Must Read, Public School Edition

Between graduations, moving-up ceremonies, and the rush toward the end of the school year, June is a busy time. But after reading this article, titled “Worlds Apart,” published this past weekend in the New York Times Magazine, I hope you can find some spare time to read it–and then to share it with others in DC.

The author of the piece, Nikole Hannah-Jones, is a public school parent in New York City. Like DC’s public schools, New York’s public schools are very segregated: of its 1 million (!) kids in public school, just 15% are white, but those students attend only 11% of public schools. This results in most children of color attending schools that are overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, attended by other children of color, many of whom are poor–and the attendant negative consequences for those poor children.

(Hmm: seems we in DC have seen this before.)

The author details the decision she and her husband made to send their child to their in bounds, majority black, majority poor, under-enrolled elementary school, with “dismal” test scores.

(Hmm: we don’t have any of those–well, except when we do.)

By contrast, another public elementary school close by the author’s, with a much larger white (and wealthier) population, was overcrowded. When city officials told 50 of its inbounds families that they would be guaranteed a seat at the author’s under-enrolled elementary school instead of their inbounds one, they protested, despite the geographic proximity of the two schools. A public meeting was organized, at which concerns about safety and test scores at the author’s school were voiced.

Never mind that the author thought the teachers and the curriculum at her school were excellent and that its students showed great strides in achievement–even with those “dismal” test scores.

(Hmm: seems we have heard this before.)

As a DC public school parent, there are two pieces of this narrative that are compelling to me, because they are, well, common in my experiences here:

–That public meeting about the overcrowding and the decision to move kids from one school to another “involved 50 children in a system of more than one million,” as the author noted. Nonetheless, the meeting’s organizers “had summoned a state senator, a state assemblywoman, a city council member, the city comptroller, and the staff members of several other elected officials. It had rarely been clearer to me how segregation and integration, at their core, are about power and who gets access to it.”

Political power wielded to benefit schools attended by those who have political power–seems we have seen this before (and now have an entire PowerPoint presentation to document it with regard to modernizations).

–That meeting, as recounted by the author, made clear the belief of many that school choice, whether done by lottery or real estate, is utterly blind to sociological and racial factors. A Columbia professor, who has studied how white parents in New York choose schools for their kids, noted that “in a post-racial era, we don’t have to say it’s about race or the color of the kids in the building. We can concentrate poverty and kids of color and then fail to provide the resources to support and sustain those schools, and then we can see a school full of black kids and then say, ‘Oh, look at their test scores.’  It’s all very tidy now, this whole system.”

(Hmm: seems we have seen this before, too.)

For all the heavy breathing here in DC about equity and its attendant pollyanna propaganda about the unmitigated virtues of school choice, perhaps for once we here in DC can have a public conversation like this article, which explores what we are really talking about in our public education policy and discussions.

Just don’t hold your breath.

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