Divided We Fail (Part 2)-Overcoming the Obstacles

So what about the obvious political, logistical and financial obstacles to achieving better income integration in our public schools. Thankfully, we can draw upon the practical experience of more than 80 school boards in the U.S.  that have successfully undertaken this approach over the past 3 decades.

Again, from the Century Foundation task force report on the Common School, “We acknowledge there are serious obstacles to integration and recommend a series of policies to overcome each:

1)To Overcome Logistical Challenges–the geographical separation of low-income and middle-class children–we recommend, first, a policy of public school choice, accompanied by fairness guidelines. School officials then honor those choices with an eye to promoting integrated schools, a system now successfully employed in Cambridge, Mass.; Montclair, New Jersey; and elsewhere. We also strongly advocate inclusionary zoning policies of the kind used in Montgomery County, Maryland, and a number of other communities to promote economic housing integration. So long as 75 percent of American students are assigned to neighborhood public schools, housing policy is school policy, and educators ignore that reality at their peril.

2)To Overcome the Political Challenges–the concerns middle-class families may have with integration–we point to the the large body of evidence that suggests middle-class students perform successfully in integrated settings and that all children benefit from exposure to diversity. We advocate using proven incentives to lure low-income and middle-class families to integrated settings through choice rather than coercion.

3)To Overcome Financial Obstacles to Integration–the fact that middle-class families are unlikely to send their children to schools in poor neighborhoods unless those schools are well-funded–we advocate coupling new investment with integration in a manner that avoids the old integration versus spending debate. Either approach alone is likely to fail: we reject the view that integration can occur without education spending, just as surely as we reject that spending without integration is sufficient. Low-income schools are caught in a vicious cycle: significant school improvement is unlikely to occur without a strong middle-class presence in the school; but financial investments must be made to lure middle-class families in the first place. We advocate taking both issues on at once: investing in schools–modernizing school facilities, reducing class sizes, improving teacher training–but in tandem with conscious policies to promote integration. More generous education spending is not a substitute for integration: it is a pre-requisite.”

New Chair of Poverty Roundtable

I will be moderating a media conference at 11am today at the spectacular redesigned Central Library announcing a new Chair for Hamilton’s Roundtable on Poverty Reduction. My buddy Mark Chamberlain steps aside after 5 years of accomplishment and leaves big shoes to fill. But his replacement will be equal to the challenge and the important work continues.

Closing the achievement gap in public education

Participating in a workshop on educational reforms in American public schools led by several major US family foundations. Despite several great local success stories, without system-wide changes it will take 105 years at the current pace to close the achievement gap in public education. Depressing.

The good news is that 80 local school districts in the US have now made the courageous commitment to ensure all their public schools integrate kids from across the socioeconomic spectrum. Overwhelming evidence proves that mixed income schools tend to perform well and schools that segregate poverty mostly fail.

Goodbye to the Big Apple

Conference adjourned. Two hours to kill before departure so we made the pilgrimage to Harlem to see the venerable Apollo Theatre where so many great black performers appeared over the past century. Then checked out the Lincoln Centre and the Metropolitan Opera House before dashing to JFK to catch our flight back to the Hammer.

Gregory Church a Tour-de-Force Performance

What’s New York City without theatre and great food?

After a full day of business, we snuck off to see an extraordinary off-Broadway play. Run, don’t walk to see Daniel Kitson in the “Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church”. Kitson is a quirky British actor who supplies a tour de force, one-man performance that is guaranteed to move and inspire at St. Ann’s Warehouse. Then great pizza at Grimaldi’s.

Rick Kahlenberg on income integration

Spent a fascinating 90 minutes with Rick Kahlenberg at the Century Foundation in NYC. Rick is America’s leading voice on the importance of income integration in schools as a means of improving academic performance and lifting kids out of poverty.

Very encouraging that 80 school districts in America have now adopted income integration as a fundamental goal in locating magnet programs and developing school boundaries. Even with great teachers, schools made up exclusively of poor kids are almost certain to perform badly while mixed income schools almost always perform at a much higher level.

Certainly instructive for Hamilton as we come to terms with the destructive effects of concentrated poverty on health and educational outcomes.