Good or bad? Charter schools and segregation

23 Feb

If one wants to make people’s heads explode, then mention Black conservative, Thomas Sowell. Better yet, quote him. Is the sound moi hears little explosions all over the blogosphere? Sowell has written an interesting piece, The Education of Minority Children© 

While there are examples of schools where this happens in our own time– both public and private, secular and religious– we can also go back nearly a hundred years and find the same phenomenon.  Back in 1899, in Washington, D. C., there were four academic public high schools– one black and three white.1  In standardized tests given that year, students in the black high school averaged higher test scores than students in two of the three white high schools.2
This was not a fluke.  It so happens that I have followed 85 years of the history of this black high school– from 1870 to 1955 –and found it repeatedly equalling or exceeding national norms on standardized tests.
3  In the 1890s, it was called The M Street School and after 1916 it was renamed Dunbar High School but its academic performances on standardized tests remained good on into the mid-1950s.
When I first published this information in 1974, those few educators who responded at all dismissed the relevance of these findings by saying that these were “middle class” children and therefore their experience was not “relevant” to the education of low-income minority children.  Those who said this had no factual data on the incomes or occupations of the parents of these children– and I did.
The problem, however, was not that these dismissive educators did not have evidence.  The more fundamental problem was that they saw no need for evidence.  According to their dogmas, children who did well on standardized tests were middle class.  These children did well on such tests, therefore they were middle class.
Lack of evidence is not the problem.  There was evidence on the occupations of the parents of the children at this school as far back in the early 1890s.  As of academic year 1892-93, there were 83 known occupations of the parents of the children attending The M Street School.  Of these occupations, 51 were laborers and
one was a doctor.4  That doesn’t sound very middle class to me.
Over the years, a significant black middle class did develop in Washington and no doubt most of them sent their children to the M Street School or to Dunbar High School, as it was later called.  But that is wholly different from saying that most of the children at that school came from middle-class homes.
During the later period, for which I collected data, there were far more children whose mothers were maids than there were whose fathers were doctors.  For many years, there was only one academic high school for blacks in the District of Columbia and, as late as 1948, one-third of all black youngsters attending high school in Washington attended Dunbar High School.  So this was not a “selective” school in the sense in which we normally use that term– there were no tests to take to get in, for example– even though there was undoubtedly
self-selection in the sense that students who were serious went to Dunbar and those who were not had other places where they could while away their time, without having to meet high academic standards. (A vocational high school for blacks was opened in Washington in 1902).5
A spot check of attendance records and tardiness records showed that The M Street School at the turn of the century and Dunbar High School at mid-century had less absenteeism and less tardiness than the white high schools in the District of Columbia at those times.  The school had a tradition of being serious, going back to its founders and early principals.
Among these early principals was the first black woman to receive a college degree in the United States– Mary Jane Patterson from Oberlin College, class of 1862.  At that time, Oberlin had different academic curriculum requirements for women and men.  Latin, Greek and mathematics were required in “the gentlemen’s course,” as it was called, but not in the curriculum for ladies.  Miss Patterson, however, insisted on taking Latin, Greek, and mathematics anyway.  Not surprisingly, in her later 12 years as principal of the black high school in Washington during its formative years, she was noted for “a strong, forceful personality,” for “thoroughness,’ and for being “an indefatigable worker.” Having this kind of person shaping the standards and traditions of the school in its early years undoubtedly had something to do with its later success.
Other early principals included the first black man to graduate from Harvard, class of 1870.  Four of the school’s first eight principals graduated from Oberlin and two from Harvard.  Because of restricted academic opportunities for blacks, Dunbar had three Ph.Ds among its teachers in the 1920s.
One of the other educational dogmas of our times is the notion that standardized tests do not predict future performances for minority children, either in academic institutions or in life.  Innumerable scholarly studies have devastated this claim intellectually,
6 though it still survives and flourishes politically.
But the history of this black high school in Washington likewise shows a pay-off for solid academic preparation and the test scores that result from it.  Over the entire 85-year history of academic success of this school, from 1870 to 1955, most of its 12,000 graduates went on to higher education.
7  This was very unusual for either black or white high-school graduates during this era.  Because these were low-income students, most went to a local free teachers college but significant numbers won scholarships to leading colleges and universities elsewhere.8
Some M Street School graduates began going to Harvard and other academically elite colleges in the early twentieth century.  As of 1916, there were nine black students, from the entire country, attending Amherst College.  Six were from the M Street School.  During the period from 1918 to 1923, graduates of this school went on to earn 25 degrees from Ivy League colleges, Amherst, Williams, and Wesleyan.  Over the period from 1892 to 1954, Amherst admitted 34 graduates of the M Street School and Dunbar.  Of these, 74 percent graduated and more than one-fourth of these graduates were Phi Beta Kappas.
No systematic study has been made of the later careers of the graduates of this school.  However, when the late black educator Horace Mann Bond studied the backgrounds of blacks with Ph.D.s, he discovered that more of them had graduated from M Street-Dunbar than from any other black high school in the country.
The first blacks to graduate from West Point and Annapolis also came from this school.  So did the first black full professor at a major university (Allison Davis at the University of Chicago).  So did the first black federal judge, the first black general, the first black Cabinet member, the first black elected to the United States Senate since Reconstruction, and the discoverer of a method for storing blood plasma.  During World War II, when black military officers were rare, there were more than two dozen graduates of M Street or Dunbar High School holding ranks ranging from major to brigadier general.
All this contradicts another widely-believed notion– that schools do not make much difference in children’s academic or career success because income and family background are much larger influences.  If the schools themselves do not differ very much from one another, then of course it will not make much difference which one a child attends.  But, when they differ dramatically, the results can also differ dramatically.
This was not the only school to achieve success with minority children.  But, before turning to some other examples, it may be useful to consider why and how this 85-year history of unusual success was abruptly turned into typical failure, almost overnight, by the politics of education.
As we all know, 1954 was the year of the famous racial desegregation case of
Brown v. Board of Education.  Those of us old enough to remember those days also know of the strong resistance to school desegregation in many white communities, including Washington, D. C.  Ultimately a political compromise was worked out.  In order to comply with the law, without having a massive shift of students, the District’s school officials decided to turn all public schools in Washington into neighborhood schools.

