A Simple Solution to School Segregation

The basics of desegregation are simple.  It just takes will.  NYC’s gifted and talented programs and the specialized high schools are some the most segregated classrooms in the City.  And despite a plethora of studies and plans, little has changed in recent years.

The most exclusive public schools, the gateways to real mobility, have largely excluded low income students of color.  One simple change in admission could change this.

What if we reserved 40% of spots in our best schools for low income or historically underserved “minority” students?  That’s what the Brooklyn School of Inquiry is doing as described in an Atlantic article, and I think that’s a more hopeful approach than anything else NYC has tried.

And why not something like that in Oakland- saving 40% or 50% of seats at high performing schools or in high performing programs for low income students, historically disadvantaged minorities, and maybe other disadvantaged groups, like foster kids or newcomers?

And as I have written before, and more amazingly, district staff have floated the idea of capping segregation at individual sites as a matter of enrollment.  We could change the game by changing the rules of student assignment.

Really, why not?

Oakland can become a leader in integration, but this won’t happen by itself.  It’s up to us.  The current rules, differential access based on family resources, and patterns of individual choice are contributing to a toxic segregated stew in our schools.

Time to throw out the old recipes and write some new ones.

Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving at Home

Holidays on the inside are just like those on the outside, but they aren’t.  The feelings are the same but the sterile setting, armed guards and air of control are stifling.  And for these thanksgivings, there is a time clock ticking, with shifts of visitors coming in in and out.

But part of it feels the same,

Families crowd together in their best clothes, hugs sometimes (depending on the rules) are exchanged.  And those dinner table conversations are held across institutional seatings, with food coming out of vending machines and microwaves replacing ovens.    There are a lot of kids.

How is this person, how is that, how is the job, the family?  From him

Are you Ok?  From me.  I know better than to ask whether he is good.

I am so glad I didn’t have to go visit this year.

The painful ritual of visitation

For Santa Rita, you had to get up at the break of dawn, a line forms before the doors open, and folks bring folding chairs which form a gauntlet from the parking lot to the entrance.  Sometimes you could wait all day and the vising hours would just run out—so nothing.

I looked at visiting in Beaumont Texas, but they made that about as hard as possible, and nobody ever visited him there in the couple of years there.  Then it was Terminal Island.

Interesting name.

You drive out past shipping berths in Long Beach and there it is.  But nothing is promised.  Your shirt has “colors” on it.  You can’t come in.

Your pants are khaki, can’t come in.  You drive back to town and buy a new shirt—it’s a corner store and they just have UCLA USC stuff, you drive back.  No sports teams the guard says.

There are no written rules, they just tell you when you have violated the dress code—that’s it.   Time is ticking, you are trying to make dinner at your place, have another couple hours drive back, and have spent an hour or so trying to dress right to get in.

This is the bullshit I am going through and I am a civilian.  Can only imagine what these guys go through.

Getting frustrated can get you booted out too, and I am getting frustrated.  A guard pulls me aside and says to turn the shirt inside out and it will be OK.

Why couldn’t they have just said that?  Why do they make this so hard?

But I can’t complain, both because it may get me kicked out, and also because this is nothing compared to what he goes through.

Where your good time, can be yanked from you for looking at someone wrong.  Where grudges are deep, and correctional officers sometimes facilitate them.

Almost everyone on the inside is getting out, sometime.  Most of them went in young and dumb, making bad or desperate choices, or a combination.  Who they are when they come out depends on their experiences and what they have waiting for them.  And that’s what I worry about.

Holidays on the inside are a lot like holidays on the outside, but they aren’t.

Superintendent Wilson’s Legacy in Oakland

News broke today that Oakland Unified’s superintendent, Antwan Wilson was moving on to become the new school chief in DC.  This has been a tumultuous couple of years in Oakland, marked at times by divisive rhetoric and deadlocks, but also some real progress that will last beyond this superintendent.

While the media and advocates have tended to focus on the charter school question in Oakland, and the bloody battle over a single application for all public schools, charter and district.  That missed the most important legacies and the real progress.

Real Progress and a different approach

Improving services and results for African American students– the superintendent didn’t start the African American Male Achievement Initiative (AAMAI) or the corresponding program for Young Black Women (AAFAI), but he did keep them moving and highlight them.  And it was his administration, building on the work of Sultanah Corbett and colleagues at MLK, that supported the development of a dedicated office for young Black women.

Different children often experience the schools differently, facing a range of explicit and implicit biases.  Creating dedicated offices, and funding them, is a huge step towards equity and its paying off in rapidly advancing graduation rates.  This is working.

Significantly improved programs for English learners– OUSD has historically provided very substandard services to ELLs.  This is a predictably large segment of students, roughly 1 in 3, who received predictably substandard services.   When the Superintendent came in, Stanford was conducting a review of services—the results were disturbing, with widespread bullying, very weak supports, and little academic content for ELLs — and changes were made.  And again we can see real significant changes in reclassification of students to English proficient.

