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“Busing”, a “Liberal Train Wreck” is NOT the Issue: Caste IS

July 15, 2019 Comments off

I just finished reading two excellent NYTimes articles on the ultimate third rail issue: the use of busing to integrate public schools.

My use of quotation marks around the word busing is explained in the first article, “It Was Never About Busing“, by Nikole Hannah-Jones, who wrote:

That we even use the word “busing” to describe what was in fact court-ordered school desegregation, and that Americans of all stripes believe that the brief period in which we actually tried to desegregate our schools was a failure, speaks to one of the most successful propaganda campaigns of the last half century. Further, it explains how we have come to be largely silent — and accepting — of the fact that 65 years after the Supreme Court struck down school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, black children are as segregated from white students as they were in the mid-1970s when Mr. Biden was working with Southern white supremacist legislators to curtail court-ordered busing.

The term “busing” is a race-neutral euphemism that allows people to pretend white opposition was not about integration but simply about a desire for their children to attend neighborhood schools. But the fact is that American children have ridden buses to schools since the 1920s. There is a reason the cheery yellow school bus is the most ubiquitous symbol of American education. Buses eased the burden of transportation on families and allowed larger comprehensive schools to replace one-room schoolhouses. Millions of kids still ride school buses every day, and rarely do so for integration.

Ms. Hannah-Jones offers this bitter insight into the real problem with busing:

The school bus, treasured when it was serving as a tool of segregation, became reviled only when it transformed into a tool of integration. As the federal judge who ordered busing for desegregation in the landmark case that eventually made its way to the Supreme Court said, according to the 1978 book “Nothing Could Be Finer,” “Heck, I was bused as a child in Robeson County. Everybody who attends school in North Carolina has been bused. Busing isn’t the question, whatever folks say. It’s desegregation.”

But later in her article, Ms. Hannah-Jones offers an even deeper insight: on three occasions she links the desegregation mandates to “the educational caste system“.  THAT phrase captures not only the racial inequities that persist in our public schools since Brown v. Board of Education, but also captures the fact that almost every state in the union operates schools based on a system of economic segregation. The caste system is both racial and economic and the results are catastrophic for children raised in poverty no matter what their race and doubly catastrophic for black and brown children raised in poverty.

Ms. Hannah-Jones offers a comprehensive history of court decisions and legislative action that initially led to the use of busing to provide racially balanced schools, concluding that overview with this reminder:

When people call busing ill conceived or the worst means of ensuring integration, they conveniently obscure that busing was almost always a tool of last resort, mandated by courts only after lengthy battles with school boards and state officials, by black parents and civil rights groups, failed to produce even modest integration for black children. Judges and attorneys and activists were trying to destruct a racist and segregated educational system in the face of enormous resistance, subterfuge and violence, even in the most ostensibly liberal places.

In doing so, of course mistakes were made. Particularly, desegregation too often shuttered black schools and dismissed black educators because they were not considered good enough to teach white children. Many black activists and communities grew weary of chasing white people across the city as they fled integration, and instead they decided to focus on gaining resources for schools that served their own neighborhoods.

Ms. Hannah-Jones, like presidential candidate Kamala Harris, was bused to a white school– for 10 of the 12 years she attended public schools in Waterloo, IA. The experience was beneficial for her as it was for most African American students who participated in busing programs. But she is resigned to the fact that busing is unlikely to be used again, not because it “failed”, but because even the most liberal and open-minded voters would not support it:

The same people who claim they are not against integration, just busing as the means, cannot tell you what tactic they would support that would actually lead to wide-scale desegregation. So, it is an incredible sleight of hand to argue that mandatory school desegregation failed, while ignoring that the past three decades of reforms promising to make separate schools equal have produced dismal results for black children, and I would argue, for our democracy.

It is unlikely that we will ever again see an effort to deconstruct our system of caste schools like what we saw between 1968 and 1988. But at the very least, we should tell the truth about what happened.

Busing did not fail. We did.

