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No Evidence Supports Fear-Based Stop-and-Frisk Policy… Just as No Evidence Supports Most Fear-Based “Solutions”

November 11, 2019 Leave a comment

NYTime columnist Charles Blow wrote a column today damning the latest candidate for the President, former NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The basis for Mr. Blow’s condemnation was Mayor Bloomberg’s racist and failed stop-and-frisk policy, a fear-based policy that was presumably designed to seize illegal weapons and contraband. In the final analysis, though, the policy failed to accomplish that goal and instead resulted in the increased incarceration of people of color who were overly represented in the group that was stopped and frisked on the street.

After reading the column, I left the following comment:

Fear of “the other” drives many bad policies.

Have the billions spent on the so-called global war on terror made made us any safer? What data have we collected to prove it?

Has the caging and separation of immigrant children from their parents made us any safer?

Has millions spend on the widespread installation of surveillance cameras and the placement of police officers in public schools made us any safer?

These practices designed to protect us from “the other” are as odious as stop-and-frisk and yet we continue to spend billions based on the faith that we are protecting ourselves.

In the meantime we are unwilling to face the cold hard data of climate change. Why? Because in order to address climate change we need to accept that the enemy is US….

Alas, it is far easier to stoke fear in “the other” than it is to look at ourselves. And if we DID examine ourselves we might find that our fear of “the other” is baseless.

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Yet ANOTHER Study Proves Poverty’s Power to Diminish Performance… and Desegregation is the Path Out of Poverty

September 24, 2019 Comments off

The Hechinger Report posted an analysis of research done by Stanford University Education Professor Sean Reardon that demonstrates the detrimental impact of poverty of student performance as measured by standardized achievement tests. Here are Reardon’s findings as described by Hechinger Report writer Jill Barshay:

In the study, Reardon finds that racial segregation is a very strong predictor of the gaps in academic achievement between white and black or Hispanic students, but it’s school poverty — not the student’s race — that accounts for these big gaps. When the difference in poverty rates between black and white schools is larger, the achievement gaps between black and white students are larger. When the difference in poverty rates between black and white schools is smaller, the achievement gaps are smaller. The two phenomena — racial segregation and economic inequality — are intertwined because students of color are concentrated in high-poverty schools.

“There’s a common argument these days that maybe we should stop worrying about segregation and just create high-quality schools everywhere,” said Reardon. “This study shows that it doesn’t seem to be possible.”

Reardon said he couldn’t find a single school district in the country where black and Hispanic students were learning apart from white students and performing well with test scores that weren’t lagging behind those of white students.  In the cases where achievement gaps were small, such as Detroit, achievement was low for both black and whites students. They’re not models to copy.

“It doesn’t seem that we have any knowledge about how to create high-quality schools at scale under conditions of concentrated poverty,” said Reardon. “And if we can’t do that, then we have to do something about segregation. Otherwise we’re consigning black and Hispanic and low-income students to schools that we don’t know how to make as good as other schools. The implication is that you have got to address segregation.”

The nation’s failure to “create high-quality schools at scale under conditions of concentrated poverty” is widely reported and applies to charter schools as well as public schools. But Ms. Barshay notes how Mr. Reardon’s findings amply and clarify this reality:

It’s well known that high-income students perform better on tests than low-income students. Higher income students tend to have better educated parents who not only may read and talk to their kids more but also convey the importance of an education and set high academic expectations for their kids. What’s interesting in this study is that not only does the level of school segregation predict the size of the achievement gap between white and black students, it also predicts the rate at which the achievement gap grows as students progress from third to eighth grade.

In the concluding paragraphs of Ms. Barshay’s report, she describes an interactive website, the “Opportunity Explorer,” “where anyone can see the test scores for every public school in the United States“.  Mr. Reardon offers this important insight on the data he used to determine student performance:

Reardon advises visitors to the website to avoid equating test scores with school quality. “The average test scores that kids have in schools or school districts are the results of all the opportunities these kids have had to learn their whole lives, at home, in the neighborhood, in preschool and in the school year,” Reardon said, “so it’s misleading to attribute average test scores solely to the school where they take the test.”

