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NYC study: 10 years of choice has not altered link between demography, destiny

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 25, 2012 03:24 PM

With Philadelphia firmly committed to creating a "portfolio" of schools as a way to improve outcomes for all students, it seems worthwhile to take note of a study just released by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.

The study found that after 10 years of school choice and expanding high school options in New York City, "college readiness rates are still largely predicted by the demographics of a student's home neighborhood." It concludes, "choice has not been sufficient to increase systemic equity of opportunity."

This study focused on high schools, whereas Philadelphia's school choice initiative extends through the K-12 spectrum. There are other ways in which New York and Philadelphia are not directly comparable.

Nevertheless, there are ways in which these findings might offer guidance to Philadelphia, where policymakers and civic leaders are determined to alter the "demography is destiny" scenario -- to close the so-called achievement gap -- through creating more "high-quality" seats in schools.

The big challenge of this effort is to make sure that the initiative is not simply shuffling around the relatively high-performing kids among schools, but making low-performing kids into high-performing ones. This means providing high-quality options to students in the city's poorest neighborhoods consistently from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Philadelphia is trying this through the Renaissance Schools initiative, and some early data on test scores and on student attrition rates seem to indicate that progress is being made. 

But there are still vast inequities is opportunity across the city for students. Outside the Renaissance conversion schools, which are required to serve a particular neighborhood, most charter schools are hardly clamoring to enroll the hardest-to-educate kids.

And as in New York, Philadelphia has a complicated high school choice process that studies have shown throw up roadblocks to students from the city's most impoverished areas who have attended the most underresourced schools.

The Annenberg study broke down college readiness scores -- measured by the New York State Regents exams -- by neighborhood of origin, regardless of the particular high school the student attended. It determined that factors such as single parenthood, unemployment rate, and mother's education level were most closely correlated with college readiness rates.

The biggest single factor: racial/ethnic composition. "The strongest negative relationship to students' college readiness scores was the percentage of Black and Latino residents in the city's neighborhoods -- the higher the percentage of Black and Latino residents in specific neighborhoods, the lower the college readiness scores of the high school graduates."

Overall, only 13 percent of Black and Latino high school graduates in New York City, compared with 50 percent of Whites and 50 percent of Asians, were determined to be college-ready.

So, what will change this? The report points out that in-school resources to help students navigate the maze of high school choices are inequitably distributed by neighborhood. The poorer the neighborhood, the less likely are students to be in schools with a wealth of counselors and other supports to help them find the right high school option. That is also the case in Philadelphia. More choices don't necessarily translate into more access for the students who are lowest-performing.

Another way to fix this, the report suggests, is for the city to "invest heavily in school improvement strategies to increase the capacity of all schools." But right now, Philadelphia is in such a financial bind that it has no capacity for adequate investment in schools in all neighborhoods.

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Comments (14)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 26, 2012 5:51 am
"More choices don't necessarily translate into more access for the students who are lowest-performing." There also have to be the necessary resources in schools with students with the most needs. Our society does not want to get over the "pull yourself by your bootstraps" legend. Poverty is real and has real consequences. Shuffling a students into so-called "high performing seats" won't change poverty for the majority. There has to be the will to have a "war on poverty" that is as important as the "war on drugs." (I'm not advocating for the "war on drugs" but shifting the funding to a "war on poverty" might actually address both inequity and violence.)
Submitted by Dr. Jill Bartoli (not verified) on October 26, 2012 10:37 am
Yes to the War on Poverty! The first War on Poverty was subverted by the Vietnam War, so that there was only one year that we actually focused on eliminating poverty. How can we join together in a broadly organized but focused approach to end our disgraceful 20% child poverty rate ? It is no surprise that the high educational success rate in Finland is accompanied by a correspondingly low 3% child poverty rate. We can do this. How do we build a united coalition to get the job done? One of the good aspects of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education (boldapproach.org) is the clear message about inequality and how we might provide equal opportunity for all children that includes pre-school and healthcare. Can this be a part of the united coalition?
Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on October 26, 2012 10:45 am

Yet another indication that any reform strategy that denies the link between poverty and eduational outcomes is bound to fail.  Not a surprise that Mayor Bloomberg and the Hedge Fund school reformers want to isolate school reform from a fight to eliminate poverty and institutional racism.   

Submitted by southphillyparent (not verified) on October 27, 2012 2:42 pm
No one -- not a person -- in the reform movement denies that is is more difficult to educate kids growing up in poverty. The question is: since we haven't solved poverty yet, do we just give up on trying to use education to break the cycle? This article is mind boggling... Dale basically says we ought to just pack up and go home when it comes to trying to improve educational outcomes until we've achieved demographic equality. "Sorry poor kids, you came to school behind and there's nothing we do about it until big bad Mayor Nutter and Governor Corbett spend more money." More money would be nice... and they should spend more. But wait around until they do? No thanks. I suppose that's easy for the mostly middle class readers, writers, and commenters on the Notebook to do.
Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on October 27, 2012 3:49 pm

Diane Ravitch has made the important point that the only significant narrowing of the racial achievment gap occured during the period when there was some political will to combat poverty and invest federal dollars in iner cities.   The same people who are aggressively pressing for a school choice agenda based on privatization, high stakes testing and underming the power of teachers unions, are the ones who are calling for dramatic cuts in spending on social services,  rolling back government regulation of business and a tax code that favors the wealthly.   A serious struggle  to eliminate  poverty necessairly would challenge their political and economic power.   Thus we are urged to limit our concerns to education.