The second article, “How Joe Biden Became the Democrats’ Anti-Busing Crusader“, by Astead W. Herndon and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, describes Mr. Biden’s personal history in dealing with integration in his home state of Delaware who he represented in the Senate. The article provides a good overview of the history of school integration and offers context for the positions he took. The article doesn’t clearly depict the latent racism of Delaware, however. As a junior high student in the early 1960s, I vividly recall going on a field trip to the Dover Air Force Base where there were separate water fountains and bathrooms for “Negros”. It was the first time I came across such blatant discrimination, though I since learned that up until the Brown case my hometown in SE Pennsylvania operated a separate facility for black students.

Mr. Herndon and Ms. Stolberg thoroughly researched their article, and the reported that most of the civil rights leaders who knew Mr. Biden at the time he was becoming “the Democrats’ Anti-Busing Crusader” would not rule out voting for him and felt that he was walking a tightrope between his personal convictions and the anti-integration sentiment of the voters in his state. After an even handed and clear eyed examination of Mr. Biden, the article concludes with this:

The Biden spokesman, Mr. Bates, said that if elected, Mr. Biden would reinstate Obama-era policies “designed to increase the diversity of our schools.” Mr. Biden has long maintained that the white flight he had warned about came to pass, noting the many white families who fled to Pennsylvania for that state’s public schools, or — like Mr. Biden himself — enrolled their children in private schools. In his 2007 memoir, he described court-ordered busing as “a liberal train wreck.”

Aides say he has not changed his mind.

Team Sports as Therapy for Adverse Childhood Experiences

July 12, 2019 Comments off

Dr. Perri Klass’ latest column in the NYTimes describes the findings of a recent study that indicates that adolescents who have adverse childhood experiences would benefit from participating in team sports. Empahsizing that the study shows association, NOT causation, Dr. Klass writes:

In a study published in May in JAMA Pediatrics, people who had experienced traumatic events as children had better mental health outcomes as adults if they had participated in team sports during adolescence.

Dr. Molly C. Easterlin, the lead author of the study, which looked at a national sample of 9,668 people, said, “Among children affected by adverse childhood experiences, team sports in adolescence was associated with less depression and anxiety in young adulthood.” 

This gibes with my own personal experience as a child and a parent when faced with the “adverse childhood experience” of relocating. When I moved from one community to another– be it as a child or a young adult— I found that participation in organized sports provided a way to meet other children from all walks of life and connect with them based on a common passion. I was never a good enough athlete to play varsity sports, but I was good enough to play little league baseball in my late elementary school years and that provided me with a means to find friends quickly when I moved from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma. As a parent, I coached my daughters’ softball and soccer teams to ensure that they might have a similar experience as mine, playing with and getting to know other “athletes” by participating in team sports and when they showed the ability to succeed as varsity athletes I encouraged them to do so and went to as many of their contests as possible.

Given these personal experiences, the findings of researchers quoted by Dr. Klass resonated with me:

There are “a lot of life lessons that can be learned through playing team and group-based sports,” said Rochelle Eime, an associate professor of sport participation at Federation University in Australia. “You’ve got to train and work hard; you learn to win and more importantly learn to lose.” This helps children develop resilience, she said.

“They can learn so many life lessons, it can really help their social well-being and their psychological well-being as well,” Dr. Eime said. “They often have less stress in their lives, better social interactions, improved self-esteem.” She was the lead author of a review of studies which found that sports participation was associated with better self-esteem and fewer depressive symptoms. Being part of a team seemed to be associated with additional benefits because of the social interactions.

But, like almost everything that has to do with rearing children, the lack of equity emerges as an issue. My daughters and I all attended schools with decent-to-robust extra-curricular opportunities and attended them in communities that supported those kinds of activities. Too many children are raised in communities that either do not care about these kinds of activities or cannot afford them. Making matters worse, many communities charge user fees for sports, creating a barrier to entry for children raised in poverty. Quoting Dr. Alex B. Diamond, an associate professor of pediatrics and orthopedics and the director of the program for injury prevention in youth sports at Vanderbilt, and Dr. Easterlin, Dr. Klass concludes her article with this:

Overall, Dr. Diamond said, “Sports as a whole remains a positive and more than likely a protective activity for our kids and teenagers.” They need care and attention, for their physical and mental well-being, and they need the opportunity to participate in settings where they will receive that care and attention. And not all children get that opportunity.