Financial stability– Boring but important, the district solidified its financial status and improved its bond rating, which will save millions of dollars.  Money that can be spent on students.  For those who were here in the District’s bankruptcy, you get how important it is to have our bank statement straight.  We lost control of the district when we couldn’t manage the finances—and I don’t think anyone can argue that that was good for kids, or that the state administrator was better than any elected superintendent.

A better vision– We are slowly moving from the “one size fits all” model of schooling, and starting to understand and address the fact that different groups of students tend to be affected differently in the system, intentionally designing sustainable programs to understand and support vulnerable populations.  The AAMAI and AAFAI, are great examples of this, but also the programs for newcomers, and other offices are under study.

I also appreciated the district taking some calculated risks in supporting new schools and programs like Thrival Academies, which will take Oakland students to study abroad in Thailand.  This surely would have died somewhere in the district bureaucracy without leadership.  He showed an understanding of how important it is for our students to have these experiences and to be supported in who they are and growing into that person they can be.

I always felt the Superintendent, saw himself in our kids in Oakland.  He saw the promise that we have and also the challenges that many children face, and understood the role that schools can play in changing trajectories.  At times, maybe his eyes were bigger than his stomach, trying to do too much too soon, without really knowing the capacity to successfully implement change.

His move towards more inclusionary setting in special education was met with substantial resistance.  Some of the school turnaround work seemed too hasty and unsupported.  And the aborted move to do common enrollment with district and charter schools, which over 70% of parents supported, but met with predictable interest group resistance and ambivalence from many of the schools themselves, and ultimately failed.

Obviously others in Oakland have different opinions, and strong ones, though public support for the District and its leadership are at historic highs.  But when the smoke has cleared, and the rhetoric has died down, I do think we are better off in Oakland, and particularly for some of our most vulnerable populations we are seeing real, demonstrable, progress.

This never comes down to one leader who makes this happen. It’s the hard daily work in schools, communities, and homes, which will continue.  But empathy and vision matter, and can set a context for improvement.

As the superintendent leaves, I hope we don’t stall or stray.  That we build off this work and continue the progress in communities. We are moving in basically the right direction.  But the progress will, as it always has, depend on us.

 

Vote for Justice with Your Feet- Take the “Two Tours Pledge”

Change starts with us, it always has, and always will. No place is this more real than in school segregation, where thousands of individual choices tend to reinforce racial and class separation and continue the cleavages emanating from America’s original sin of slavery.

And for too long, the hard work of racial progress has fallen on Black and Brown folks, and those lower on the economic ladder.  Now it’s time for allies to take action.  And all that is being asked is that you visit and with an open mind seriously consider some diverse schools.

The schools are getting better in Oakland, there are a diverse range of choices, and for those families practically able to make choices, please take some time to really see what is happening with the public schools.  Please take the “Two Tours Pledge”, don’t just look up the schools with 10s on GreatSchools.net, but take some time to get to know your choices and hopefully some folks will start to vote for justice with their feet.

Particularly in areas like Northwest Oakland, where less than half of eligible children attend a public middle school (district or charter), and less than a third attend a public high school (district or charter).  These are parents with choices that are opting out, and they could really help by opting in.

I am borrowing an idea from the Integrated schools blog here. But it’s a good one I hope folks will follow.  Please take the pledge.

The Two Tours Pledge

As a Parent-with-Choice in support of the fundamental premise that all children have the right to a quality education, and with the belief that in choosing a school for my child I am also building the world they will live in as an adult,

  • I pledge to tour 2 schools that serve a majority of students from different racial/socioeconomic backgrounds than my family. I will tour these two schools regardless of their test scores, reputation or any “bad/scary” stories I have heard about them.  I will tour these two schools with an open mind and heart.
  • I will find at least 2 positive things to say about each.
  • I will tell 2 parent-friends about those tours & the nice things I found.
  • I will encourage 2 parent-friends to also take this pledge.
  • Furthermore, I pledge to ask 2 questions (or more!) about socioeconomic, racial/ethnic and linguistic diversity at all the schools I tour/consider for my child.

 

That’s it. The pledge isn’t asking you to enroll your children at either of these schools, or recruit your friends to enroll their kids there. It’s simply inviting you to check out two schools that you weren’t considering – that might have a reputation that caused you to dismiss them as not right for your family – and ask yourself if you could envision your child there. Ask yourself if maybe this school could be good.

As for that last item… when you are touring the schools that were already on the top of your list, the schools with the robotics labs and the PTA sponsored Musical Theatre club, and all the fancy programs that affluent-segregated schools provide… ask them two questions about the socio-economic AND racial-ethnic diversity at that school. (Here is a sample of some questions to ask)

How does this help build a more unified future for our country?

Our public schools are more segregated than ever before and unless we make conscious and deliberate decisions, our children will most likely attend school with kids just like them. While that might feel “safe” and comfortable now, the world that prepares them for is a continuation of the polarization that our country is currently experiencing.

There are piles of research showing that middle class kids are not academically harmed by attending a high-free/reduced-lunch school, and the benefits for kids of all backgrounds being educated together are transformational for kid and country, now and in the future. All children win when all children are together.

