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How Most American Kids Are Kept Out of the Best Public Schools

Nothing about North Avenue in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago feels like a political barrier or a sociological fault line. Residents of Old Town cross busy North Avenue every day. If you live north of North, you might cross the street to meet a friend for a pint at the Old Town Ale House. If you live to the south, you might cross North Avenue to see a show at the world-famous Second City comedy club or to take your family to the 11am choir service at St. Michael’s Catholic Church. If you need medical care in Old Town, no matter which side of North Avenue you live on, you have your choice of Family Urgent Care on the north or Physicians Immediate Care on the south. Both receive excellent ratings from patients.

But North Avenue is a fault line in one extremely important way. If you stand at the corner of Larrabee and North, there are two public elementary schools within a mile. Both schools are operated by Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Both are governed by the decisions of the Board of Education. Both are funded by Chicago residents, who pay property taxes directly into the CPS General Fund. So residents living north and south of North Avenue share the burden of funding the two schools. However, neighborhood families do not share equal access to the two local schools. The district has split the community into two groups: If you live north, you go to Lincoln Elementary. If you live south, then you’re assigned to Manierre Elementary.

Let’s look at the two schools. Turn north on Larrabee Street and walk seven blocks to Lincoln Elementary, one of the crown jewels of Chicago Public Schools. Lincoln gets a “1+” rating from the district, the highest possible rating. And the school encompasses the prestigious French-American School of Chicago, officially recognized by the French Ministry of Education and open only to students of Lincoln Elementary. Start once again at Larrabee and North. Turn south this time, and walk five blocks to Manierre Elementary, which receives a “3” rating from the district, the lowest possible rating. Manierre doesn’t just lag Lincoln. Manierre, by any objective standard, is a failing school.

Compare the reading proficiency of students at the two schools: At the end of the 2018–19 school year, not a single eighth grader from Manierre was proficient in reading, compared to 81 percent of Lincoln eighth graders. Take a moment to let those numbers sink in. The difference between the two schools is staggering. These two schools serve the same neighborhood and are a mere 1.3 miles apart. If these were health clinics or restaurants, there’s no chance that such stark differences would persist in establishments within walking distance of one another. Randall Blakey is the pastor of LaSalle Street Church just a few blocks south of Manierre. “If the Manierre parents had the same choices as every other parent north of North Avenue,” he says, “I’m sure they’d take advantage of the choices.”

But the children south of North Avenue aren’t allowed to attend Lincoln. “We fell in love with a townhome in Old Town,” says Angela Mota, the parent of a four-year-old who will enroll in elementary school next year. She and her husband found out too late that their home is on the wrong side of the line. “I thought Old Town had good schools,” Angela remembers. “And then we got here, and it’s like ‘Oh, crap.’” The Motas are now looking into magnet schools and other selective public schools that might allow them to escape Manierre without having to pay tens of thousands in private school tuition. Lincoln, just a few blocks from their house, isn’t an option.

Brian Speck lives just a few blocks north of the Motas and is the father of two boys who have attended Lincoln. “There’s a barrier to entry to Lincoln Elementary,” he says, “And that’s both good and bad.” Brian says that he and his wife had their eye on one home that was south of North Avenue and $250,000 cheaper than the house they bought. “But private school in Chicago can run up to $40,000 a year,” he laments. So they paid the extra $250,000 so that their kids could attend a “free” public school. Children growing up in Old Town are sorted and separated when they enroll in kindergarten—when they are just five years old.

Is Lincoln Elementary a public school?

In 2013, the schools in the neighborhood were at a tipping point. Lincoln was 129 percent overcrowded, partially due to young families moving into the school boundaries in order to gain access to the elite public school. Many families assigned to Manierre, black and white, would seek out private schools or find another public option, such as a charter or a magnet school. This left Manierre with plenty of empty classrooms.

The logical solution in Old Town would have been to redraw the attendance boundaries so that some of the Lincoln families would have been redirected to Manierre or another local school with space. But that’s not what happened. Instead, top district officials proposed to close Manierre down and invest $19 million in a renovation of Lincoln that would increase the school’s capacity. Would the additional space allow any of Manierre’s children to transfer to Lincoln and finally escape their failing school? No, the addition would simply allow Lincoln to serve students in the existing attendance zone, but more comfortably.

Manierre’s students would have been reassigned to Jenner Elementary, another failing school with excess capacity. A huge political fight followed. The Chicago Teachers Union filed a lawsuit to block the closure. The lawsuit was dismissed, but eventually Manierre was allowed to stay open, partially because the Manierre students would have had to cross gang lines in order to get to Jenner, possibly putting them in physical danger. Now Lincoln has a larger, updated building that is at 94 percent capacity. According to Chicago Public Schools, the newly renovated building at Lincoln has a capacity of 1,080 students, but only 956 were enrolled in 2018. That means there were 124 open seats at the school. Yet Lincoln still refuses to admit any students who live south of North Avenue.