“Making those activities accessible to all is very important,” Dr. Easterlin said. There can be disparities in sports participation, with some families not able to afford to have a child on the team.

“From a public health policy standpoint, there is some evidence sports are beneficial to children,” she said. “Child health advocates and policymakers should consider investing in these programs to make sure they are accessible, equitable and strong.

To those who see inter-scholastic sports as a frill and communities who believe participation in sports should be based on a fee-for-service model, an examination of this research is in order. Who knows… it might even lead to higher test scores!

Billionaires, Alumni, Asian Parents Prevail… and Admissions Tests Continue in NYC

June 30, 2019 Comments off

Over the past several weeks, I’ve written posts on NYC’s decision to push to change the admissions process to the city’s elite high schools, which is based solely on one test score. The result of using this test is a disproportionate number of Asian students in the elite schools and a substantial under-representation of African-American and Latina students in those schools. To remedy this imbalance, the Mayor de Blasio and his education commissioner Richard Carranza proposed that Instead of using test scores as the exclusive means of admitting students the “elite” schools would admit the top three students from each middle school in the city IF those students scored above a certain level on the test. But, as NYTimes writers Eliza Shapiro and Vivian Wang reported earlier this week, the result of doing this would be the displacement of students who scored higher than those top students on the existing test, students who presumably “deserved” their placement because the test is a better predictor of student success than the grades the students earned in their Middle School.

As recently as a few weeks ago it seemed that the NYS legislators, who need to approve this change for reasons that are convoluted and intertwined with NYS politics, would endorse the Mayor’s proposal… but a coalition of billionaire donors, esteemed alumni of the “elite” high schools, and Asian parents joined forces to get the Mayor’s idea shelved. The Times writers described the backlash, which included “...a well-funded opposition effort led by a billionaire graduate of one of the specialized schools sent African-American parents to lawmakers’ doors, urging them to reject the bill.” But no billionaires or parents showed up to support the bill:

There were no rallies in support of the mayor’s plan on the Capitol’s grand staircase and almost no lobbyists pushed it — except Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Carranza and their staff members. During a visit to the Capitol last week, Mr. Carranza said he had not spoken with the bill’s main sponsor, Assemblyman Charles Barron of Brooklyn, about whether the bill might be brought to the floor.

Absent any groundswell of support for the bill, and given the extreme pushback from parents whose children were admitted and alumni who felt compelled to ensure the “elite” status of their alma maters, the bill to change admissions became so “radioactive” it was never even considered.

The Times noted that a “victory” would not change the demographics of the “elite schools”.

Even under the mayor’s plan to expand a program aimed at enrolling more low-income students in the specialized schools, offers to black and Hispanic students will increase to only 16 percent from 10 percent. Black and Hispanic students make up nearly 70 percent of the school system as a whole.

But that statistical reality notwithstanding, the Mayor sees the abandonment of tests as an important step the city needs to take if it hopes to increase the educational opportunities for ALL students in the schools:

“Cities all over the nation have turned away from completely unfiltered, high-stakes testing and our state remains stuck in the past,” Mr. de Blasio said Friday. “Session may have ended, but our quest to provide our kids with the best opportunity possible has not.”

The article noted that the Mayor’s run for the Presidency drew some energy away from this fight… but maybe if a Democrat wins the election they might consider replacing Betsy DeVos with Bill de Blasio… and he might be able to take his opposition to standardized tests to the next level.

