News Roundup: Week of 1.30.17

It was a mixed bag of articles this week, though one theme remains common: that popular policies have largely been ineffective in improving student learning and, meanwhile, have exacerbated (or ignored) school segregation.

This Atlantic article looks at a recent report that went overlooked among everything else that’s happened so far this year. Released just last month, it found that the Obama Administration’s $7 billion School Improvement Grant (SIG) initiative “had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.” As a reminder, the SIG program awarded grant funds to states/districts that agreed to one of four interventions – transformation (new principal & at least 50% new staff), restart (most commonly charter takeover), school closure (exactly that), and transformation (new principal, new instructional and operational systems).

Of course, there’s a lot of reasons the program wasn’t effective, but the article focuses on one overlooked explanation: that SIG “was premised on the belief that economic school segregation is either irrelevant to student performance or impossible to address.” At the time Arne Duncan famously bragged about promoting reforms that, in his words, “moved the adults out of the building, kept the children there, and brought in new adults.” He later acknowledged that failing to address school segregation was one of his greatest regrets as Secretary of Education.

If you think of vouchers as a possible response to this (in that they help move students to different buildings), I definitely recommend earlier posts noting that vouchers move the needle in the wrong direction. A few other articles continued that line of argumentation this week.

  • This Washington Post story references Virginia’s 1950’s anti-integration effort (proudly dubbed “Massive Resistance” by its proponents) in noting that the “state’s rights” argument is still used today as a cover for avoiding federal civil rights laws, such as providing services to students with disabilities. (To be fair, Betsy DeVos has retracted this statement, but it was troubling that she wavered at all on supports for students with disabilities.)
  • This US News article, written by a prominent school choice researcher, reviews international evidence suggesting that school choice has not led to improvements in student outcomes, then notes: “Where school choice has shown powerful effects around the world is the systematic separation of students by ethnicity, social class and religion.”

Meanwhile, this CityLab article takes a historical look at segregation in Baltimore and reverses the notion that housing segregation has led to school segregation, noting that

  • “For white homeowners, Jim Crow schools were more than just schools: They were chess pieces blocking black migration. They were also an insurance policy, a promise from the city to keep white assets safe.”
  • And that: “For decades, developers used the promise of “good” schools—code, then as now, for majority-white schools—to lure white homebuyers to new neighborhoods they were building on the urban fringe.”

Lastly, for the second week in a row, Michigan’s Battle Creek Enquirer lifts our spirits with a letter to the editor that rightly states: “School segregation still continues today and it needs to stop. Students aren’t receiving the same learning when schools are segregated. No matter what race they are, all students should receive education the same.”

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