New Study of Boston Charter Schools Shows Huge Learning Gains for City’s Special Education Students & English Language Learners
Charter schools in Boston significantly boost the academic performance of English language learners and special needs students compared with traditional district schools, a new study finds. Pupils in both categories see test score gains in core subjects when enrolled in charters, and postsecondary outcomes like college enrollment are also improved.
The study, authored by Tufts University economist Elizabeth Setren, was circulated by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute in July. Released as a working paper, it has not yet undergone peer review.
Its release may complicate popular narratives around charters both in Boston and elsewhere. A common critique leveled against the publicly funded, privately operated schools is that they enroll smaller numbers of students facing learning challenges. Recent research has confirmed that traditional district schools across the country are more likely than charters to educate disabled students, though the disparity seems to be shrinking.
Traditional Schools Enroll Higher Proportions of Disabled Students Than Charters, Though the Gap Is Shrinking, Study Finds
The study is also the latest pointing to strong results from charter schools in Boston. Years of research have indicated that the city’s schools of choice successfully attack learning gaps that put low-income and minority students at a disadvantage. Another study published this spring (and also featuring Setren as a co-author) found that charter schools massively expanded between 2010 and 2015 without seeing any diminishment in their academic results.
In an interview with The 74, Setren said that she was “very surprised” to discover that special education and ELL students were well represented among charter school applicants. Because charters often remove classifications from those pupils, instead moving them into general education settings where they are less likely to receive specialized services, it can be deceptive to contrast overall numbers of special needs and ELL students between the two sectors, she noted.
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“Enrolling in a charter school actually changes the likelihood that you keep your special education or English language learner status,” Setren said. “So comparing average outcomes of special education and ELL students in charter schools with those in Boston public schools is going to miss the nuance; they’re not comparing the same students. The proper way to do that would be to look at who had special education or ELL status when they applied to a charter school.”
She set out to do just that, gathering admissions lottery data for 30 charter elementary, middle and high schools between the 2003-04 and 2014-15 school years. That information allowed her to track English learners by their degree of language proficiency at the time they entered a charter school lottery and special education students according to the severity of their learning challenges.
By following ELL and special education figures over time, Setren found that enrolling in a charter school increases the chances that students from both groups will lose their respective designations. Those with a special education status at the time of their charter school lottery are 11.8 percentage points more likely to have that status removed at the time of enrollment than those in a traditional school; English language learners in charters are 31.8 percentage points more likely to have that status removed.
The academic effects of attending charter schools, as measured by scores on standardized tests, are immense. A year of charter school attendance reduces achievement gaps with typical, native-language students for both special education students (by 30 percent in math and 20 percent in English) and especially English language learners (by 84 percent in math and 39 percent in English).
Notably, Setren writes, the scale of those improvements is comparable to that achieved by other charter students who were never designated as having special needs or being English language learners. In other words, Boston charter schools improved the academic achievement of those categories of students roughly as much as their non-special-needs, non-ELL students — even while moving them into inclusive classrooms at higher rates than traditional public schools.
That finding suggests that other schools can boost academic outcomes for students facing learning challenges while providing fewer traditional specialized services, Setren argues. Instead, “increased focus on general school quality investments can improve special education and ELL student outcomes.”
“Those practices that really stand out as being highly correlated with successful charters in Boston are high-intensity tutoring, data-driven instruction, more instructional time,” she said. “In a lot of cases, tutoring and individualized attention [are] serving all students, including those who may be struggling or have special needs … We consistently see that these charter practices that are common in Boston are the same set of practices that are highly related to the charters that serve special education students and English language learners well.”
The improvements aren’t limited to test scores. Special education students at charter schools are 11.3 percentage points more likely to be eligible for the state’s John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, which pays full tuition to Massachusetts public universities; ELLs are 28.7 percentage points more likely to receive the scholarship.
Improved college outcomes are the result. By Setren’s estimation, attending a charter school roughly doubles the chance that an ELL will enroll in a four-year college, and roughly quadruples the chance that a special education student will graduate from a two-year college.
Challenging Charter Critics, New Study Finds that as Sector Enrollment Grows, So Do Test Scores for Black and Hispanic Students
What happens to traditional school districts when charter schools come to town? Do they offer families new, high-quality educational options and help spread better teaching techniques? Or do they represent unwanted competition, swiping students and funding from districts until academic performance begins to suffer?
It’s a debate that divides much of the education community and is increasingly encroaching into politics and advocacy. School choice advocates point to signs that district schools see improvement in student test scores and attendance when charters open nearby. Critics cite research suggesting that the presence of charters leads districts to hemorrhage money. While politicians seem increasingly reluctant to touch the issue, educators have energetically defended both positions.
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Now a new study finds striking evidence that the presence of charter schools in urban areas unmistakably boosts the average achievement of all black and Hispanic students while not detracting from the achievement of white students. The phenomenon is particularly apparent in larger cities, though minority pupils are shown to selectively benefit from the presence of charters in rural school districts as well.
The study, released today by the reform-oriented Thomas B. Fordham Institute, is among the first to examine the question of how charter schools impact all students within a geographic area. While much research — in particular, a series of influential publications by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes — exists directly comparing the academic impact of charters versus traditional public schools, this one looks at how the performance of all students, in both district and charter schools, is affected as charter school enrollment grows.
Although the study does not provide evidence for what is causing these effects — whether they originate entirely from what students are learning within charters, or additionally from how those schools are changing education throughout the school district — it does indicate that the spread of charters does not harm student performance in areas where they become more common.
