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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.