“If you want to know how good the schools are,” Reardon said, “a better but not perfect measure would be the learning rates because those are measuring how fast are kids learning while they’re in school, regardless of where they started.”

A tool like the Opportunity Explorer offers data geeks a chance to do some comparisons… but such a tool also implies that parents could shop for a school the same way they could shop for groceries… and while grocery stores will allow anyone to come inside and look around and buy what they can afford, schools are not the same because some schools are located in communities where housing prices effectively bar anyone with a low income. Until we figure out a way to encourage people of different social strata and different races to live together we will not be able to solve the problem of unequal opportunities based on wealth and race.

What Do You DO When an Algorithm Discriminates Based on Race? In the Trump Administration You Protect the Algorithm

August 23, 2019 Comments off

The NYTImes’ Emily Badger wrote an article on the new, subtle method of housing discrimination: algorithms. In her recent Upshot article titled “Who’s to Blame When Algorithms Discriminate” she describes how bankers and real estate agents use algorithms to reinforce segregated housing patterns and deny African Americans an equal opportunity to get decent housing. The way HUD pushed back against these in the past was to develop rules that made it more difficult to claim innocence when “disparate impact” occurred. She writes:

Federal law prohibits not just outright discrimination, but also certain policies and decisions that have a “disparate impact” on groups protected by civil rights laws. It may be illegal, in other words, to design a rental app that has the effect of excluding minorities, even if no one meant to discriminate against them…

Housing discrimination today is largely a matter of such cases: ones where there is no racist actor, no paper trail of intent to discriminate, but where troubling disparities emerge between different classes of people… 

“People don’t just say the things they used to say,” said Myron Orfield, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who directs the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity there.

But some statistical patterns speak just as loudly.

“A black household that makes $167,000 is less likely to qualify for a prime loan than a white household that makes $40,000,” Mr. Orfield said, citing analysis of public mortgage data by the institute. “That looks funny. What the banks say in these cases is, ‘It’s the credit histories, and our models explain the differences.’ But you can’t look at those models. They’re proprietary.”

The Obama administration wrote rules that placed the onus for proving non-discrimination on the loaner or renter. Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration is taking a different view:

The Department of Housing and Urban Development published a proposed rule on Monday significantly raising the bar for housing discrimination claims that rely on such evidence…

By raising the bar for such claims, the new rule would make it harder to hold banks accountable if their underwriting algorithms repeatedly deny mortgages to seemingly qualified black families, or if city zoning laws that make no mention of race still have the effect of racially segregating neighborhoods.

Fair housing advocates see these new rules as onerous and undercutting the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the guidelines that have been in place since then.

“The problem that we have is that more and more, industry players are relying on artificial intelligence,” said Lisa Rice, the president of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “They’re relying on machine learning. They’re relying on algorithmic-based systems for more and more of the functions of the housing market.”

Online ads for rental housing are targeted in ways that mean, for example, that African-American would-be tenants may never see them. Decisions are based on credit scores that perceive families who use payday lenders — who are more likely to be African-American — as having no credit at all.

“We’re just learning what the impacts are of these things,” said Greta Byrum, co-director of the Digital Equity Laboratory at the New School. “That’s why we’re seeing this battle to set policy precedent. HUD I think is trying to get ahead of what everyone is seeing on the horizon now as a big fight to set policy around algorithms.”

In the end the losers in this are the children whose parents want to move into a neighborhood or community where schools are better and services are more robust… but whose parents may never see ads for houses in those neighborhoods due to their online profile and the algorithms used based on that profile… and having banks and renters wash their hands of the problem by claiming: ‘It’s the credit histories, and our models explain the differences.’ But you can’t look at those models. They’re proprietary.” They may be proprietary… but they are also racist if they result in disparate treatment and they should be thrown out if that is the case. We can’t claim to be a fair and just society where everyone has an equal opportunity if we let propriety software deny access to good housing, good schools, and good neighborhoods. But from the Trump administration’s perspective, this is not a software bug… it’s a software feature.