That’s a standout conclusion given the state of the national conversation around school choice, which enjoyed a healthy measure of bipartisan support until recently. Now, both at the national level and in state capitals, some Democrats have campaigned to slow the rapid pace of charter school growth. A common argument to limit charter expansion holds that the publicly financed, privately managed schools hurt traditional public schools and the students they serve.
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Fordham’s study relies on huge data sets from the Stanford Education Data Archive, a relatively new research tool that includes schooling information for more than 13,000 geographic districts, including performance data for students in both charter and traditional schools. The archive uses federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data to facilitate direct comparisons between different state standardized tests.
“This is, in many ways, a triumph of big data,” Fordham researcher and study author David Griffith told The 74. “The Stanford data source … allowed us to compare across district lines when before, that was impossible. They’ve done all this groundwork to essentially put seven years of standardized tests on a common scale so that researchers can do this sort of thing.”
Griffith found that as the percentage of black students enrolled in charter schools increased within an urban area, average English and math scores for all black students within that area — not just those enrolled in charters — increased substantially.
The effect was especially pronounced in the cities with the largest minority student populations. In the 21 urban districts that enrolled the most black students, moving from a 0 percent charter market share (i.e., charter schools enroll no black students) to a 50 percent share (i.e., charter schools enroll half of all black students in the area) led to sizable gains: 0.7 grade levels in math and 0.8 grade levels in English across the district.
In the 27 urban districts that enrolled the most Hispanic students, moving from a zero percent charter market share to a 35 percent charter market share (the threshold was set lower for this group because Hispanic students are less likely than black students to enroll in charters) was associated with a jump of 0.7 grade levels for all Hispanic students in both math and English.
Griffith underlined the particularly significant improvement in very large cities, a phenomenon that has been previously documented in other research around charters. Those urban areas, which boast large surpluses of human capital and are often marked by underperforming traditional public schools, maximized the promise of charter expansion, he argued.
“The bigger the city was, the more potential gains there were to be realized by increasing charter market share,” he said. “Places like New York and Chicago and Los Angeles, where there are a lot of really smart people who would potentially get into the education game under the right circumstances, are places where charters can potentially yield really dramatic, life-changing gains for minority students.”
At the same time, increased charter presence was not associated with academic gains for white students in urban, suburban or rural areas. In fact, white students saw slightly negative impacts from growing charter market share in both cities and suburbs. That finding echoes earlier research from CREDO, which noted sizable learning losses for white students in a 2015 report on charter schools in 41 urban areas.
Disclosure: The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, the William E. Simon Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation provide financial support to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and The 74. The Walton Foundation was a primary funder of the charter study.
Kevin Mahnken was an editorial associate at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute from 2014 to 2016.
Americans View Principals Positively, According to Pew Study Comparing School Leaders to Lawmakers, Journalists, Tech Execs
A majority of Americans hold a positive view of K-12 public school principals, who are typically seen as caring and trustworthy. How about tech executives, journalists and members of Congress? Not so much.
A Pew Research Center survey released Thursday found that Americans hold mixed views about the job performance of people in positions of power, while opinions improve when people feel officials behave ethically and are held accountable for their mistakes. Of the groups studied by Pew — members of Congress, local elected officials, leaders of technology companies, journalists, religious leaders, police officers, military leaders and principals at public K-12 schools — education leaders consistently ranked at the top.
When comparing against other groups, poll respondents were less likely to say principals act unethically. A larger share of respondents also felt principals face “serious consequences” for unethical behavior and that they are more likely to take responsibility for mistakes. Though principals performed better than the other groups in the study, the results weren’t entirely positive. Just 5 percent of respondents said principals act unethically “none of the time,” and 19 percent said the school leaders face “serious consequences” for their behavior “all or most of the time.” Members of Congress were viewed as the least ethical — and the least likely to be held accountable for their actions.
These factors can color the public’s perception of their job performance, said report co-author Lee Rainie, director of internet and technology research at Pew Research.
“If you think unethical behavior is a relatively common thing in that group, then you don’t think other aspects of its work are nearly as likely to be well performed,” he said.
Intuitively, respondents were more likely to say principals care about others or “people like me,” followed by police officers and military leaders. Principals are also most likely to provide fair and accurate information to the public, respondents believed, and are most likely to handle resources responsibly. Pew conducted the survey — the first of its kind — between Nov. 27 and Dec. 10, 2018, through its American Trends Panel, a nationally representative group of 10,618 adults selected to complete online questionnaires. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.
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More broadly, 90 percent of respondents believe military leaders do a good job preparing personnel to protect the country, and 84 percent said police officers do a good job protecting people from crime — a finding with wide racial disparities. While 89 percent of white respondents said police officers do a good job protecting people from crime, 80 percent of Hispanics and 65 percent of black adults agreed.
Of the studied groups, respondents viewed the overall job performance of principals near the middle: 72 percent said principals do a good job ensuring students develop critical thinking skills. Again, members of Congress performed the worst, with 47 percent believing they do a good job promoting laws that serve the public.
As for journalists, survey respondents held mixed views. While 68 percent said journalists do a good job reporting on news in the public interest at least some of the time, just 55 percent said journalists cover all sides of an issue fairly at least some of the time. Public views on journalists were highly partisan, with 84 percent of Democrats saying journalists regularly provide fair and accurate information to the public and just 45 percent of Republicans saying they do.