 

Growing Up in Poverty Means Growing Up in Shame

June 28, 2019 Comments off

Parenting in Poverty”, a NYTimes article by Bobbi Dempsey that appeared last week, poignantly describes what it feels like to be a child whose parents rely on food stamps and how frustrating it is to operate as a parent under the guidelines set forth for EBT cards. Ms. Dempsey writes about the feelings she experienced as a child:

I am far too familiar with the seemingly endless array of indignities and flavors of shame that come with living in poverty. You get dirty glances for looking poor — but are also judged if you look “too rich,” by wearing something an observer deems too nice for someone on public assistance. Everything you buy or eat in view of others is up for public scrutiny and unwanted commentary…

During the course of my childhood, I had more embarrassing encounters at the grocery store checkout than I could count…

I’ve overheard snide comments in the lines at grocery stores about the attire of someone using an EBT card or the cars they parked outside of a convenience store where they used a card to buy milk. I’ve also heard faculty room gossip about profligacy of parents who used food stamps back in the 70s when I worked as a high school administrator and read endless articles about the so-called “Welfare Queens” who abused the systems in place. But this article reminded me of the impact that kind of judgment has on a child, especially one who experiences it day-in-and-day-out throughout their entire childhood. And the indignities are not limited to the grocery store:

I never went to birthday parties as a kid because I couldn’t afford to buy a gift. I would “get sick” and have to stay home on field trip days because I couldn’t afford the cost of the trip itself, let alone bring spending money for any souvenirs or food. Joining any activity that involved dues to pay or uniforms to buy would have been inconceivable.

Ms. Dempsey describes how today’s EBT cards draw less attention from those in line than the food stamps her mother used, but the strictures imposed on parents and observed by children still sting:

While the new plastic card may spare those families some shame, it can be difficult to reconcile that buying non-luxuries like toilet paper, tampons or a supermarket rotisserie chicken may be just as wild a fantasy as getting a child a pony.

The brief profile at the end of the article describes Ms. Dempsey with this single sentence:

Bobbi Dempsey is a freelance writer and a communications fellow at Community Change who is writing a memoir about moving 70 times before age 18.

I doubt that her mother was all that concerned about Ms. Dempsey’s test scores or how those scores might effect whatever school she was attending at the time… Until we can provide affordable housing and food security for all children in the country we cannot expect to close the widening gap between the rich and poor.

In an Ideal Universe, Brooklyn’s Community Driven Integration Plans Would go Viral

April 17, 2019 Comments off

Earlier this week, Chalkbeat blogger Christine Viega wrote a post describing how the grassroots efforts of parents in Brooklyn District 15 and Manhattan’s District 3 resulted in a new method of assigning students to middle schools, a method that breaks through the economic and racial segregation that currently exists. Titled “Two NYC districts embarked on middle school integration plans. Early results show they may be making a difference,” the article describes how a team of open minded parents on district advisory committees made a difference in the way fifth grade students are assigned to schools. And that difference?

Families in both districts apply to middle schools rather than being assigned a neighborhood school based on where they live.

Encompassing brownstone neighborhoods such as Park Slope and immigrant enclaves such as Sunset Park, District 15 undertook what is probably the most dramatic integration plan approved yet by the city. This year, the district’s 11 middle schools eliminated screens — selective admissions criteria that allow schools to pick students based on factors such as test scores, report card grades, and interviews.

Instead, families applied to the schools of their choice and admissions were determined by a lottery, with preference for 52 percent of seats given to students who come from low-income families, are learning English as a new language, or are homeless.The aim is for all schools in the district to enroll a similar share of needy students. Since race and ethnicity are tightly tied to economic status, the hope is that the schools will become more diverse on a range of measures.

A lottery system is imperfect, but it greatly increases the probability that the schools in Districts 3 and 15 will reflect the composition of students who reside in ALL the neighborhoods that comprise those districts and not be based on the racial and economic segregation that results from gentrification of some neighborhoods while others remain economically challenged and racially segregated.

