News

New report points to segregation in private schools

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bLast month, we reported on the widening racial and economic divisions in North Carolina’s two largest school systems, despite ample evidence that high concentrations of impoverished children in any school can be harmful to students’ performance.

Now, the Southern Education Foundation (SEF), a Georgia-based advocate for school equity, has issued a new report on virtual segregation in private schools across the country despite programs in 19 states, including North Carolina, tasked with funneling public cash toward increasing the population of low-income children in private schools.

Three years ago, North Carolina did just that with the Opportunity Scholarship Program, despite an outcry from many public education activists. And while the SEF’s report relies on 2012 demographic data (before the creation of this state’s voucher program), the numbers show segregation in private schools, particularly in southern states like North Carolina, is a very real problem.

From the report:

[W]hite students across most of the 50 states are significantly over-represented in private schools, often attending virtually segregated private schools, and usually attending private schools in which under-represented students of color — African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans — are virtually excluded. These overall racial patterns among America’s private schools are more severe in the South and especially extreme in the six Deep South states (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina) that in the early 1960s both financed private schools and were foremost in blocking governmental mandates for significant public school desegregation. These “freedom of choice” states currently are among the nine Southern states providing public funding to private schools.

Read more

Commentary

Veteran teacher: We must integrate our schools

In case you missed it yesterday, be sure to check out this fabulous essay by Wake County school teacher Katherine Meeks that was featured on the main NC Policy Watch site. In it, Meeks, who has taught in a high poverty school in Charlotte and a lower poverty school in Raleigh, explains why socioeconomic integration is absolutely essential if we want to save our public schools. Here’s an excerpt:

“This is the story of my experiences teaching at two vastly different schools and the systemic problems of socioeconomic inequalities I witnessed:

  1. CMS: 90% free and reduced lunch; extremely low performing; rated “F”
  2. WCPSS: 20% free and reduced lunch; high performing; rated “A”

At the first school, we were flooded with monetary resources, technology, and additional school personnel.

To serve 900 students, we had five administrators, a school resource officer, two security associates, two behavior management technicians, two in-school suspension teachers, two “Communities In Schools” staff, three instructional facilitators, a full-time beginning teacher coordinator, a CTE coordinator, two counselors, and a social worker. We had a technology device for every single student. Class sizes were lower than average.

Despite these supports, I worked 12 hours a day to complete the most basic parts of my job and working conditions were far below what I would consider professional. I witnessed an unfathomable amount of violence and on more than one occasion felt personally unsafe. There was a culture of fear for everyone involved: fear of theft, fear of violence, and fear of multiple kinds of abuse. When teachers were absent, students were most often covered by stretching current staff because substitutes did not want to work in the unpredictable and sometimes hostile environment. Read more

Commentary

Editorials blast Forest for blocking report on charters

Dan ForestAdd the Wilmington Star News and Raleigh’s News & Observer to the list of community voices that are rejecting Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s absurd and revealing attempt to squelch the truth about charter schools.

Here’s the Star News from over the weekend:

“The theory is that, let loose from red tape, charters can experiment and try new teaching techniques, revitalizing education. Some charter schools do, in fact, live up to that lofty goal.

Like a lot of theories, however, that formula doesn’t always work in practice. In Southeastern North Carolina, for example, we’ve seen that charters run by private, for-profit companies have been remarkably secretive about how they spend taxpayer money. It’s hard to tell, but it appears that some of them have been paying headmasters and administrators bloated salaries while doling out peanuts to the front-line teachers….

Some Republicans, it seems, don’t want to hear anything bad about charters – or any inconvenient facts.

We are not anti-charter school. Some are excellent. We simply want thorough transparency and a complete accounting of how the schools are performing. We don’t need politicians asking us to use rose-colored glasses.”

And this is from the lead editorial in this morning’s N&O:

“Charters began about 20 years ago with the idea that they would be free of some rules governing regular schools. They didn’t have to adhere to the regular teacher pay scale, and they could alter their school calendars. They could experimen, and successes could be integrated into regular public schools.

Unfortunately, conservatives have crusaded for charters, which are funded by taxpayers, almost with the attitude that they represent a private school system within the public one. That’s not good, and critics have warned that the expansion of charters could indeed lead to these exact problems of economic and racial imbalance.

Forest and other state officials need to face the fact that there are problems with charters that may require some serious changes in structure and rules. Otherwise, charters will become exactly what some advocates appear to want: a publicly funded private school system with little accountability.

The charter school mission needs to be refocused on its original intent. And weak charters, or those with dramatic racial and economic imbalances, should be shuttered.”

Let’s hope other voices continue to speak out in opposition to Forest and his twisted efforts to undermine public education.

Commentary

#1 trending story on Washington Post: White parents in NC use charter schools to secede from system

Be sure to check out the #1 trending story on the Washington Post this morning — it’s entitled “White parents in North Carolina are using charter schools to secede from the education system.”

After detailing the battle over charters and the promise that even many progressives see in them, the article notes:

“The most recent cautionary tale comes from North Carolina, where professors at Duke have traced a troubling trend of resegregation since the first charters opened in 1997. They contend that North Carolina’s charter schools have become a way for white parents to secede from the public school system, as they once did to escape racial integration orders.

‘They appear pretty clearly to be a way for white students to get out of more racially integrated schools,’ said economics professor Helen Ladd, one of the authors of the draft report released Monday.

Charter schools in North Carolina tend to be either overwhelmingly black or overwhelmingly white—in contrast to traditional public schools, which are more evenly mixed.”

And this is the summary from the new report that Ladd authored along with Professors Charles Clotfelter and John Holbein, “The Growing Segmentation of the Charter School Sector in North Carolina”: Read more

Commentary

Why one A-F grade for a school makes about as much sense as one A-F grade for your child

School testsYesterday, North Carolina took the latest in an series of steps cooked up by conservative advocates and ideologues to demoralize and depopulate our public education system (what they call “government schools”) — the release of the  much ballyhooed A-F grades for individual schools. As we’ve quickly learned — surprise!! — schools with lots of poor kids tend to fare poorly on standardized tests. Who could have guessed?

Notably absent from the review, of course, is the long list of private and religious schools eligible for public funds which teach that humans and dinosaurs once shared the planet, but that’s a discussion for another time and place.

Thankfully, a lot of what one needs to know about the A-F idea — aside from the obvious fact that it is sheer folly to try and sum up the collective actions of hundreds (or even thousands) of students, teachers and administrators in a single letter grade — is detailed in this new report from the good folks at the National Education Policy Center: “Why School Report Cards Merit a Failing Grade.”

After explaining why it’s impossible and counter-productive to try and assign a single letter grade to an entire school — especially one based on standardized tests of a population over which the school has no control and that completely ignores important parts of the school’s mission like developing citizens — the authors go on to recommend, among other things:

  • Eliminating the single grade, which cannot be composed without adding together unlike elements and promoting confusion and misunderstanding.
  • Developing a report card format that uses multiple school indicators that more adequately reflect a school performance profile.
  • Enlisting the services of assessment and evaluation experts in designing school accountability systems.

Click here to read the entire report. Let’s hope state lawmakers do. And let’s also hope that the new grades set in motion a chain of occurrences not intended by their conservative designers — namely, that North Carolina gets serious about attacking the two main causes of our educational system problems: poverty and segregation.