Read the research, hear the stories (we have compiled some resources here).  Integration doesn’t have to be sacrifice.

Because YOU – not any school – are the most influential thing in your child’s life, because you are not only choosing the school that will help your kid become a successful, empathetic and well-adjusted adult, you are building the world they will live in.

What do you want that world to look like?

Take the pledge.

 

Right Now We Are Numb. But We Will Rise and Fight for Kids.-Jumoke Hinton

The election of Donald Trump has evoked pain and emotion for so many. I read their blog posts. I watch them protest. I see their tears.

And yet living and breathing in a Black and female body in America, I feel numb. My inner thoughts tell me not much will change.

WE HAVE ALWAYS STRUGGLED FOR EQUALITY

We have always struggled for equality, for our voice to be heard, for a seat at the table. And the struggle continues.

I have no hope that a Trump administration will have any will to invest in education for all students. After what I’ve seen from the history of our country’s treatment of Black people, of the direction Trump’s party wants to go, of the profound record of educational injustice that exists even just in my city of Oakland, I expect nothing.

Right now I’m numb.

But I feel something else coming. That tingle. That urge to be awake in the face of profound injustice.

We know that it is better to struggle than to be numb. We know not to be depressed. Not to give up. We know there is no more important time to be woke.

Now we rise up.

THE YEAR OF HOPE AND CHANGE

I’m fortunate enough to have learned the struggle in 2008, working shoulder-to-shoulder with Obama for America. I was running for Oakland School Board, and I was building a ground game by getting the word out about hope and change for a school district that was coming out from under the grips of state control.

Obama’s 2008 campaign politicized a new generation of the civil rights movement. A hip-hop generation was spreading the message that was raising the money and securing the votes to elect our first Black president.

And educational justice was a centerpiece of Obama’s message. He came from Chicago, where future education secretary Arne Duncan led a movement to provide quality public schools to all children, by any means necessary. Where charter schools were shifting the deficit narrative of Black men as an endangered species to one where Black boys were brilliant. Where efforts to turnaround struggling schools were showing that we were going to hold our public schools accountable for educating all kids.

Once in Washington, they took America and the status quo by storm. The need to reform was inspiring leaders across the 50 states to consider real accountability for learning and a common set of high standards for America’s children.

PUT POLITICS ASIDE AND RETHINK HOW WE EDUCATE THE CHILDREN

Race to the Top took it further by providing even more financial incentives for reform. But for me the question was never how will you compete for the money. It was how will you compete for the educational lives of children who are consistently sentenced to the bottom 5 percent of schools? Will you bring your best team and your best thinking? Are you willing to put politics aside and rethink how we educate the children who have been disenfranchised for generations?

In Oakland, we were right there, pushing and redefining ourselves, inspired by our new national leaders.

You had Secretary Duncan using his position to talk about class and race and the school-to-prison pipeline. The Department of Education awakened the Office of Civil Rights from its dormant state, and suddenly you had a Black woman attorney, Russlynn Ali, leading the effort to look at civil rights violations state by state and school district by school district.

I don’t know all the details of how the department was run, but I had full trust that there was a president who cared enough about children and communities, both rural and urban, to lift up America’s most precious resource.

A LACK OF TRUST

I do not have the same trust when it comes to our president-elect.

From him I have only heard clueless and uninformed ramblings about taking away the Common Core standards, which shows he doesn’t even understand the basics of the federal role in education. Clearly, he never even got the Cliffs Notes version of ESEA.

If he did, then he would probably be happy to learn that we education reformers basically let states off the hook when writing the newest version of our country’s education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The federal government has a lot less ability to hold states accountable for providing an equitable education to all kids. States have a lot more leeway to just keep things the same and demonstrate harmful bias against students.

I’M CERTAIN A TRUMP ADMINISTRATION WON’T EVEN BEGIN TO HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE.

Maybe some states will work to fully educate their students. But I’m certain a Trump administration won’t even begin to hold them accountable. Hell, it’s rumored that he wants to abolish the education department altogether. And when states are left to their own devices, we know what happens—poor children, children of color, and children who don’t speak English as a first language will be even less protected and possibly invisible.

So now that we won’t have that great leadership in Washington, we have to find it in ourselves and in our communities to rise up as strong advocates demanding educational justice as a priority.

We benefited from a presidential administration that showed up unapologetic for our most vulnerable youth. Now we must find it in ourselves. It’s our job to listen to that tingle of resistance. That urge to join the struggle.

Now is no time to feel numb. It’s a time to rise up.

Jumoke Hinton

Guest Blogger
Board Member, Oakland Unified School District
Oakland, California

Jumoke Hinton is a board member of the Oakland Unified School District and a co-founder of the Parent Leadership and Engagement Academy Initiative, which serves parents and families in West Oakland.

For the past two decades, she has been a community and youth development consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area. She collaborated with California Tomorrow to create programs to help parents navigate the public school system. Hinton has also co-facilitated diversity and youth development workshops in with the Community Network of Youth Development, California and other statewide programs.