Milliken v. Bradley Decision Undercut Brown v. Board of Education, Stopped Racial AND “Social” Desegregation

August 20, 2019 Comments off

Everyone who ever studied the history of public education in our nation and the history of race in our country has heard of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that not only called for the segregation of schools “with all deliberate speed” but also called for the end of the “separate but equal” provisions that legally permitted the continuation of segregation. But most readers— and this blogger— have overlooked the impact of Milliken v. Bradley, a subsequent Supreme Court decision in 1974 that let hundreds of northern districts off the hook by allowing de facto segregation to remain in place. Jon Hale brings this 45-year old decision to forefront in a recent article in The National Interest:

…the racial makeup of today’s schools actually owes itself to a series of other court decisions – including one issued 45 years ago on July 25, 1974. The Milliken v. Bradley decision sanctioned a form of segregation that has allowed suburbs to escape being included in court-ordered desegregation and busing plans with nearby cities.

The Milliken decision recognized “de facto” segregation – segregation that occurs as a result of circumstances, not law. This allowed schools in the North to maintain racially separate schools at the same time southern schools were being ordered by the courts to desegregate. By giving suburbs a pass from large mandated desegregation attempts, it built a figurative wall around white flight enclaves, essentially shielding them from the “crisis” of urban education.

The decision ruled that social segregation was permissible and therefore exempt from court-ordered, “forced” desegregation plans. That is, the court said, if segregation occurred because of certain “unknowable factors” such as economic changes and racial fears – not a law – then it’s legal.

In reading this article I was struck by the breadth of the decision made on this case, which dealt with a plan to bus students from Detroit to contiguous suburban schools to promote racial segregation. But the ruling went even further, determining that social segregation was permissible. As a result of this decision, the boundaries of school districts, which in most states match the borders of towns, townships, or counties, were impermeable. This meant the building a “…figurative wall around white flight enclaves” not only shielded those enclaves RACIALLY, it shielded them SOCIALLY, not just from the “crisis” of urban education but also from the crisis of funding inequities.

Mr. Hale concludes his article with this paragraphs:

Milliken put forth the convenient narrative that segregation in the North was natural and therefore permissible. It also freed northern school districts from being forced to participate in large-scale solutions to segregation and unequal education outside their boundaries.

I believe continuing to ignore Milliken covers up the ongoing segregation of America’s schools today and the nation’s collective, ongoing failure to improve public education in the spirit of Brown.

And the “spirit of Brown”, that all children should have an equal opportunity to attend a public school that offers them an education that will prepare them for the future on the same footing as everyone in their age cohort, was killed when five justices appointed by Richard Nixon supported the narrative of Justice Potter, who concluded in his written decision that segregation in Detroit was “caused by unknown and perhaps unknowable factors such as in-migration, birth rates, economic changes, or cumulative acts of private racial fears.” Red-lining, block-busting, and other banking and real estate sales “techniques” were hardly “unknown and perhaps unknowable factors” and the disparity in housing prices that emerged from these practices are hardly “unknown and perhaps unknowable factors”… but they persist today and are the root cause of the exacerbation of racial and economic segregation that persists as well.

University of Kentucky Study Shows Charter Schools More Segregated than Public Schools

August 15, 2019 Comments off

In a study that illustrates the Law of Unintended Consequences, Julian Vasquez Heilig, dean and professor of educational policy studies and evaluation at the University of Kentucky College of Education, found that “charter school students are more likely to attend racially isolated schools than their public school counterparts.” In carefully examining the publicly available school-level common core data from the National Center for Education Statistics, Mr. Vasquez Heilig and his co-authors T. Jameson Brewer, of the University of North Georgia College of Education, and Yohuru Williams, of the University of St. Thomas College of Arts and Sciences found that “...all schools — both charter and public — have become increasingly segregated by race and class in the past two decades.” But, contrary to their avowed purpose, charter schools are adding to the resegregation of schools:

Across the United States, 43% of public schools are majority non-white, compared to 65% of charter schools. Even in neighborhoods with a more balanced ethnoracial mix among residents, the researchers found charter schools were more likely to be comprised of more non-white students than the public schools in the area.