You can’t talk about Lincoln and Manierre without talking about race. Many Manierre kids come from the Marshall Field Garden Apartments, a subsidized housing development just south of North Avenue. Manierre’s kids are 96 percent black and four percent Hispanic—and 93 percent low income. Lincoln is 63 percent white, and only 14 percent of the students are low income. But race is not what’s keeping kids out of Lincoln Elementary. What keeps Old Town kids out of Lincoln Elementary is geography—the artificial boundary of North Avenue.

The neighborhood’s black alderman Walter Burnett told the Chicago Tribune back in 2013 that middle-class black residents of Old Town will not send their kids to Manierre. “If you’re a middle-class parent in the Manierre zone,” confirms Pastor Blakey, “you end up paying for private education, or you work your political connections to get your kid into a Selective Enrollment school.” The original idea of a public school—championed by Horace Mann and the Common School Movement of the 19th century—is that it’s a place where everyone in a community can send their kids, a place where all the races and classes mix, and a place where less privileged kids have the same chances as anyone else. But that’s not what Lincoln Elementary is.

If only this were a problem unique to Chicago! We’ve identified many similar school pairs in cities across the U.S.—one elite public school and one failing public school, separated by nothing more than an arbitrary line drawn by a school district bureaucrat. Take a look at PS 8 and PS 307 in Brooklyn. Ivanhoe Elementary and Atwater Avenue Elementary in Los Angeles. Mary Lin and Hope-Hill in Atlanta. John Hay and Lowell Elementary Schools in Seattle. Lakewood and Mount Auburn in Dallas. Clinton and Como Elementary Schools in Columbus. Cory and Ellis Elementary Schools in Denver. Penn Alexander and Henry Lea in Philadelphia. This is an American phenomenon.

Educational redlining

I recently called Lincoln Elementary and pretended to be a parent moving to Chicago. I asked the staff member who answered the phone how we could get our children into Lincoln. It is a neighborhood school,” she told me. “It’s an attendance area. So if you want your child to go here, you have to move within the boundaries.” And if we get a house within the boundaries? “You’re automatically in. You just have to show proof.”

This moment—when a school staffer asks for proof of your address—is one that happens thousands of times every year in America. This is precisely the moment I want to examine closely.

  • Imagine you show up at a nearby emergency room with a broken arm, and the nurse at the front desk asks for proof of your address before taking you in for an X-ray.
  • Imagine you walk into the neighborhood branch of your city’s library. You sit down at a computer, and a librarian comes over to check your ID. “Sorry,” she says. “I know you live in the city, but you’re assigned to a library two miles away. You’ll have to leave.”
  • Imagine that there’s a fire in the neighborhood, and the Station 22 fire truck won’t water down your home because the truck’s onboard computer shows that you’re just over the line, zoned for Station 44.

The staff member at Lincoln Elementary isn’t simply trying to ensure that you live within Chicago Public Schools’ jurisdictional boundaries. That would make some sense, because you might not want nonresidents coming in and getting a free education at schools that were paid for by resident taxpayers. No, this employee at Lincoln Elementary is interested in whether you live on the right side of an attendance-zone boundary, which is a line drawn around the school by the district staff. The key questions are: Why do the staff at the school ask for proof? What empowers them to turn away students who don’t live in the attendance zone? The short answer is—state law.

This is the great secret of public education in the U.S. In most states, there are little-known state laws that require or allow school staff to ask this question and make enrollment determinations based on where a family lives within the district. In other states, there are simply no laws that prevent school officials from drawing attendance-zone boundaries. It is implicitly allowed. In Pennsylvania, for example, a law from the 1940s explicitly requires that each district carve itself up into attendance zones. In California, the requirement is—ironically—tucked into the “open enrollment” law, which allows students to attend any school within their district of residence, as long as “no pupil who currently resides in the attendance area of a school shall be displaced.” That banal phrase allows—even requires—California school districts to reserve the best schools for the privileged few who can afford to live within the boundaries.

Note again that I’m not talking about the boundaries between school districts, which are political subdivisions. Those lines are jurisdictional. As governmental entities, school districts are typically overseen by elected or appointed board members. School districts often have the legal authority to assess taxes on their constituents or issue bonds in order to fund the district’s activities.

Attendance zones, on the other hand, are administrative service areas. Government bureaucrats carve up the map and determine who gets preferred enrollment at what school. There are no elected officials at the attendance-zone level—and no political representation. The residents of a school zone are not subject to special taxes that go to the local school. Over the past several years, I’ve been digging up these obscure laws to understand how and why our schools remain separate and unequal. I’ve also been collecting the stories of parents—of all races and income levels—whose lives have been twisted into knots by these bizarre policies.

We already have a name for this practice of using your address to determine whether or not you are eligible for valuable government services. We call it redlining. The name comes from government maps created during the New Deal. These maps used the color red to indicate those urban neighborhoods that were “hazardous,” which mostly meant that those areas were majority black or Hispanic. People in these red-shaded portions of the map were ineligible to qualify for some federally subsidized mortgages and housing assistance.

Educational redlining is analogous to redlining in the housing market. In each case, valuable government services are reserved for more privileged communities, using geographic preferences as a way to limit who is eligible to receive them. Redlining in the real estate market was made illegal by Congress with the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968 and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977. Government agencies and private banks are now forbidden from using these tactics that reinforced racial divisions and inequality.