The article details how this change is playing out in the more desirable schools where the percentage of free and reduced lunch students and the percentage of minority students are increasing based on the assignments thus far. From my perspective, it is heartening to see those parents who seek diversity being heard over those who advance arguments that “merit” should determine placement… especially when “merit” is based on “…factors such as test scores, report card grades, and interviews”. When all children might be assigned to ANY school, it changes the thinking about how funds should be spent, as underscored by a quote from a District 3 parent that concludes the post:

“I’m really happy that we are moving closer to the district average (in terms of racial and economic demographics), which is part of the goal, and that we’re seeing movement at the high demand schools, and at the lower demand schools — which is crucial,” said Kristen Berger, a member of the District 3 Community Education Council who pushed for the admissions changes. “The point of this complex system is that we’re not just building one great school but we’re working as a system across the district.”

That is the kind of spirit needed in the 35+ states where lawsuits are pending because of inequitable funding formulas. In NH, as in NYC, the point is not to build “one great school” but to build a system of great schools… and to accomplish that funding will need to be equitable.

LeBron James Supports Public Education by Supporting Teachers AND Parents

April 16, 2019 Comments off

Unlike most celebrities who claim to support public education in an effort to help disadvantaged children, NBA superstar LeBron James is different kind of education philanthropist. LeBron James is walking the talk by supporting a public school in his hometown of Akron OH called I Promise governed by a democratically elected local school school board, a school for designed for students who “...were identified as the worst performers in the Akron public schools and branded with behavioral problems. Some as young as 8 were considered at risk of not graduating.” And because Mr. James was once one of those poor performers himself, he realizes that schools who serve poor children need more time to learn and their parents need help as well. As a result, Mr. James is providing supplementary funding for before and after school programs, programs when schools are closed, free provisions for parents, and a training program for parents to earn their GEDs. After a year… the results are coming in and, while I am no fan of the metrics they are using, the school is showing promise.

The academic results are early, and at 240, the sample size of students is small, but the inaugural classes of third and fourth graders at I Promise posted extraordinary results in their first set of district assessments. Ninety percent met or exceeded individual growth goals in reading and math, outpacing their peers across the district.

“These kids are doing an unbelievable job, better than we all expected,” Mr. James said in a telephone interview hours before a game in Los Angeles for the Lakers. “When we first started, people knew I was opening a school for kids. Now people are going to really understand the lack of education they had before they came to our school. People are going to finally understand what goes on behind our doors.”

What distinguishes I Promise is it’s implicit acknowledgement that parent engagement is crucially important and poor parents have complications that exceed those of their affluent counterparts. Because of that, Mr. James offers funding to support the parents as fellas the teachers and children:

The school is unusual in the resources and attention it devotes to parents, which educators consider a key to its success. Mr. James’s foundation covers the cost of all expenses in the school’s family resource center, which provides parents with G.E.D. preparation, work advice, health and legal services, and even a quarterly barbershop.

Another distinguishing factor of I Promise is the pool of students it serves:

I Promise students were among those identified by the district as performing in the 10th to 25th percentile on their second-grade assessments. They were then admitted through a lottery.

“These were the children where you went and talked with their old teachers, and they said, ‘This will never work,’” Dr. Campbell said. “We said give them to us.”

They are called the “Chosen Ones,” an ode to the headline that donned Mr. James’s first Sports Illustrated cover when he was a junior in high school, and which he later had tattooed across his shoulder blades.

And the I Promise school DOES get more money, money that is used to underwrite the parent resource center noted above and a resource center for students and teachers as well:

But the I Promise School was a recognition that the foundation’s community services were not enough. They needed to reach students earlier. They secured an old district office building that served as a holding place for schools in transition, poured in $2 million and counting for improvements and reopened it in seven weeks. The school opened in July 2018 and is expected to serve 720 students in third through eighth grade by 2022.

The foundation’s support affords I Promise more resources than the average school, but Ms. Davis, a veteran principal in the district, said the school values things that no money could buy.

“It doesn’t take money to build relationships,” she said. “It doesn’t take money for you to teach students how to love.”

This past year some former teammates have criticized LeBron James for failing to give them the credit they deserve for contributing to championships he won and for pointing fingers at them when the team suffered losses. But LeBron James’ reaction to the success of his school counters that image:

While Mr. James called the school “the coolest thing that I’ve done in my life thus far,” he said he could take credit for only a small part of what was happening.