“While geography and residential segregation patterns contribute to segregation, we found local demography does not explain why charter schools feature more racial isolation than public schools,” Vasquez Heilig said. “In other words, when looking at the same zip code, charters are not more segregated than public schools because of their location.”

So… why ARE charters more segregated? Is it because segregation is desirable to children of color or is it because integration is undesirable to white parents? Mr. Vasquez Heilig sees it as an extension of white flight:

“In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to abolish the practice of separate educational facilities. However, our nation has allowed practices in the ensuing years that result in segregation of schools. As white flight has occurred, schools have been increasingly segregated by race and class. Nowhere is the problem more acute than in the nation’s charter schools,” Vasquez Heilig said.

“Charter schools have been seen as a means of providing equity through offering greater choice to low-income and minority students. However, we must carefully consider the impact these choices have on students. It is important to examine the data and work toward policies that improve the ethonoracial and economic diversity of all schools our nation’s children attend. The benefits of schooling in a diverse environment cannot be overlooked.”

The solution to this thorny dilemma is not easy… but one set of data offers a stopgap solution:

Students attending schools with predominantly poor students of color face reduced resources, less academic rigor in the form of limited access to advanced coursework, and largely untrained or inexperienced teachers.

We already know that the federal government will not intervene to compel racial balance despite the Brown decision. At the very least, though, they should intervene to ensure that the resources, teaching quality, and opportunities are equal. Brown ended “separate but equal” schools… and in its wake we now have separate and unequal schools. I’m certain that was not the endgame Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP was seeking… but that’s where we are today.

ICE Raids Leave Mississippi Children Homeless

August 8, 2019 Comments off

This USA Today article describes the impact of the ICE raids on the public schools in one Mississippi County. At the end of the article the Superintendent asks how children who are afraid that their parents will be taken away can possibly concentrate on their school work. With thousands of undocumented parents in our nation this is a question many teachers, administrators, and school board members will be asking in the weeks ahead.

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In “Call Me By My True Names”, Thich Nhat Hanh Points Out a Troubling Reality that Princeton Professor Drives Home

August 7, 2019 Comments off

I just watched the YouTube video embedded below featuring Eddie Glaude, a Princeton Professor who talked with MSNBC about the recent killings in El Paso and Dayton. Watch it… and then read Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem, Call Me By My True Names, that is pasted below the video clip. My concluding thoughts follow the poem.

Call Me By My True Names

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow— even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving to be a bud on a Spring branch, to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings, learning to sing in my new nest, to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower, to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry, to fear and to hope. The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that is alive.

I am a mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river. And I am the bird that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am a frog swimming happily in the clear water of a pond. And I am the grass-snake that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks. And I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate.

And I am also the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands. And I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to my people dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth. My pain is like a river of tears, so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up and the door of my heart could be left open,the door of compassion.

In response to the relentless accumulation of deaths due to mass shootings, politicians are drawn to quick solutions, solutions based on linear Western thought. If we limit guns we will limit deaths. If we identify potential killers and deny them the chance to acquire weapons we will limit deaths. If we stopped the sale of video games that graphically engage players in shooting enemies we will limit deaths. These solutions connect dots…. but as Mr. Glaude and Thich Nhat Hanh point out, there is an interdependence in play that requires each of us to examine ourselves and identify the role we are playing in increasing the violence and hatred in our world.

Can schools teach self-awareness and interdependence? It is a question I am wrestling with… and one I hope others who support public education will examine as well.