. The two do not always align: some cities are split between multiple districts, while other districts include multiple cities. We hope to address some of these issues in subsequent analyses.

Nonetheless, the data currently available strongly supports the idea that, compared to more traditional public schools, charters are contributing to increased school segregation.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Is subsidized housing creating affordability?

It's a frequent complaint of subsidized housing residents: affordable housing isn't. Politicians might claim new subsidized units are keeping a neighborhood affordable, but those units are, in actuality, no cheaper to live in than the building next door. Often, they're more expensive. In order to rent a so-called "affordable" unit, you need a well-paying job or a Section 8 voucher.

Despite this, subsidized housing development is routinely justified as necessary to protect struggling neighborhoods. Without more subsidized units, it's said, low-income families will be displaced, driven out by market-rate rents they just can't afford.

Both these narratives can't be true at once: either subsidized housing keeps neighborhoods affordable, or it doesn't. So which is it?

The low-income housing tax credit program (or LIHTC) is the nation's single largest housing subsidy. Most subsidized housing projects over the past several decades have involved some level of tax credit investment. Landlords operating tax credits buildings are requested to submit detailed occupancy data to HUD, Although this data isn't perfect, it provides a fairly detailed look at who is living in subsidized tax credit units, and what they're paying.

The graph below includes 398 Twin Cities LIHTC projects in operation in 2015, accounting for about 27,000 units. The horizontal axis is the average rent in each project's census tract, and the vertical axis is the average rent paid by families in each project, as a percentage of the tract average. If a project is above 100 percent, residents are paying higher rent than their neighbors do, on average. (Click to enlarge.)


What this graph shows is that many LIHTC projects, particularly in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, actually charge average rents that substantially exceed neighborhoods rents. This is especially true when those projects are located in lower-rent (and typically lower-income) areas.

These projects are not the exception - they're the rule. About 60 percent of Minneapolis and Saint Paul LIHTC units are less affordable than the neighborhood in which they are situated - approximately 8,050 of 13,370 units.

While there are also above-market LIHTC projects in the suburbs, the problem is less pronounced: 4,570 of 13,600 units, or 34 percent. (It should be remembered, however, that affordable housing in the suburbs tends to be located in somewhat higher-rent census tracts than in the central cities.)

Anecdotally, this reflects the complaints of subsidized housing tenants. But the breadth of the problem ought to disturb housing activists. The implication of this data is that well over half of the housing tax credits spent in the central cities produceno additional affordability in their neighborhoods.

We shouldn't mince words here: if the purpose of the tax credit program is to create housing that's cheaper to rent than what already exists on the market, it is failing. In fact, in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, the aggregate effect of this housing is to make neighborhoods more expensive to live in.

This failure is not universal. In higher-rent (and thus higher-income) neighborhoods, LIHTC rents are significantly lower than market rents. In these areas, tax credit development is providing affordability where it did not previously exist, opening up these neighborhoods to residents who may otherwise be unable to live there. That, in turn, can expand economic and educational opportunity for those tenants. But there is little coordinated effort to pursue LIHTC development in affluent neighborhoods, and, at present, the majority of tax credits units are located in low-income areas.

Interestingly, there appears to be little correlation between neighborhood rents and LIHTC average rents. The graph below shows the same data as above, but use the absolute rents for both projects and neighborhoods, instead of displaying the former as a percentage of the latter. Projects above the line are charging average rents above neighborhood rents.

























Not only are plenty of higher-rent buildings located in low-rent tracts, but a handful of extremely affordable buildings are located in comparatively expensive tracts.

Given the apparent failure of LIHTC development to make low-income neighborhoods more affordable, what is the justification for conducting subsidized development in these places? A handful are frequently offered, but none are very convincing.

First, newly developed subsidized units are usually of higher quality than older market-rate units, especially in poor neighborhoods. But if the goal is improving the quality of the housing stock, there are cheaper and more direct ways of doing so than subsidizing large new projects -- such as regulation, inspection, and rehabilitation.

