What can the failures of desegregation teach us?

May 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

In a New York Times editorial over the weekend, University of California, Berkeley professor David Kirp asks why we’ve turned away from school integration, an education reform that has quite extensive evidence showing it worked:

“Economists’ studies consistently conclude that African-American students who attended integrated schools fared better academically than those left behind in segregated schools. They were more likely to graduate from high school and attend and graduate from college; and, the longer they spent attending integrated schools, the better they did.”

 Indeed, during the 1970s and 1980s—the time when desegregation was in full force—the achievement gap closed faster than it ever has before or since. Why did we abandon such a successful intervention? Kirp writes that “desegregation was too often implemented in ham-handed fashion, undermining its effectiveness,” but doesn’t go into detail.

In fact, the “ham-handed” way that busing was done in many cities is part of the reason for its downfall. Black students may have benefited, but there were many sacrifices that came along with busing—and not just long bus rides for black kids. Kirp doesn’t mention how black families viewed desegregation, and the flaws many saw in the way it was framed and then implemented. In reporting I’m doing for a book due out next January, Divided We Fail, I have spent the past few years talking to a group of black families about their views of busing, and why they led a charge against desegregation in their city of Louisville, KY.

The other piece of the puzzle of why desegregation disappeared is the rise of the school choice movement. Others have argued before that the two don’t mix well, and school choice won out.

None of this is to say that desegregation should be considered irrelevant. Quite the opposite. Both its successes and failures have a lot to teach those seeking to reform the public education system today.

(This post originally appeared on The Hechinger Report.)


Memphis: Teacher evaluations, a high school turnaround and revival of the desegregation debate

March 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

I have been remiss in posting new articles recently, but here are links to a series of stories I did after a trip to Memphis last November to see how the city’s education reforms are working, and how the city’s racial history is complicating a contentious merger between the city and suburban school districts. Image

In a three-part series for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, I looked at the obstacles facing Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system.

For The Atlantic, I examined how an effort to combine the Memphis city schools with the surrounding suburban district has dredged up the city’s old racial conflicts and may either open up new possibilities or threaten the progress the city has made in its schools.

In India, A College Building Boom

January 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Of 1.2 billion Indians, one third are under the age of 14. Realizing that the youth bulge could be an asset in India’s drive to become a world power, or a disaster that drains its resources and fuels social unrest, the government has responded with an ambitious university building spree. 

The effort could help India in its economic competition with China and the United States. While the United States may have enough colleges, President Obama has warned that its higher education system is falling behind. Poor graduation rates plague lower-tier schools with the vast majority of U.S. students, even as budget cuts and rising tuition make it more difficult to enter college and to graduate.

Published in the Washington Post. Read a slightly longer version at The Hechinger Report. (This is a part of our ongoing series on higher education around the world.)

Two of nation’s largest Head Start providers must fight for federal funds

December 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) is at risk of losing a $190 million grant, after the federal government included it on a list of 132 substandard Head Start agencies across the country this week.

Head Start is the half-century-old federal preschool program for low-income children. ACS, among the oldest and largest Head Start agencies in the country, did not meet the “quality thresholds” set by the federal Office of Head Start, according to a list made public Tuesday by the Administration for Children & Families, which oversees the program.

ACS is not the only large Head Start agency, known as a super-grantee, whose funding is threatened. The Los Angeles County Office of Education, which bills itself as the largest Head Start agency in the nation, was also included on the list, along with nonprofits and school districts in 38 states. Virginia has the greatest number of agencies that must reapply for their federal contracts, with 11; Ohio has 10, and New York isn’t far behind, with nine.

Read the rest of the story at The Hechinger Report. A version was also printed by Gotham Schools.

Early Education Advocates Are Winners with New Race to the Top

December 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

The announcement of nine winners in the Obama administration’s latest version of its “Race to the Top” education competition will push forward reforms that early learning advocates have lobbied heavily for over the past several years.

Children read at a preschool in Carpinteria, Calif. (Photo by Sarah Garland)

The winners are California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington state. To win, they promised to increase accountability, raise the quality of preschool teachers and improve coordination between the various private and public agencies that provide early education.

 For the rest of the story on The Hechinger Report, click here.

Three-part series on the Hispanic achievement gap: Why it’s not getting better, and why we should worry.

October 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Hechinger Report
, in partnership with California Watch, has published a three-part series on the Hispanic achievement gap in California this week. We focus on reading by third grade, a benchmark that can predict how students will do later in school.

Only 12 percent of Hispanic fourth-graders in California–which has the largest number of Hispanic students in the country–were proficient in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2009, which places them behind every state in the nation except for Utah and Minnesota. On this test, the proficiency gap between Hispanic and white students actually grew slightly over the past decade.

The series looks at what’s being done and what isn’t in the small town of Soledad, a microcosm for the problems the state is facing, how English learners in particular have fared and what we know about the best ways of teaching them, and how early education might help.

Today at 5pm Eastern/2pm Pacific, we’ll be having a discussion about the series on Twitter. Follow and join in with #learninggap.


Young women still lag behind in India

October 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

 Literacy levels and educational attainment for women in India have improved in recent years, but India continues to rank low on international education and empowerment measures for women. On the World Economic Forum’s global gender gap index, India ranked 112 out of 134 countries in 2010. The gap between the percentage of girls and boys who reach high school is shrinking, but it’s still wide. About 40 percent of girls did so in 2006 according to an analysis by the World Bank, compared to about half of boys. Read the rest of the story and see the photo slideshow on The Hechinger Report.