But when we carve up our cities into attendance zones, we perpetuate the economic and racial divisions that marked one of the darkest eras of our nation’s past. In many neighborhoods, you can still see the ghost of the redlining map when you look at a current map of the local school’s attendance zone. Figure 2 shows the current attendance zone of Ivanhoe Elementary School in Los Angeles superimposed on the redlining map of the Silver Lake neighborhood from 1939. Ivanhoe Elementary is one of the most coveted public schools in Los Angeles. Note how the minority neighborhoods of Silver Lake remain on the outside looking in.

Eighty years after the creation of the map, the schools that serve the red and yellow areas of the map are still all majority Hispanic, while Ivanhoe is 75 percent white. This same pattern holds true for the attendance zones of other elite public schools around the country—PS 8 in Brooklyn, Lakewood Elementary in Dallas, Mount Washington Elementary in Los Angeles, and the school called Center for Inquiry 84 in Indianapolis. In Chicago, it’s different. The “desirable” areas on the North Side have changed, so the attendance zone of Lincoln Elementary no longer reflects the geographic divisions of 80 years ago. But somehow areas with significant minority populations still find themselves on the wrong side of the line.

In 1951, Linda Brown’s race was used to keep her out of Sumner Elementary School. In 2020, a line drawn down the middle of North Avenue is used to keep Old Town kids out of Lincoln Elementary.

School choice and segregation

There’s a whole genre of education writing based on the idea that “school choice” is the reason that our schools are racially segregated and unequal. Take, for instance, an article by Allison McCann in VICE News entitled “When School Choice Means Choosing Segregation”:

The resegregation of America’s public schools is due largely to two decades of Supreme Court rulings that all but ended mandatory desegregation plans, but it has not been helped by the growing movement toward school choice.

Or take the opinion piece “School Choice Is the Enemy of Justice” by Erin Aubry Kaplan in the New York Times:

Black and brown students have more or less resegregated within charters, the very institutions that promised to equalize education.

Or look at the academic white paper produced by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, “Choice without Equity: Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards”:

As the country moves steadily toward greater segregation and inequality of education for students of color in schools with lower achievement and graduation rates, the rapid growth of charter schools has been expanding a sector that is even more segregated than the public schools.

Sounds damning, doesn’t it? But these scholars and journalists choose to ignore the fact that almost 80 percent of public school children attend their assigned public school. If American public schools are divided along economic and racial lines (and it’s indisputable that they are), then it is primarily because of geographic school assignment, not because a minority of parents look to escape the failing schools they’ve been assigned to.

Perhaps fewer minority families would choose charter schools if they had equal access to the best public schools in their communities. If you want to break down the racial and social divisions in our schools, that’s the first place to look.

Opening up the schools

Recently I dialed up John Hay Elementary in the hilly Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle. This is a school that bears a strong resemblance to Lincoln in Chicago or Ivanhoe in Los Angeles. To enroll your kids at John Hay, a staff member tells me, “You want to be on the north side of Denny Way.” Otherwise your kids will be zoned to go to struggling Lowell Elementary. “It is unfair,” she says, “but you have to have boundaries somewhere. Otherwise no one would want to go to that school [Lowell].”

I take her point about the lack of parent demand for failing schools like Lowell. But she’s wrong about the need for attendance zones. There are other ways to do it. Public charter schools, for example, hold open lotteries when applications exceed the number of open seats. In most states, charter schools are forbidden from discriminating against families based on where they live within the school district. The open-to-all policy for charters is the result of political battles led by teachers’ unions and school boards to make it illegal for charters to cherry-pick the students they enroll. (Some charters still try.) Indeed, there are several states, my home state of California included, in which traditional public schools are required by law to discriminate based on residential address, and public charter schools are explicitly forbidden from doing exactly that.

I’ve come to believe that public education would simply work better if our laws forbade districts from drawing these lines, rather than allowing them or even requiring them to do so. Imagine a world in which every public school was open to applications from any family in the district and was required to hold a lottery to determine who would be admitted. In such a world, parents wouldn’t have to play the games they play today, making gut-wrenching decisions about real estate and housing in order to do what’s right for their children.

Critics will argue that a fully open system would be unworkable. How would a district plan from year to year, if any student could go to any school? But there are ways to make it workable. Tony Miller, former Deputy Secretary of Education under President Obama, suggests that a school district could provide transportation to any school within a three-mile radius of a student’s home. Other district schools would be open to that student, but her family would have to arrange for transportation—perhaps partially subsidized by the district—for those more distant schools.

On a personal level, we should all have sympathy for the people who would oppose such reforms. Take a family who has paid $250,000 more for a house because of its guaranteed access to an elite public school. Those parents wanted to secure the best education for their children, and that’s always laudable. But that doesn’t mean we should continue to block open access to these public schools.

In many ways, these people are like the taxi companies in New York City. Taxi companies paid millions of dollars for “medallions” allowing them to operate taxis within the city. For years, these medallion owners fought off efforts to issue more medallions—and improve taxi service for millions of New Yorkers—because they wanted to be protected from the competition. With the emergence of ride-sharing services such as Uber, the medallions have become almost worthless. And taxi companies have attempted to use their political clout to block such services and retain their protected position.