Sowell ends his article with the following thoughts:

Put bluntly, failure attracts more money than success. Politically, failure becomes a reason to demand more money, smaller classes, and more trendy courses and programs, ranging from “black English” to bilingualism and “self-esteem.” Politicians who want to look compassionate and concerned know that voting money for such projects accomplishes that purpose for them and voting against such programs risks charges of mean-spiritedness, if not implications of racism.
We cannot recapture the past and there is much in the past that we should not want to recapture.  But neither is it irrelevant.  If nothing else, history shows what can be achieved, even in the face of adversity.  We have no excuse for achieving less in an era of greater material abundance and greater social opportunities.

The discussion has come full circle because the discussion centers on segregation and charter schools.

Joy Resmovits writes in the Huffington Post article, Charter School Segregation Target Of New Report:

Charter schools often promise to bring greater equity to education, but a new brief starts with the assumption that they fall short in delivery — and provides recommendations to fix the alleged injustice.

“Charter schools tend to be more racially segregated than traditional public schools,” said author and Penn State law professor Preston Green III, who sat on a board that considered charter-school applications in Pennsylvania. “What we tried to do is write ways to enable charter schools to promote desegregation rather exacerbate segregation.”

The brief, “Chartering Equity: Using Charter School Legislation and Policy to Advance Educational Opportunity,” from the University of Colorado’s National Education Policy Center features recommendations from both Green and University of Wisconsin, Madison education professor Julie Mead on how states and school districts can ensure that charters are integrated and helpful to disadvantaged populations. It also includes statutes that states can use to help reach those goals.

Charter schools are publicly funded, but can be privately run, and often admit students via lottery. Charter schools advocates argue that educational opportunity should not depend on zip code, and that charter schools allow for educational innovation that eventually can trickle back into the traditional system.

Detractors, however, often assert that charters siphon resources from traditional public schools without equal compensation and that they don’t serve specific populations, such as special-education students, in proportion with their existence.

Either way, charter schools, championed by both the Obama administration and free-market entrepreneurs, are growing: This year, as they edge into their third decade of existence, charter schools serve a total of 5 percent of American public school students — an increase of 200,000, or 13 percent, from the year before.