Beyond the ethics argument, Rainie said another — perhaps simpler — factor could explain principals’ high marks. Part of public school principals’ better reputation over the other groups likely comes down to their closer relationships with the general population. National actors like members of the House or Senate may seem more abstract, Rainie said, while respondents likely thought about principals they’ve known in their own lives when answering questions about school leaders.
“There’s a long-standing set of findings that essentially say ‘I and my environment are OK, everybody else isn’t,’” he said. “So people usually say they like their local congressperson, but they don’t necessarily like Congress. They like their doctor, but they don’t like the health care system. They like their teachers, but they don’t like the education system.”
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Despite the overall optimism for principals, Pew did find demographic variations. Across all the questions Pew presented in the survey, women and those with college degrees gave higher scores to principals than men and those with lower educational attainment. Black respondents were more likely than white ones to say principals do a good job in ensuring students are developing critical thinking skills and take responsibility for mistakes.
And, given the polarizing nature of American public policy, researchers also observed a partisan divide in opinions on principals. But that gap was less profound than for other groups, such as police officers, military leaders and religious leaders. For example, 76 percent of Democrats said they believe principals do a good job ensuring that students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, versus 68 percent of Republicans.
“Particularly when the issue is public schools and their performance, Democrats are somewhat more interested and somewhat more focused on those institutions than Republicans are and render somewhat better judgments about the performance of those groups,” Rainie said. “There’s a pretty long-standing history of Democrats thinking somewhat better than Republicans about what’s going on in public education.”
As Rate of Children Without Health Insurance Rises in 2018, Researchers Ask: Is Trump’s Immigration Crackdown to Blame?
The number of American children covered by health insurance took a tumble last year, a change analysts theorized could have been motivated — at least in part — by the Trump administration’s aggressive immigration crackdown.
Census data released last week revealed that nearly half a million fewer children had health insurance last year than in 2017, a change that was driven primarily by a decline in those covered through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Hispanic children, who historically have lower health insurance rates, saw the largest reduction in coverage, declining 1 percentage point from 7.7 percent uninsured in 2017 to 8.7 percent in 2018.
Children living in the South were less likely to be insured than those in other regions. Among children in the South, the uninsured rate increased 1.2 percentage points between 2017 and 2018 to 7.7 percent. The uninsured rate change for children in other regions wasn’t statistically significant.
Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute, said it’s likely that children in immigrant families who are U.S. citizens drove a large share of the drop in public health coverage among Hispanics. In fact, health care providers in states like Texas have reported an increase in undocumented parents opting their citizen children out of government programs over deportation concerns. Such situations could arise, Capps said, if undocumented parents worry that enrolling their children in programs like Medicaid “might either reveal themselves to the immigration authorities or make it harder for them to get green cards.”
The share of American children without health coverage is relatively small. About 4.3 million children — or 5.5 percent of Americans under the age of 19 — were uninsured in 2018. The child health insurance rate also declined in 2017, a change that surprised researchers after years of continuous growth.
Students’ access to health coverage comes with significant ramifications for schools. Children with health insurance are less likely to miss school than those without coverage and are more likely to finish high school and attend college.
“The effects are much broader than just the health of a child, but they link right up with education overall,” said Kelly Whitener, an associate professor at the Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families. She also pointed to recent federal education policy changes as a reason to improve health care coverage among students. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, 36 states and the District of Columbia chose to use chronic absenteeism as a school accountability metric.
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For the past several years, health researchers at Georgetown University have been sounding the alarm on potential ties between the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown and access to health insurance among children. But other factors are likely at play as well. In 2017, federal spending on CHIP expired and Congress didn’t approve new funding for the program until early 2018. And efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act likely played a role, Whitener said, because “that certainly wasn’t a welcome mat for people to come and sign up for coverage.”
Among non-Hispanic white children, 4.2 percent were uninsured last year, a 0.5 percentage point increase from 2017. The change in uninsured rates for non-Hispanic white children and Hispanic children between 2017 and 2018 was not statistically significant, according to the census report.
Though deportation concerns could have dampened health care access for U.S.-born children with undocumented parents, the census data don’t point to a similar effect among nonresidents of all ages, Capps said. The insurance rate for nonresidents declined last year, but most of that drop was observed in private insurance, such as employer-sponsored health coverage. Undocumented immigrants are typically ineligible for public benefits, though they’re able to purchase private insurance.
Capps cautioned that the labor market could also explain the drop in private coverage among noncitizens. It’s possible that immigrant parents “either lost jobs that had health insurance coverage or they entered the labor market and got new jobs that didn’t have coverage, or shifted from jobs that had coverage to jobs that didn’t have coverage,” he said.
Looking forward, however, it’s possible that a major immigration policy shift could make the situation worse for nonresidents seeking green cards, researchers said. As the Trump administration plans to move forward next month with a policy to withhold green cards from legal immigrants who rely on public benefits, researchers offered advice to parents: Don’t end your child’s health coverage out of fear.
Initial drafts of the administration’s “public charge” rule would have made it more difficult for immigrants to obtain green cards if their children, including those born in the U.S., received public benefits through programs like Medicaid or CHIP. But the final rules, set to begin in mid-October, don’t refer to the use of public benefits by children, although analysts worry the damage might already have been done.