But the courts have said no. Buying a taxi medallion does not mean that you are protected from disruptive competition until the end of time. Likewise, buying a house that gives you preferential access to a public school does not mean that you will be able to keep other families out forever.

Of course, proximity matters! I have young children, and one of our biggest priorities is finding a school—near our home—that will meet our kids’ social, emotional, and intellectual needs. A school is often a place where a community coheres, and it’s reasonable to fear that the social cohesion—and the cachet—of a school like Lincoln Elementary would be diluted if it were open to a broader segment of the public.

But social cohesion and cachet shouldn’t be built on a foundation of discriminatory policies that exclude other local families. When the state legislature creates school district boundaries, it indicates that everyone within those lines will share a set of public schools. Within those lines, it’s wrong to exclude children based on where they live—just as it was wrong to exclude them based on their race.

In a world of truly open public schools, families will sort themselves based on what they think is most important, and the vast majority of families will select schools near their homes. They won’t need the government to draw lines around the schools that keep other people out. It will happen organically.

As it happens, my family lives just outside the attendance zone for another elite school in Los Angeles, Mount Washington Elementary. My own kids and many of our neighbors’ kids, of all ethnicities, are excluded from the school even though it is the closest school to our house. The district map assigns our family to a struggling school only marginally better than Manierre Elementary in Chicago.

For our family, this isn’t a huge concern. We have the resources to send our kids to private school, if necessary, and we also have the savvy to navigate the byzantine system of school choice in Los Angeles. We will likely be able to find a school that is a good fit for our kids and that performs better than their assigned school. But for families with lesser means this geographical exclusion is a much bigger issue, one with life-altering consequences.

Abolishing attendance zones will not make the problems of our education system disappear overnight. There are no panaceas for the ills of our schools. No easy fixes. And segregation and inequality are likely to persist in some form. Decades of separation, complacency, and bad policy cannot be overcome with any single reform.

But middle-class and lower-income families deserve an equal opportunity to enroll their kids in the best public schools.

 

Tim DeRoche is an author and consultant based in Los Angeles. He has over 20 years of experience working with public school districts, charter schools, and non-profits focused on educational justice. His new book—A Fine Line: How Most American Kids Are Kept Out of the Best Public Schools—will be released on May 17th, the 66th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.

Photo by James Day on Unsplash

Comments

  1. This article is very odd. The author never gives us any clue as to why Lincoln is a success and Manierre is a ‘‘failing school’’. Both are creatures of the same education department. Presumably both have the same facilities, access to staff of the same quality and the same spent on materials, and test books, etc.

    If the difference results from the fact that the kids in the Marnierre area are not as clever, or more likely that their families don’t put so much faith in education, then the author’s suggestions are not going to solve the problem. Moving more of the less clever/family supported children to Lincoln is merely going to bring down the standard at Lincoln.

    But maybe the real issue here can be seen in an offhand remark made by the author in relation to it being a bad idea for children to have cross ‘‘gang-lines’’. The author, and presumably the authorities in Chicago, seem to think that gangs are a natural part of life, but that somehow if the kiddies go to a great public school all will be well.

    The answer is not in changing the zoning rules, but in improving the failing schools.

  2. They are very different neighborhoods even though they are very close. The Lincoln school is in one of the highest-rent areas, and the Manierre school is in a lower-rent area. The author said that, “These two schools serve the same neighborhood and are a mere 1.3 miles away from each other,” but this is not true. They are two different neighborhoods, and they are very different.

  3. This was a data-rich article. A good thing. We’re provided the number of students, each school’s ranking, and even the value of homes.

    Perhaps you inferred that the school with the higher home values is funded more per student than the one with the lower values. Wealthier parents put their children is schools with more resources, which is why they are successful.

    Still, I couldn’t help noticing that an important piece of data, per student funding, is omitted. Why? Is it impossible to find?

    No. The state of Illinois provides a reports card of each of the state’s schools.

    Here’s Lincoln’s.

    Let’s dig into the financials, shall we?

    Well… that bar chart… erm… is not what I expected.

    Hmmm… the per student funding of Lincoln is $4,055 less per student by the school district. Lincoln receives 32% less and outperforms the majority.

    I’ll deduce that Manierre gets even less. The lion’s share must go to the schools serving the ultra-rich and the very well connected, right?

    Huh???

    Manierre at $14,021 per student receives $5,411 more per student than Lincoln. That’s 36.6% less per each Lincoln student.

    Looking at the sources of funding, Maniere receives $10,876 per pupil from state and local government and $3,145 from the federal government. Lincoln receives $8,329 from state and local and $280 from feds. So, not only do Lincoln parents pay high property tax to the local government, they are paying high income tax to the state and federal governments.

    Federal education dollars come in a variety of flavours as defined by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Title I of the act provides funds to schools with a large percentage of low-income students. Title VI provides aid for disabled children. Title VII allots funds for bilingual education. Some federal dollars must be added to state and local funding and other federal dollars may be used to replace state and local funding.