Second, subsidized units developed in low-income areas still increase the absolute amount of affordable housing in the region, at least in the short term. But of course, the same can be said when those units are sited in higher-income areas. Besides, concentration of poverty can result in reduced neighborhood density and increased vacancy rates, so the long-term effect may be to simply replace an older affordable unit with a newer one.

Finally, there's the most-commonly-cited benefit of affordable development in poor neighborhoods: economic development. Some research has hinted that LIHTC developments can improve property values in poor neighborhoods by bringing in new, wealthier tenants.

However, those conclusions are disputed, and our own work suggests these economic benefits are, at best, minor and essentially undetectable. One reason for this may be that the vast majority of LIHTC tenants in low-income areas receive rent assistance, meaning that the bulk of the rent is being paid by housing agencies directly to the apartment owners. Families receiving rent assistance are typically quite poor. Thus, while this arrangement may well enrich the landlord, there isn't a noticeable increase in overall neighborhood wealth.

But beyond all of this, there's a deeper concern about the appropriate role of housing subsidies. Given that housing funding is scarce, shouldn't we use it to make rents cheaper? Even if comparatively expensive units do confer economic benefits to the surrounding neighborhood, there is something very backwards about using affordable housing money to build those units. After all, there are easier ways to get the private market to produce market-rate apartments than paying for them -- usually fully -- with public funds.

Shouldn't the main purpose of affordable housing subsidies be ensuring that low-income families can find affordable rents in places they otherwise couldn't? But if it is, how does one defend current policy?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Mapping racial transition since 1990 in Philadelphia

In what may become a Friday afternoon tradition on this blog, we've generated demographic block maps for another city: Philadelphia.

As elsewhere, Philadelphia began the period heavily segregated, and experienced an explosion of diversity since 1990. Compared to the other cities we've mapped, however, the pace of change seems to continue (and, especially in some northeastern neighborhoods, even accelerate) from 2000 and 2010. There are hints of gentrification around the downtown Central neighborhood, but they're subtle. (As it happens, this fits well with the findings of a Pew Trust report last year about gentrification in Philadelphia.)

As of 2010, at least, even in areas where a gentrifying trend is visible, considerable diversity remains. It remains to be seen whether this results in stably integrated neighborhoods, or is simply a waystation on the path to affluent white enclaves.

We've also mapped the same data, but with blocks color-coded by racial category of residents. We previously did the same with Minneapolis, where it was clear that the primary neighborhood racial divides were between white and nonwhite residents, with nonwhite residents of different racial groups often living side-by-side.

Not so with Philadelphia. In Philly, there is a dramatic boundary between predominantly-black and predominantly-Hispanic areas, neatly splitting the northern neighborhoods in two.

But note that while this divide persists all the way through to 2010, it does not reappear in the increasingly-nonwhite northeastern region. Instead, the area appears well on its way to achieving true diversity.

Here are the maps, in clickable, scrollable form. Downloadable, zoomable versions are available below.

Percentage nonwhite, 1990:



Percentage nonwhite, 2000:



Percentage nonwhite, 2010:



Race and ethnicity, 1990:



Race and ethnicity, 2000:



Race and ethnicity, 2010:



Download the maps here. We've got more maps of the Philadelphia region, and other regions as well, on the IMO website.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Mapping racial transition since 1990 in Baltimore

Previously, we posted block-level racial maps of the Twin Cities (here and here) and Chicago (here). Today, we have maps of Baltimore, 1990 through 2010.

As in Chicago and Minneapolis, the segregated areas of Baltimore expand rapidly between 1990 and 2000, and less quickly between 2000 and 2010 (with the notable exception of the northeast region, which becomes much more diverse in this span). Unlike Chicago, there is virtually no visible gentrification in Baltimore, although there is some demographic churning in the areas adjacent to the Inner Harbor - many of which are uninhabited.

Click the maps to enlarge; scroll through to see change over time.

1990:




2000:



2010:



The original, zoomable versions of the maps are available here. And just a reminder, more maps of Baltimore (and most other major US cities) can be found on the IMO website. Take a look.