Confusion stemming from earlier drafts of the public charge rule could create a “chilling effect” that could prevent legal immigrants from enrolling their children in public benefits, researchers said. In fact, that chilling effect may already be underway. In a recent survey by the Urban Institute, about 14 percent of adults in immigrant families said they or a family member did not participate in a government benefit program such as Medicaid last year because they feared it could put future green cards at risk. Hispanic adults in immigrant families were twice as likely as those in other demographic groups to report a chilling effect. So were adults living with children.
It’s unclear whether anxieties over the public charge rule affected the uninsured rate in 2018, said Stephen Zuckerman, a senior fellow and vice president for health policy at the Urban Institute. But the census data are “certainly consistent with the findings that a chilling is leading some people to either not participate in programs for themselves or for members of their family,” he said.
Whitener said it will be important to track whether the public charge rule comes with negative effects for the children of legal immigrants. Public health officials in some states are already telling immigrants not to avoid public benefits out of fear or misinformation over the public charge rule.
“Those children are likely to end up losing coverage out of fear and confusion around the rules,” Whitener said. “You can’t really put the genie back in the bottle.”
Today Show Hosts Take Over as Teachers at Newark’s North Star Academy and Can’t Quite Believe What They See
When the Today show hosts decided to be teachers for a day for this year’s Back to School feature, they swept into the classrooms — and the playground and cafeteria — of a school that has seen a remarkable academic turnaround.
“A few years ago, it was one of the schools that was faltering. Many of the kids there were struggling to read, struggling to write,” co-host Craig Melvin says, opening the Sept. 12 segment.
“That’s right, but in 2014, it was taken over by the charter school network Uncommon Schools,” Al Roker chimes in, “and today, North Star is one of the highest-performing schools in the entire state.”
The school they visited — where Roker took over a science class, Melvin oversaw a gym class, Savannah Guthrie coached the debate team, Carson Daly led an orchestra and Hoda Kotb became the happiest lunch lady in America — was Newark’s Alexander Street Elementary School.
The Today show stars and their crew and producers spent two and a half days in the school filming. Principal Na’Jee Carter said the kids didn’t quite get the magnitude of the star power in their midst — although they were excited to have them as teachers — but the adults definitely knew Al Roker was in the hallway. What was most exciting, though, he said, was seeing Guthrie and the rest bring “so much great energy — they brought love and joy, and that’s what our teachers bring every day.”
“These famous TV hosts … got to see what we do every day and why we love it so much,” Carter told The 74. “There was a moment when Savannah made a reference to “our kids,” and that’s how we feel. They’re all our kids and we love them all.”
The 74’s Richard Whitmire has also spent some time in Alexander Street, first reporting on the school’s transformation in 2016 and then returning in 2017 to delve deeper after Carter became principal.
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Whitmire noted that Alexander Street had gone from having 28 percent of its students score proficient in math and 22 percent in English in 2014 to 80 percent scoring proficient in math and 77 percent in English in 2017 — way ahead of the statewide average and even better than New Jersey’s affluent districts. By that point, Alexander Street was sharing its reading curriculum with district schools in Newark, and Uncommon Schools had decided to try its turnaround strategy at a failing school in nearby Camden.
Uncommon’s North Star Academy encompasses 14 elementary, middle and high schools in Newark that are known for their high performance, strict behavior expectations and college-going culture. The Today show hosts came away a little amazed.
“I couldn’t believe how they could take, like, a raucous room full of kids in the cafeteria and literally the principal walked in there and went like this — clap, clap — and you could have heard a pin drop,” Kotb said. “I’d never seen anything like that before.”
“I’ve got kids in school — and no knock on their schools — but I don’t think I’ve ever been more impressed by walking into a school,” Daly said.
Hearing those accolades on national TV reverberated throughout the school, Carter said.
“It was so rewarding for our teachers and our staff and everyone in our building — from the janitor to the nurse to the front office. They were all filled with so much pride and joy to hear them speak so highly of the work they do every single day,” he said. “That moment was really special.”
So was the moment when all the students and staff gathered in the cafeteria at lunchtime Thursday to watch the segment — they were in class when it aired. Carter said he wasn’t prepared for how ecstatic the kids would be, screaming at the first mention of North Star, leaping out of their seats at the opening shot of the building and pretty much losing their minds at seeing themselves on the screen.
In closing the segment, Melvin touched on another aspect of Alexander Street and the Uncommon network.
“We should also point out that, by the way, that school has one of the highest college graduation rates of any school out there,” he said. “They pride themselves on getting kids — largely low-income — to college.”
Julie Jackson became president of the Uncommon network, which runs 54 schools in three states, in July after overseeing their K-8 schools for four years.
“We loved seeing the Today hosts celebrating what they saw at our school, and especially calling out our students’ college graduation success,” Jackson said in an email. “The college graduation rate for students in the lowest income quartile is only 13 percent, compared to 54 percent for Uncommon’s alums. It’s great to have a national television program honor that. Students from low-income neighborhoods can and deserve to succeed in college. It is vital to our nation’s future.”
In his book published earlier this year, The B.A. Breakthrough: How Ending Diplomas Disparities Can Change the Face of America, Whitmire reports extensively on Uncommon’s success in getting its low-income students of color to and through college.
“At Uncommon Schools, the software program that tracks the progress of their alumni through college predicts that within six years, 70 percent of Uncommon graduates will likely earn a bachelor’s degree,” Whitmire writes. “That exceeds by several points the national college graduation rate for well-off students.”