    What we find here is an enormous funding gap, and not the one that many would expect. If underprivileged students were each receiving 36.6% fewer dollars than the privileged students, could you imagine the outcry? Clearly, there’s some discrimination going on. Just not the way Mr DeRoche would have you believe. Nonetheless, an equity approach of providing more resources to the under privileged has been applied. The results are dismal.

    For fun, I took at look at the elementary school one of my sister’s two children attend in the Chicago suburb of Evanston.

    Orrington Elementary School is funded two whole dollars more than Maniere but it’s rated Exemplary by the state, outperforming both Maniere and Lincoln. None of its per student funding comes from the federal government.

    Evanston even has a special school for the hyper marginalised, the Rice Children’s Center. It spends $64,056 per student at that school.

    Does anyone else find it peculiar this per-student funding information was omitted from the article? Equity is about the reallocation of resources in favour of some preferred constituents, isn’t it? And here I’ve provided proof of equity in action.

    How is it that underfunded LIncoln outperforms over funded Maniere? I suppose it’s those wealthy parents of Lincoln schoolchildren whose very high property and income taxes are diverted to better fund others’ children than their own who are to blame. Too many cafes and yoga studios making the marginalised feel even more despondent. Let’s screw the rich children’s educations; whilst we’re at it, let’s depress their property values too. They’re probably white, so they had it coming. (Flee to Evanston or Wilmette whilst you still can.)

    I think this information adds an element of complexity, perhaps very uncomfortable complexity, that ought to be more thoroughly examined before the children at Lincoln get the boot.

    In case you’re thinking Maniere’s funding goes to keep a run-down school operating, read the funding details.

    Districts are required to report the actual dollars spent, including school-level costs (like school staff) and district-wide costs (like transportation and central office staff) allocated to each individual school. . . . The expenditures used for per-pupil calculations includes almost all the different expenditures made at the school and district level. Only certain expenditures like capital outlay (facilities, property, and major equipment purchases) and debt service are excluded from the total expenditures reported…

    Moving on. DeRoche mentions redlining. Was Old Town Chicago’s Beverley Hills? Indeed not. By the late 1950s it had fallen on hard times due to suburban migration. It was depopulating except for the artists and other bohemian types as well as gays moving in, attracted by the cheap real estate as well as the ability to carve out a counter culture community of their own - Chicago’s first gay enclave was established there. Puerto Ricans also moved to the area, attracted by the low rents. Young urban professionals later followed once the area became a bit safer and established enticing amenities. They bought run-down yet architecturally interesting homes and spent their free time rehabbing them. Sweat equity is what it’s called, isn’t it? It wasn’t an upscale area though; the sex trade was also located in Old Town. But over the years things improved bit by bit because people invested effort to improve the community. The counter culture crowd moved out - to an area christened New Town - as the neighbourhood became middle class when the yuppies birthed children and families took over. The porn shops were shuttered, pushed out by a combination of high rents and low opinions.

    Maniere’s catchment area had a different history. Many of the run down homes were leveled under government urban renewal schemes and public housing was built. The government uplifting the people, just like the left promises us more of. Brand new buildings with all the amenities ready for immediate occupancy. The “projects” came to dominate that area.

    DeRoche gives you one story of Old Town. The other story, and the one that matters, is the contrast between those who participated in free enterprise and those who looked for legs up from the state. Stark contrast.

  4. Well, there are successful blacks who have complained that black culture just doesn’t place a lot of value on education. Also, the writer mentions gang lines. Well, you don’t get a lot of gangs in modern day white teen culture (loner white kids who shoot up schools, yes, but white gangs, very few). Long ago, people pointed out that there was a rise in single-parent black households. Obviously, they were derided as racists. Since, apparently, according to the “nice” white people, having the fallout occur to black people, and fucking up their future, is preferable to pointing out the root of a problem, since you don’t want to make them feel “bad”. Obviously, it’s better to fix the broken school than break a school that is in working order. But, you know, liberals just want to feel fuzzy wuzzy and morally superior to the rest of us rather than actually solve a problem. It’s all about the “feels”.

  5. Look above. I provided a thorough examination of the per student funding. Further, school districts and not postal codes determine each school’s allocation.

    You were bamboozled by the property prices and inferred incorrectly, which I also mention in my first comment. Don’t be surprised if this was the author’s intent. If it was, it worked.

  6. Great piece of research, mate- even better than your usual high bar for data-driven analysis. I salute you, sir!

  7. Haven’t you read? Been replaced by classroom smash and bash, a therapeutic process where the student is allowed to run amok in what had been the safe space whilst everyone one is hustled out to an alternative space safe, which exposes them to the fluidity of safety. Post tantrum, a restorative justice process is conducted where those who dare to speak up with “You made me feel scared” and “I didn’t like it when you threw the chameleon at the wall” are beaten after school.

  8. “the Manierre students would have had to cross gang lines in order to get to Jenner.” is all you need to know. here in Ontario, Canada, hosts one of the most costly school systems in the world (and teachers are starting job-action to make it more so) Bad neighborhoods have bad schools too, but they are expensive bad schools! If a cohort doesn’t value education, if parents don’t raise respectful children who don’t get into physical conflicts with other students (and teachers!) at school, if all the teachers are trying to do is survive until they can retire, you will have bad schools anywhere.