According to research released in 2010 by professor Gary Orfield of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, 70 percent of black charter school students attend a school where the bulk of their peers are also minorities — compared to 40 percent in traditional public schools.Orfield’s brother, Myron Orfield, a professor at the University of Minnesota who directs the Institute on Race & Poverty, studies charter segregation at a local level.

“I think that charters are an engine of racial segregation. They are more segregated than public schools and cause public schools to be more segregated than they otherwise would be,” he said. According to a report he plans to release Friday, from 2010-2011 almost 90 percent of black charter-school students in the Twin Cities are in segregated schools — a number that actually increased by 8 percentage points over the last decade.

A common problem, Green said, is that charter schools often do not comply with federal civil-rights statutes. According to Orfield, they are legally responsible to do so, but are rarely challenged. For example, previous Supreme Court cases found “single-race schools were intentional segregation,” Orfield said. “But charter schools haven’t been challenged in this way, because people don’t have a picture of how big a part of urban education they are.”

Here is the citation to the article:

Chartering Equity: Using Charter School Legislation and Policy to Advance Educational Opportunity

National Education Policy Center

School of Education, University of Colorado Boulder

Boulder, CO 80309-0249

Telephone: (802) 383-0058


Julie F. Mead

Preston C. Green III

February 2012

According to the report, Chartering Equity: Using Charter School Legislation and Policy to Advance Educational Opportunity, the following recommendations are made to various stakeholders:

The recommendations detailed in Part II of this brief are as follows:

For Charter School Authorizers

Establish a clear set of principles that will guide the exercise of the authority to grant, oversee, renew, and revoke charters.

Require that charter school applicants make clear how the school will broaden, not replicate, existing opportunities for struggling populations of students in the community or communities intended to be served by the school.

Require charter school applicants to attend explicitly to local contextual factors, particularly identified achievement disparities, graduation rate concerns, suspension and expulsion issues.

Require evidence that the proposed school’s curricular philosophy, methodological approaches, or both are likely to achieve positive results. ii of iii

Require charter school applicants to detail disciplinary codes and procedures and require a focus on positive interventions and supports.

Require detailed teacher recruitment, retention, and staff development plans so that the school’s teachers have sufficient capacity to deliver equal educational opportunity.

Consider publishing a request for proposals (RFP) for charter schools to address particular persistent problems related to equitable outcomes as identified by local data analysis.

Require detailed recruitment plans to ensure that the school targets and attracts a diverse student applicant pool representative of the broader community in terms of race, socio-economic status, disability status, gender, and limited English proficiency.

Ensure that the charter contract includes provisions that hold charter schools to a standard of equal educational opportunity in terms of educational inputs, practices, and outcomes.

Set clear revocation and renewal standards that reflect a commitment to equal educational opportunity.

For State Legislatures

Adopt declarations establishing that one primary goal of charter school legislation is to enhance equitable educational outcomes for all students, particularly those who have historically struggled.

State explicitly that charter schools must comply with all federal laws and any desegregation decrees.

Require charter school applications to attend explicitly to the local context, particularly identified achievement disparities, graduation rates, and suspension and expulsion issues.

Require that charter school applicants explain how the school will broaden, not replicate, existing opportunities in the community or communities intended to be served by the school.

Require evidence that the proposed school’s curricular philosophy, methodological approaches, or both are likely to achieve positive results.

Require detailed recruitment plans to ensure that the school targets and attracts a broad applicant pool in terms of race, socio-economic status, disability status, gender, and limited English proficiency.

As part of the standards for granting charter approval and renewal, create a set of rebuttable legal presumptions tied directly to equal educational opportunity.

Grant state educational agencies the authority to revoke and non-renew charters of schools that do not meet basic standards, whenever charter authorizers fail to act.

A couple of thoughts:

  1. Would these same students be attending segregated schools if the schools were public, because most cities have segregated housing patterns?
  2. Does it matter that children attend segregated elementary schools if they receive a good basic education and are qualified to attend the college of their choice or vocational school of their choice because they graduated from high school with good basic skills?
  3. Is there anything inherently wrong with a segregated school if it is not the result of a legal mandate which requires segregation?

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

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