When It Comes to Predicting Which College Students Will Actually Go On to Attain a Bachelor’s Degree, High School GPA Is King
RAW TEXT: Read the Education Department’s Findings of How Chicago Public Schools Mishandled Allegations of Student Abuse and Assault
Thursday morning, the U.S. Department of Education both released a summary of findings from its Office for Civil Rights and announced a legally binding agreement with Chicago Public Schools to reform its handling of student assault and abuse cases. We’ve embedded the full 40-page summary below.
Among the most notable and alarming sections (warning here, graphic language below):
Assault Oversight in a ‘State of Disarray’: “For years, the District’s management, handling, and oversight of complaints of student on student and adult on student sexual harassment have been in a state of disarray, to the great detriment of the students the District is responsible for educating. The District’s investigations were poorly managed and were often conducted by staff who were not properly trained in effective investigative techniques or the specific requirements that Title IX imposes on recipients in addressing instances of sexual harassment. Investigations were conducted by a patchwork of both school-level personnel and District personnel without any District-wide coordination of efforts and results. This patchwork structure compromised the ability of students to learn in a safe educational environment. Finally, the District’s lack of organizational strategies to ensure adequate and reliable investigations and coordinated efforts to address and prevent sexual harassment was exacerbated by poor record-keeping. Documentation concerning complaint investigations was very often incomplete, and much of it was maintained in schools, rather than in a centralized location where it could be easily reviewed by high-level administrators.”
Assaults in Buses, on Playgrounds, in Hallways: “Many complaints alleged on-going physical sexual harassment of District students, including that students were repeatedly groped, grabbed, or fondled by their peers, who were often repeat offenders with a history of sexually harassing other students. These complaints documented reports of unwelcome touching over and under clothing, on the breasts, buttocks, and groin throughout the school day and at all locations in school buildings, including in school bathrooms, on the staircase and in hallways, while lining up at the water fountain, during recess on the playground in front of their peers, in the school parking lot, on school buses while traveling for school-sponsored field trips, to extra-curricular activities, and to/from their homes to school.
OCR observed that many of the complaints described students exposing their genitals at school to and in front of peers — in the classroom, on the playground, in the school bathroom — and during field trips and extracurricular activities. Schools reported a significant number of complaints of verbal threats and harassment, with students disclosing that their classmates and peers made comments such as ‘I’m going to rape you in the bathroom’; ordered them to ‘suck my d—k’; spoke extensively about graphic sex acts they would perform at school on their peers; and claimed, ‘It isn’t rape if you enjoy it.’ Some students threatened more violence if their peers reported the conduct. Finally, the complaints included numerous reports of widespread social media distribution of sexually explicit images and videos that were shared with classmates and peers both during the school day and after school…”
More Than a Decade of Complaints About the Same Teacher: “In one particularly egregious sexual harassment case, XXX school XXX instructor at a XX school was accused of sexually harassing students over the course of a twenty-year career. The teacher was reported to DCFS, temporarily reassigned to a Network Officer during the pendency of one investigation and ordered to undergo mandatory sexual harassment training. However, the teacher’s behavior continued, and over the years, students reported that he made them extremely uncomfortable.
The teacher’s documented history of sexual harassment at the District began during his first year as a District employee when a student complained about his inappropriate classroom behavior, including that he touched her on the thigh, stomach and shoulder. This report resulted in an oral reprimand following a hearing in XXX. At the end of that school year, the teacher transferred to the District selective enrollment high school where he remained employed for 20 years and continued to work as of XXX, when the District provided information about him to OCR. In XXX, the selective enrollment high school’s then-principal documented a meeting he had with the teacher in which he counseled the teacher that he was ‘possibly dancing with appropriate boundaries in terms of physical contact with selected female students,’ and suggesting that the teacher ‘remove the blinds from his office window and ensure that he not close the door fully when meeting with students.’ In XXX, a female student reported anonymously that the teacher grabbed her thigh to take hold of a temporary student ID that she had taped to her pants, stating: ‘You girls wear your I.D.’s down there so that us old men get in trouble for looking.’ The incident was reported to DCFS and the District temporarily reassigned the teacher to a network office during the DCFS investigation. The teacher was returned to the classroom several weeks later; however, as a result of that investigation, the Principal directed the teacher ‘to attend an in-depth workshop on sexual harassment issues.’
Over the course of the next decade, multiple students complained about the teacher’s inappropriate conduct, although few of the complaints were entered into the Verify system and none resulted in formal discipline of the teacher. During the spring semester of the 2017-18 school year, a group of students with one parent complained to the school principal that the teacher was checking students out in class and staring at their breasts, caressing their legs and thighs, and stomachs, touching their buttocks and stroking them inappropriately ‘starting from the top of their backs to the small of their backs.’ Students reported the teacher regularly commented on student attire (allegedly discussing girls who wear thongs) and compared students’ bodies to those of teachers and staff at the school, suggesting that female musicians would get higher ratings from judges during competitions based on their physical appearance. The students also alleged that the teacher frequently told sexual jokes and made sexual innuendos in class, including, on one occasion, telling a male and female student who sat in the back of his classroom that he hoped their hands ‘were not sticky,’ insinuating they had engaged in sexual activity during class. The students reported that the teacher’s conduct and comments were ‘creepy’ and unprofessional. They reported that he made them extremely uncomfortable. Some students disclosed that they were afraid to go to school, while others asked to drop orchestra despite wishing to continue to play a musical instrument, because of the teacher. Several students complained that their reports, which they felt went unheeded by school administrators in the past, caused the teacher to retaliate against them in the classroom by singling them out for criticism, chiding them for telling on him to their parents or making comments like ‘I’m always getting into trouble with faculty because of you kids,’ and giving them cold stares when he encountered them at school.”