  9. Some say just the opposite. Pumping money into failing schools might end up just subsidizing failure. It seems to me that black welfare kids brought up in a gangsta culture, where attempting to succeed in school is ‘acting white’, cannot be transformed into scholars by throwing money at them, and importing enough of them into successful schools will only destroy the latter without helping the former. Yet, somehow black kids who do want to succeed must be given an opportunity to do so.

    At least that should stop. Public education should be equal resource education for one and all.

    Geary for minister of education.

    Fantastic research Ga. So throwing money isn’t the answer. Nor is anyone being discriminated against.

  10. We as a society are still tiptoeing around the hard thing to say and that is that each family is different when it comes to how much they value education and how much they care to be involved in their childs education. Student success has much less to do with what schools are attended and much more to do with how much involvement the parents have in their childs education. The statistics are very clear when it comes to educational success. Two parent households, families where the parents graducationed HS or went on to college are much more likely to have an interest in their childs success. Income also plays a key role. Lower income families children tend to do worse than middle and high income. All the above family dynamics playing a role in the income problem.
    The author ignores what we already know about education success and focuses on boundries and laws. Neither of which address the root causes of variations in education success.

  11. Yup. Nothing can happen until Social Justice is defeated and troublemakers can be expelled even if they are not equally distributed among the races. A starting point might be an elite all black public school. Point being that many black parents want a quality education for their kids, and an all black school might be politically able to expel their troublemakers without SJ blowback – if 100% of the kids are black, then obviously 100% of the expelled will be black so whitey can’t be being favored – there are no whites.

    You are most heartily welcome. Opinions are all well and good but you add genuine research to a topic and you’ve made me do an about face more than once. And I like changing my mind.

    Yes, of course. But one is so accustomed to the standard Victimology that even considering whitey as being underfunded becomes almost impossible.

    The difference is genuinely shocking. Zero? Zero? Not one kid in the whole place? The thing needs to be shut down, fumigated, left dormant for long enough for the ghosts to leave, and then restarted under a different name. And sorry but Equity is never going to happen. Mix sand, water and oil, shake, wait ten seconds and what do you see? Shake even harder, wait ten seconds and what do you see? The ‘gap’ must be narrower, but it will always be there. Asians are always going to be on the top, whitey next, and no further comment.

  12. I’m going to be blunt because i’m tired after a long day teaching in my urban high school–in a district the author knows absolutely nothing about but which he would probably excoriate for the students’ low test scores. He is like every other education ‘reformer’ I read featured in journals that cater to the intelligentsia (this is either right or left, for both attack public schools, each in their own way)–he literally knows zero about teaching, about the bureaucratic infrastructure, about the zillions of demands from the state on down. He is, in short, just like everyone else who thinks that they can solve problems from the top down, sort of by fiat, but with an ignorance so extreme he has no idea how ignorant he is. And yes, I see he’s been working on this topic for a while and is now publishing a book (great publicity here btw). That means nothing.

    I’ll just focus on one main thing–like every other ‘reformer’ he pretends the problem has nothing whatever to do with the students themselves, with their families, with their culture, with their environment. Nothing I tell you! Why, even though he would never be caught dead patronizing a mom and pop store owned by the parents of one of my students, nor certainly would never appear in the city at all after 5 pm or so, he wants dearly, dearly to believe that students are blank slates and come from blank slate cultures with equal values, in blank slate environments equally safe and supportive of education.

    The reason the ‘reformers’ want to pretend this has nothing to do with the students - it has everything to do with the students and their families, cultures, and environments - is a) if progressive, he wants to pretend even as his own kids wouldn’t be caught dead in our school, that any inferior result in education is 100% due to the school and can’t possibly be due to the students themselves because that’s 'racist" and b) for both parties, wants to pretend the problem is not enough money, bad teachers, no infrastructure, poor design – so that he can then swoop to the rescue with easily solved solutions: why, toss more money at them! Fire the teachers! Open up charters headed by people with zip experience and kick out any undesirable! pay for more technology!

    The ‘boundaries’ he focuses on are moot. As are his examples. People pay in property taxes to go to the local school. That is law. We can change the law to open up the pool so anyone can go anywhere - several schools offer this option - but as he points out partially, this isn’t a solution. Transportation is one problem. He proposes having parents have to drive their kid to the school they choose, and right there you can see how ignorant he is. The students who are in danger of failing in our schools are hardly the students whose parents are able and willing to drive them long distances just to go to school; many of my students don’t even have cars. I mean come on. Another problem, as he notes, is budget. With hugely fluctuating students each year, it would become impossible to figure out hiring teachers & staff, classrooms, books, tech and so on.

    But the main issue is that he imagines the problem is not the students, as I said-- so he believes that since upper class white schools get better results than lower class minority schools, that cannot have to do with the students and therefore can be solved by simply shipping students all over. That is, unlike every other organization which is made of the people within the organization he imagines the school organization to be made up of walls and books and teachers who - based on correlation not causation - ‘obviously’ are terrible in lower income schools since ‘obviously’ the results can’t possibly be the students and parents and bureaucratic structure.