No one is suggesting that in the absence of adequate funding or a broad resdistribution of wealth we should do nothing.  Things like empowering teachers and parents as partners in school governance, for example, could be done without any significant cost.    However we need to be clear that to sustain most reforms (i.e. lower class size, universal early childhood education, a high quality curriculum) will cost money and we sholud challenge  elected officials and reform advocates who say we can do it on the cheap.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 30, 2012 3:54 am
The education system that produced those results from the 50's through the 60's looks nothing like the current system, or the monopoly public/ union system of 10 or 20 years ago. Teachers unions did not exist (Philly 1965) or were in their first years of organization. Even in Philadelphia public employee unions had not taken hold (thereafter redirecting much public spending for their benefit). This period was before the "professionalization" of teaching and ed school dominance. And before the associated takeover of the ed bureaucracies by social justice academics who focused on negative equalization schemes (bussing being the most obvious) that helped destroy city neighborhoods and drive students to the suburbs. It is indisputable now that the design of entitlement welfare policies of the 1960s greatly contributed to the decline in the traditional nuclear family among poorer Americans and the rise of illegitimacy, both now universally recognized as negatively correlated with educational acheivement. It took many years for the welfare incentive system to take hold and its unintended consequences recognized. This is not some hard right notion, but facts and observations first noted by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a truly great American.
Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on October 30, 2012 11:24 am

Ravtich is talking about the 70s into the early 80s, not the 50s and 60s so your right wing narrative doesn't  really work.   She cites, among other things, the impact of modest desegregation efforts and investments in early childhood education.   

The number of black children living in poverty is the same today as it was in the 1960s.  The dismantling of public assistance has hardly stemmed either poverty or the decline of the tradtional nuclear family.  

Submitted by Dr. Jill Bartoli (not verified) on October 26, 2012 10:11 am
How telling it is that the political noise about "right to life" does not include the right to a healthy life that is free from poverty and despair and filled with equal educational opportunities. We need to speak out on this!
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on October 28, 2012 7:16 pm
The elections of 2010 galvanized the Tea Party Agenda, ALEC and the 1% ers and they've been going strong ever since. Of course, they mostly focus on the large inner cities where poverty and despair run hand in hand. Obama has not done much to stop or even slow the tide but he's the far better choice than Romney. Unless The People mobilize together against this cold blooded attack on the Middle Class and especially the Poor, it will only continue. The political courage to make all this right, doesn't exist right now. Money talks..............bull....walks.
Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on October 27, 2012 8:21 pm
I am so loving this conversation!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 30, 2012 3:25 am
Ed Phds: Of course demographics and/or socioeconomics affect outcomes. It always has and it always will. The school district can not solve poverty or eliminate inequality and should stop pretending that is its mission. Simply put, this Ed phd obsession with creating "systemic equity" distracts from the mission of constantly and incrementally improving how education is delivered. Even in communist systems, the children of party leaders had better opportunities than other children. Look at China where it has taken less than 2 generations for the children of original revolutionaries to drive Porches around their British boarding schools. In what system is this not the case? You know what would actually be an interesting study- give ED Phd's a series of policy options with odds of success: Faced with the choice of a 90% chance of improving minority rate from 13 to 25%, or a 10% chance of reaching parity (50% for whites or asians), My bet is the vast majority Ed PHD will pick the parity option in every case, despite the fact that it causes a substantial (7.1% here, or 10.8%-3.7%) of the minority population will lose. Just recognize this for what it is: vanity. Prioritizing ones ideological self-satisfaction over acheiving actual improvement in education. Of course, focusing your mission on the impossible also provides some measure of job security and unaccountability to the public you supposedly serve. But I think people are getting wise to the game there.
Submitted by southphillyparent (not verified) on October 30, 2012 3:11 pm
To try and ascribe the ed reform movement to ALEC and the tea party is flat out disingenuous. The reality is, while there are of course anti-government proponents of school choice, the vast majority of the people doing the work -- working in schools, charter schools, advocacy organizations, and reform nonprofits are card carrying liberal democrats. Can you honestly call Rahm Emanuel a tea partier?? Arne Duncan?? DEMOCRATS for ed reform? Teach For America where over a third of the teachers are people of color and come from low-income backgrounds themselves? It's an unthinking throwback to try to make heroic everyone who happens to agree with your brand of advocacy and to vilify those who might not think a return to the 1970's and 80's is the best thing for kids of color in the system.
Submitted by annonymous (not verified) on October 30, 2012 3:43 pm
Teach for America, Arne Duncan and Rahm Emanuel - like the Walton Foundation, Gates Foundation, Broad Foundation, etc. - are not progressive. They are reactionary - attempting to privatize an institution - education - which has been a public good for nearly 200 years. They are also extremely anti-worker. Teach for America sees teachers as widgets - dispensable. There is little respect for experience and expertise unless it comes from TFA and their cheerleader foundations. Emanuel and Duncan are anti-union and anti-teacher - just look at Chicago. So, yes, they belong in the Tea Party and ALEC camp because they are also reactionary.
Submitted by HS teach (not verified) on October 30, 2012 6:59 pm
Rahm Emanuel, Arne Duncan and Teach for America are the embodiment of the worst brand of liberalism: the neoliberalism. Very few kids of color benefit from it: Sasha and Malia, Olivia, maybe few others, the ones whose parents are already well off. The vast majority of kids of color are thrown deeper and deeper into poverty and destitution under this system which stresses privatization, the rule of the market, elimination of the concept of "public good", and undermining support for public services.

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