In Key Case, School Staff Laughed at Student’s Concerns: “In XXX, Student B’s attorney requested that for Student B’s safety she be permitted to transfer to the District’s XXX, which the District granted. Student B attended the school for approximately XXX during which she missed more than XXX days of school because she was afraid of taking public transportation to school alone. In XXX, Student B’s family moved to a different neighborhood within the District and requested a transfer to the District’s XXX School. After meeting with Student B, her mother, and their lawyer, XXX staff developed a safety plan for Student B effective XXX. Although the safety plan included an assigned staff escort for Student B between classes, Student B and her mother reported, which the District denied, that the person who was assigned to escort Student B between classes failed to show up at times or picked Student B up late and the School did not have a back-up escort. On XXX, Student B informed a clerk in the attendance office that her escort failed to pick her up and the clerk allegedly laughed at Student B, told her that she was not going to walk her to class, and stated, “I hope you don’t have an anxiety attack.” On XXX, Student B’s lawyer wrote a letter to the Assistant General Counsel complaining about the Philips staff conduct and stated that Student B needed XXX from XXX. Student B’s lawyer requested that the District provide Student B homebound educational services, but informed OCR that the District did not provide the requested services.”
Read all the findings from the U.S. Department of Education:
EduClips: From Florida Schools Welcoming Displaced Bahamian Students to a Federal Push to Ban Flavored E-Cigarettes, Education News You Missed This Week From America’s 15 Top Districts
EduClips is a roundup of the week’s top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across 10 states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here.
NATIONAL: FDA to Ban Flavored E-Cigarettes to Combat Youth Vaping — President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that his administration plans to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes because of the dangers they pose, especially to young people who are drawn to the flavors. “We intend to clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes to reverse the deeply concerning epidemic of youth e-cigarette use that is impacting children, families, schools and communities,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. “We will not stand idly by as these products become an on-ramp to combustible cigarettes or nicotine addiction for a generation of youth.” E-cigarettes are thought to be a cause of a mysterious lung illness that’s caused six deaths and hundreds of hospitalizations this year. Vaping, which e-cigarette companies bill as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, has surged among middle and high school students in recent years. (Read at NPR)
PALM BEACH: Florida Schools Welcome Bahamian Students Following Hurricane Dorian — Florida’s Palm Beach schools are welcoming Bahamian students displaced by Hurricane Dorian. The district has partnered with a local nonprofit to make sure students have the supplies they need for school. So far at least six students have enrolled, and officials aren’t sure how many to expect. “They need to get back to something safe, they need to be around kids their age, a teacher,” Keith Oswald, the deputy superintendent of Palm Beach County Schools, told CBS 12. At least one private school is preparing for students from the Bahamas as well and offering them free tuition, Florida Today reported. (Read at CBS 12)
CHICAGO: District Agrees to Federal Oversight of Sexual Violence Protections for Students — The federal Office for Civil Rights will hold Chicago Public Schools accountable for reforming how it handles abuse and assault cases in what officials called a “historic enforcement action,” the Chicago Tribune reports. Announced Thursday, the legally binding agreement outlines changes CPS must make to protect students from sexual assault and abuse. Federal officials will monitor the district for three years, and CPS could lose some federal funding if it does not comply with the reforms. “This is an extraordinary and appalling case,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus said. “It is one of the worst that we have seen in the elementary, secondary school context.” The agreement follows an investigation into the city’s schools that started in 2015 and intensified after a 2018 Chicago Tribune series detailing several cases of abuse in the city’s schools. “The failures of Chicago Public Schools were widespread, glaring and heartbreaking,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement to the Tribune Thursday. (Read at the Chicago Tribune)
CALIFORNIA: Teachers Could Get Paid Maternity Leave If Governor Agrees — A bill awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature would provide teachers and select other school employees six weeks of fully paid maternity leave. “Currently, teachers can take unpaid maternity leave, but most use vacation and sick leave in order to get paid. After their sick leave is used up they can earn differential pay — the remainder of their salary after the district pays for a substitute for their class — for up to five months while on maternity leave,” EdSource reported. Supporters of the bill say the lack of maternity leave is one reason districts have trouble attracting teachers. Critics point out that the policy, which would apply to district and charter schools as well as community colleges, would be expensive, and many school systems already have tight budgets. (Read at EdSource)
FLORIDA: State Lawmakers Decided to Let Teachers Carry Guns, but Most Won’t — A month after the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the state passed a law allowing non-teaching school staff members to carry guns if they get background checks and training; this year that law was expanded to include teachers as well, if county boards vote in favor. But few districts have signed on to the program, a new analysis from The Wall Street Journal shows. Just seven of the state’s 67 county districts have adopted policies allowing armed staff. None of the state’s 25 largest districts will allow teachers to be armed. Most of the districts participating in the program are in rural areas. Broward County, where the shooting occurred, will not allow armed staff. The program was created at the recommendation of the state safety commission created after the shooting. (Read at The Wall Street Journal)
Noteworthy Essays & Reflections
EDLECTION 2020 — Analysis: 10 K-12 Education Policy Questions Every Presidential Candidate Should Answer (Read at Center for American Progress)
TEACHER VOICE — I’ve Seen My Students Win a Star Scholarship — and Lose Their Way. Chicago Should Rethink the Program. (Read at Chalkbeat Chicago)