    I should add that our district gets more than many suburban districts. Indeed, the district my own kids went to - a very high performing, upper class district - gets about half the money my urban school gets.

    The problem is the culture, parents, environment, and students themselves. My students sleep under couches because they don’t want to be shot at at night, and literally step one bodies on the way to school–you think that won’t effect their schooling? You think that by shipping them to another school with white people, what–their whiteness will rub off on them? What exactly does he imagine? The teachers in my school are better than in any other district I’ve taught in, hands down. If you really think it’s the teachers, move all my students to the district my kids are in, and all their students to us. Watch the results. I guarantee you 100% it will be the same no matter where the students go.

    A major problem is behavior–it’s just awful and very negatively impacts teaching. That isn’t solved by scooping out the best kids and putting them somewhere else. We still have to educate the rest. Nor is it solved by asking only the ones who have parents and who can and will drive them (when? most of them have work that doesn’t permit them the luxury of driving to and from school–that doesn’t even include extracurriculars) to drive them to upper class white and/or Asian schools. How doesn’t that solve anything either?

    Sorry for the babbling rant. I invite the author to come to my school and I can share with him all the impediments we go though every single day. I guarantee he has no idea of 99% of them…

  13. I’m surprised no one has mentioned the San Francisco experiment of having all public school attendance subject to lottery, much as the author is suggesting. I don’t think many people like the SF system, and it is not creating great schools by any means. Indeed, many people move to our suburban area to get away from SF schools. The lottery system is more impractical than busing, with the same lack of results; the author is proposing something even more radical here. And he has a book out on it. Great.

    On a theoretical level, as many others have pointed out, this author makes the implicit assumption that it is primarily, or even exclusively, the school (teachers, principal) which determines a child’s outcome rather than the child’s personal situation or aptitudes. This is tiresome.

    The author mostly maintains a pretty neutral tone, but slips into liberal rant mode a bit when labeling school attendance boundaries as a “discriminatory policy” which “excludes” local families. Surely, allotting people to school by address was originally chosen because it is simplest and makes the most sense, especially in an era when almost all kids had no choice but to walk. This policy endures, I would imagine, mostly because it’s sensible. Life is unfair, but not always as a result of some vague, unspecified force of evil.

    Dcl, loved the post. Please tell me you are being genuine about your knowledge of the situation because it confirms my preconceptions (so is easy for me to believe).

  14. Very generous of you to respond to my concerns. I really appreciate it.

    You ask if it would be better if students weren’t ‘trapped’ in their schools and mixed with the ‘general population.’ First, this still has assumptions – the idea is that the building or the ‘school’ is the active aqency and the school population are mere passive consumers, a bit as if school were a choice between Whole Foods and Walmart. This assumption is wrong and feeds into incorrect solutions. Thus you frame it as though students were ‘trapped’ in Walmart, so to speak, and need to be bused to the better store, Whole Foods, so they have more choices and are mingled with the ‘general population’ - even though they already are the general population, since by definition ‘general’ includes everyone. I don’t mean to be pedantic. The idea that the students are not the ‘general population’ actually unintentionally reveals the core truth–that the students come from dysfunctional cultures/environments that are not part of the ‘genera’ mainstream culture of success. I realize no one says this out loud but do you see how it’s implicit in the entire idea that they aren’t part of the ‘general population’?

    Second the students do have choices. As a matter of fact, my urban students are given far more opportunities than a regular middle class kid, like my own children. Just for instance, our district partners with top Ivies and offers free summer programs that were unattainable for my own middle class kid because of the cost. They offer mentorship, free after school enrichment programs, free tutoring and so on. Just this semester we offered three days a week after school tutoring in any subject for free. Guess how many kids came? Three. That’s right. Three. The whole week. One year I was doing free standardized test tutoring after school for an entire semester (we get paid by the district)–literally NO ONE came. Well, one time a mom made her son go and he agreed but then he realized his girlfriend wasn’t there like he thought she was, and so he never came again.

    There is a huge disconnect for a multiplicity of reasons between a goal and the tools to reach that goal. Even my bright inner city kids have zero idea of how competitive and big the world is. We are always telling them, we are showing them with our fancy-shmancy technology (I have far better technology here than I did in my upper class district). They just don’t see it. Their parents don’t see it. I mean in general. Some students do and seize the opportunities – I’d say 5% or so. But what about the rest? Why would moving the students to another school change anything? What would be different? Yes, if you take a gifted driven kid and move him/her to an elite private, that’s great. But we’re not talking about the exceptional. I mean for most students. If you move whole blocks of students the culture moves with them. Why would it not? To solve the problem, we must start very early, in infancy. Students arrive in kindergarten very few words, and no letter recognition and terrible behaviors (hitting, spitting, throwing object, running away). The teachers spend most of their time keeping order so the kids can learn. The district itself should start intensive work at this stage, identifying the students at risk–this would be about half. Then they should pull out these kids and give them intensive instruction on reading, behavior, goal setting, self discipline, long term planning (obviously not this fancy in kindergarten). They should go to a special academy for this that has different rules–maybe strict one for these kids, but also room for creativity.