“I had the vision of wanting to give back to my community. The people around every day are helping that vision come to life,” he said. “Half the battle is trying to engage them and show that there’s always going to be somebody looking out for them.”

The article described a single parent who was disengaged and had given up but now felt that someone from her hometown was looking out for her. In an ideal democracy, that is the notion every parent should have… that her neighbors are looking out her well-being. Nowadays, though, disengaged parents have a different sense: that her neighbors are looking down on her and blaming her for the poor performance of her children.

The veteran principal in Akron is right in saying that “It doesn’t take money to build relationships (or) for you to teach students how to love.” But it does take money to provide the kinds of parent programs and expanded community services that LeBron James is providing his chosen ones, the children whose old teachers had projected as drop outs and troublemakers.

Suicide Rates, Suicide Ideation, and Depression Rates Are Higher…. and so is Cell Phone Use

April 4, 2019 Comments off

A recent article in Philly Voice by Jeanne Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, provides data supporting her assertion and that of many of her colleagues that the mental health problems among today’s youth are skyrocketing. Among the facts she presents:

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services… surveyed over 600,000 Americans. Recent trends are startling.

From 2009 to 2017, major depression among 20- to 21-year-olds more than doubled, rising from 7 percent to 15 percent. Depression surged 69 percent among 16- to 17-year-olds. Serious psychological distress, which includes feelings of anxiety and hopelessness, jumped 71 percent among 18- to 25-year-olds from 2008 to 2017. Twice as many 22- to 23-year-olds attempted suicide in 2017 compared with 2008, and 55 percent more had suicidal thoughts. The increases were more pronounced among girls and young women. By 2017, one out of five 12- to 17-year-old girls had experienced major depression in the previous year.

Ms. Twenge dismissed the idea that these data were the result of survey respondents being more forthcoming, noting that the increase in the percentages in the surveys is matched by a corresponding increase in admissions to hospitals and actual suicides. She also dismissed “the usual suspects”: the bad economy and joblessness (the economy improved during that time period); and the opioid epidemic, which affected those over 25 much more than those younger than that cut-off. So… what’s the cause? Ms. Twenge posits it is social media:

…there was one societal shift over the past decade that influenced the lives of today’s teens and young adults more than any other generation: the spread of smartphones and digital media like social media, texting and gaming.

While older people use these technologies as well, younger people adopted them more quickly and completely, and the impact on their social lives was more pronounced. In fact, it has drastically restructured their daily lives.

Compared with their predecessors, teens today spend less time with their friends in person and more time communicating electronically, which study after study has found is associated with mental health issues.

What is the fix? Person-to-person engagement would make a huge difference, but even more important would be some direct instruction on how to communicate civilly and compassionately with each other. My personal observation with social media like FaceBook is that putting people down seems to be a default means of communicating with friends… particularly when the person being put down is universally seen as despicable by your group of friends. It is not hard to see how a middle school or high school student could feel diminished if they became the butt of jokes on line.

Another fix would be to explain to students who use social media that the metrics they use are unimportant in the cosmic scheme and that even the happiest and most exciting “friends” you read about on line experience sadness and depression at some point. On FaceBook everyone is having awesome experiences… which can be depressing if your experience consists of reading social media posts about classmates who seem more glamorous, more attractive, more adventurous, and more popular than you are. When your impact on-line is measured by “likes” and the number of “friends” you have it can be depressing if no one reacts to your posts or accepts you as a friend when you ask.

Maybe the best fix would be to limit one’s time on Facebook to, say, 15 minutes per day and to block anyone whose posts you find aggravating or make you depressed. Instead of using the phone to connect on-line and read about the fabulous lifestyles of classmates, students might use it for FaceTime to engage in face-to-face conversation with friends … it isn’t the same as being with friends “in person”… but that virtual contact is FAR superior to the delusional world one reads about on FaceBook.