RESEARCH — Teaching Critical Thinking Might Be a Waste of Time (Read at The Hechinger Report)
STUDENT HEALTH — Ban Flavored E-Cigarettes to Protect Our Children (Read at The New York Times)
PARENTING — We Interviewed 100 Teachers About What It Takes to Raise Happy, Successful Kids. Here Are the Highlights (Read at Philadelphia Magazine)
Quotes of the Week
“We can’t allow people to get sick and we can’t allow our youth to be so affected.” —President Donald Trump, announcing plans by the Food and Drug Administration to rein in sales of flavored e-cigarette products. (Read at Education Week)
“They’re a player. When they’re making decisions, normal politicians or bureaucrats are usually thinking, ‘What’s my community going to say? What are the teachers unions going to say? What are the politicians going to say?’ And if you think about a relatively small group of students, that would not normally be a big part of that discussion.” —Boston Globe reporter Dan McGowan, on the success of the Providence Student Union. (Read at The74Million.org)
“I was teaching sophomores about my experience as a sophomore, and I would go home after that lesson and just break down. I was having a hard time detaching. [Teachers] want to form a connection, but we also need to stay professional as historians and have that little bit of detachment. It’s definitely not easy to do.” —Teacher Lauren Hetrick, herself a student on September 11, 2001, on educating students about the terrorist attacks. (Read at Time)
“The idea of more preschool for more kids is noble, and it’s the right thing, but somewhere between the concept and the rollout, something has gone wrong.” —Mario Perez, the executive director of El Hogar Del Nino, a Chicago child care center, on plans to redistribute $200 million in early learning funds. (Read at Chalkbeat)
“The conversation in this city should be about how do we educate all of our kids in the most effective manner and that the ultimate measure of fairness is that every child is getting just as good an education regardless of where they live.” —New York City Mayor (and Democratic presidential candidate) Bill de Blasio. (Read at The74Million.org)
LISTEN: Can Puerto Rico’s Schools Be Saved? New EWA Podcast Interviews 74’s Mark Keierleber About Island’s Education System, Crippled by Storms and Scandals
When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, The 74’s Mark Keierleber began reporting on how the storm affected the island’s ravaged school system. Two years and a major government corruption scandal later, Keierleber discusses his reporting on EWA Radio, a podcast produced by the Education Writers Association.
The hurricane brought widespread devastation to Puerto Rico and ultimately sparked major education reforms. This summer, the island’s school system came under scrutiny when federal officials indicted Julia Keleher, the former education secretary, in an alleged corruption scheme.
Listen to the podcast to hear Keierleber discuss how storms and scandals have shaped the educational experiences of students in Puerto Rico.
Read more of Mark Keierleber’s coverage of Puerto Rico’s schools:
Millions of Students Are Chronically Absent Each Year. Improve School Conditions and More Kids Will Show Up, Report Argues
An obvious educational rule of thumb is that in order for students to learn at school, they first have to show up.
But with millions of children counted “chronically absent” each year, a new report argues that educators can improve attendance by first making their schools more welcoming places to attend.
The report, released Tuesday by the American Institutes for Research and Attendance Works, argues that schools can improve student attendance if children feel safe and included at school. A comprehensive strategy to improve students’ health and safety, sense of belonging, emotional well-being and academic engagement are all key to combating chronic absences, according to the report.
Those elements work together to “pull people in or push them out,” said David Osher, vice president at the American Institutes for Research and a co-author of the report.
“You want school to be a place people want to be,” he said. “For too many students, particularly too many students who face economic disadvantage and often are culturally marginalized, what they experience in school tends to not be highly engaging.”
As examples of the benefits to improving school climate, researchers pointed to reforms in Cleveland, Ohio, that followed a 2007 school shooting. In that incident, a suspended student showed up to his high school campus and opened fire, injuring two teachers and two students before taking his own life.
In response, the district launched an initiative to improve the social and emotional skills of both educators and students, including a preK-5 curriculum that helps children understand and manage their emotions as well as reforms to in-school suspensions.
The district also launched a new approach to truancy that centers on family engagement and early student interventions rather than referring students to court. An ongoing campaign offers incentives for good attendance and a phone bank that allows officials to call the parents of students who frequently miss school. Data collected during those calls have helped identify challenging patterns, including incidents in which students didn’t go to school because they lacked clean clothes, said Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works. In a partnership with the Cleveland Browns Foundation, the district responded with an initiative that provides school uniforms to students. Since the attendance campaign launched during the 2015-16 school year, chronic absence has declined from 44 percent to 30 percent.
Other districts should adopt a data-driven approach to absenteeism, researchers argue, while a flood of new student attendance data can help school leaders and policymakers identify other school climate challenges. Student attendance has received heightened attention in recent years after 36 states and the District of Columbia opted to use chronic absenteeism as a school accountability metric under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Nearly 8 million students missed at least three weeks of school during the 2015-16 school year, according to the most recent federal education data.
With Nearly 8 Million Students Chronically Absent From School Each Year, 36 States Set Out to Tackle the Problem in New Federal Education Plans. Will It Make a Difference?
Children living in poverty, students of color and those with disabilities are more likely to be chronically absent, a term that encompasses excused and unexcused absences as well as out-of-school suspensions. Chronic absences can stem from a variety of challenges, from health problems to housing instability. Because of the steep challenges some children face, improving learning environments won’t guarantee perfect attendance, according to the report. But a poor school environment can exacerbate the problem.