    One of the problems is the difficulty in any real data because no one follows up. They simply lurch from program to program very few years as a new superintendent lands on the district whose goal is to have a line in his resume, eg “Started chrome book initiative”. Just as with college, where no one cares how many graduate but only how many go, in schools the data shows only how much money is spent, how many programs are ‘initiated’, and what their committees have ‘learned.’ So someone makes a proposal like, “Hey! Let’s move half the kids to the ‘good’ school. What could go wrong”"

    They never do a baseline study (moving a portion, letting them stay for three or four years, then seeing how they do). They just use the kids as guinea pigs. It’s also top down. It’s never generated from parents’ ideas or teachers’ ideas. So there is a disconnect between reality and the ideals and there is no buy-in.

    Finally, students like their neighborhood schools. THis is where their friends are. As they get older, they have afternoon activities there. Yes, if you are rich you can pay for a bus or driver to take your kid hither and yon. But these aren’t rich people. There are all sorts of practical considerations. For instance, you are a single mom with 6 kids and no car. Absent a bus how will your kid go to a school 25 minutes away? Or you are a ‘migrant’ worker with 4 kids and no reliable address and you can’t even speak English. Yet these are the families whose kids are performing poorly. So the solution is at best impractical and at worst only adds to their stresses as different kids go to different schools crossing dangerous areas with insecure transportation and an inability to do any after school activity.

    A far better solution, as I said, is to work on the families and the children, starting very early. And have a school for the kids who cannot behave enough to learn. They need help and the other students need to learn. Changing schools will solve none of this.

  15. I was able to track down some more of the info you wanted for 2020 here.

    Using the dashboard you may get info for the different funding sources of each school, and then you’d have to research who provides those pots of money. Still, it does not clearly delineate state funding and local funding per school.

    The best it does is provide state-local delineation for the district.


    The Chicago public school district has 355,156 students.

    The below excludes the funds, about $1.4 billion, needed to finance debt.

    From the local government the district receives $3.5 billion, which is $9,855 per student.
    From the state government it receives $1.8674 billion, which is $5,258 per student.
    From the federal government it receives $732.7 million, which is $2,063 per student.
    From two other funds it receives $219 million, which is $617 per student.

    Total (potentially) available per student funds: $17,793 per student. Of course, there is some spending that doesn’t qualify as educational spending. I’ve already removed debt and capital costs, which are the lion’s share of that, from the tally.

    Chicago then creates a per student funding baseline (called the student-based baseline, aka SBB) of $4,506.93 for FY20, which is a reduction of 74.67% from its funding intake. It allocates funds to students based on a variety of criteria. For example, if you’re from census tract meeting the low income household threshold, you get $920 extra dollars funded for your education - irrespective of your own household income. Why the district can’t allocate these more precisely isn’t addressed, but focussing on individuals undermines the community narrative those infected with socjus wish to apply on all of us.

    Keep in mind that if each student’s education was funded at $17,793 per student (actually less that once non-educational operations costs are removed), it would still be an equity approach. In fact, it would be equitable as well as equal, which is about as fair as one can get. How so?

    Plenty of households in Lincoln’s attendance zone already pay much more than that in property tax and state and federal income taxes. Many of Manierre’s students reside at Marshall Field Garden Apartments, a 10-building complex with 628 units of subsidised housing. To induce landlords to rent to low-income tenants, both the county and the city provide tax abatement and other incentive measures. A knock-on effect of this is fewer property tax dollars going to pay for schools.

    Living in public and subsidised housing need not doom children. The Chicago Housing Authority owns the Cabrini Row Houses, and because this is a government entity, it pays no property tax. Yet the neighbourhood is served by Ogden Elementary School, one of the city’s better ones, having the same commendable ranking as Lincoln - and also receiving about $2,200 less per student than Manierre.

    BTW, Chicago’s worst neighbourhood is West Englewood. What’s happening with the schools there?

    Earle ES

    Montessori of Englewood ES
    No financials and student demographic data provided on the report card. It is ranked commendable.

    Henderson ES

    Randolph ES

    O’Toole ES

    Langford ES

    Miles Davis Magnet Engineering ES

    Claremont Academy ES

    Providence Englewood Magnet ES
    No financial and other demographic data on the report card. It is an underperforming school.

    Wentworth ES

    Of the area’s ten elementary schools, eight are underperforming or worse. This includes the two magnet schools. Only the Montessori of Englewood ES and Earle ES earn a commendable ranking. All eight with financial data presented in the report card are well funded, far better than Lincoln, and yet…

    In the same school attendance area, the school district opened a new $85 million STEM high school.

    This is for feeder elementary schools largely comprised of students who can’t do maths. But put STEM on the high school’s name and we may continue on with the delusion.

    Meanwhile, attack Lincoln and the area’s residents for perpetrating injustice. Lincoln builds an annex and there’s an uproar. Ignore the mess in West Englewood. Demand more equity funding because it’s been shown not to work. Cloward-Piven strategy at work here.

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