Rather than addressing chronic absenteeism on its own, the report argues that it should be part of a wider school improvement effort that centers on issues such as curtailing bullying, providing engaging coursework and fostering cultural responsiveness.
“Educators and staff should offer students the care and support they need to handle challenges and adversities that can undermine academic success,” according to the report. “Students more often ask for help, persist and achieve when they are taught by and receive support from adults who demonstrate they care about them.”
Parents and students can face punitive discipline for unexcused absences, known as truancy, including fines or jail time for parents whose children frequently fail to show up to class. But that approach comes with dangers, Chang said.
“People too often thought that addressing poor attendance is a matter for the courts when that’s only the very last resort,” Chang said. “What really has to happen is an investment by schools and communities in prevention and early intervention. If we do that well, very few kids should ever have to see that intensive system.”
In-school efforts to punish students for poor attendance can also have negative ramifications, Osher said. When absent, students can be barred from making up missed assignments, excluded from extracurricular activities or even suspended. Such approaches, he said, can interfere with school efforts to engage students.
“The policy of punishing somebody for missing a class or more by telling them that they’re then going to miss another day or two of classes or more doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “It’ll make it more likely that you’ll repeat a grade. It’ll make it more likely that you’ll drop out of school.”
With districts nationwide able to access more data on chronic absenteeism, the report also highlights a new interactive map by the Brookings Institution, which highlights school-by-school absence rates across the country alongside community factors that could affect learning, such as student discipline rates.
Though it can be a daunting task to address chronic absenteeism, Chang said data on the problem can guide reforms.
“Using the data to unpack what’s going on, using the data to target where you can bring in other community partners so you can share the burden, that’s what helps this not feel so overwhelming,” she said.
As Schools Diversify, Principals Remain Mostly White — and 5 Other Things We Learned This Summer About America’s School Leaders
Updated September 10
While kids were running through sprinklers and eating popsicles this summer, a handful of education researchers crunched the numbers about their principals.
Reports released this summer offer new insight into America’s school principals, from their racial diversity to how turnover affects student achievement.
The new papers add to a growing body of research about principals but also raise new questions, said Brendan Bartanen, an assistant professor at Texas A&M University and co-author of recent reports on principal diversity and principal turnover.
“We know that principals matter,” Bartanen told The 74. “We still don’t have a great understanding of the specifics of that — how do they matter, what are the specific things that they do, what are the ways that we could train them better and provide them better development?”
Amid growing concern about teacher diversity — America’s teachers are about 80 percent white — Bartanen’s research shows that black principals are more likely to hire black teachers to work in their schools. Having just one black teacher in elementary school can improve a number of outcomes for black students. But federal data show that principals are overwhelmingly white.
Here are six things we learned about America’s principals this summer.
1 Principals are overwhelmingly white, despite increasingly diverse students.
Although more than half of U.S. students are racial minorities, about 78 percent of public school principals are white, according to 2017-18 survey data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics and released in August. That mirrors the makeup of the American teaching corps, which is about 80 percent white.
The remaining principals were about 8.9 percent Hispanic, 10.5 percent black and 2.9 percent other races. Urban districts were more likely to have principals of color than their rural, town and suburban counterparts.
Most nonwhite principals were in high-poverty schools. At schools where 75 percent or more of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, almost 60 percent of teachers were white while 16.5 percent were Hispanic and 21 percent were black, the NCES data show. (NCES did not break down responses in the “other” category, which includes American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and two or more races.)
2 Charter school leadership was slightly more diverse than principals in traditional public schools.
In charter schools, 66.5 percent of principals were white, while 12.3 percent were Hispanic and 16.3 percent were black, according to the NCES numbers.
A recent study by the Fordham Institute found that charters also tend to employ more black teachers than district schools do.
3 Black principals are more likely to hire and retain black teachers.
When a school gains a black principal, black teachers are more likely to be hired and retained, according to a working paper written by Bartanen and Jason A. Grissom of Vanderbilt University and released in May by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University.
Schools that changed from a white to a black principal saw an average increase in black teachers of about 3 percentage points because black teachers were more likely to be hired and to stay in their positions.
Bartanen and Grissom used teacher data from Missouri and Tennessee, where there was not enough information to gauge the effects of switching from white to Latino principals. The working paper has not been peer-reviewed and is subject to change.
Why Diversity Matters: Five Things We Know About How Black Students Benefit From Having Black Teachers
4 Most principals say their training left them well prepared.
A report released by RAND used survey data to look at teachers’ attitudes about their preparation programs.
Overall, principals reported that their training prepared them well to lead a school, with more than 80 percent responding that they could see a connection between their coursework and practice as school leaders.
Additionally, the RAND researchers found a positive relationship between the amount of field experience educators had and how they rated their training programs. Both teachers and principals who had more field experience reported feeling more prepared for their work in schools.
5 But 39 percent of white principals say they were not well prepared to support black, Latino and low-income students.
When asked whether their preservice training prepared them to support black, Latino and low-income students, 62 percent of white principals agreed, compared with 76 percent of nonwhite principals, according to the RAND report. The leaves about 2 in 5 white principals who said they were “mostly” or “completely” unprepared to work with poor and minority students.
There was a similar gap among teachers.
6 Principal turnover tends to hurt student achievement — but not always.
The average rate of principal turnover is around 18 percent, according to NCES data. The schools principals left typically saw declines in math and reading scores, but the reason for the leadership change affected the outcomes, according to a new report published in June in Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis. For example, in cases in which the principal was demoted, student achievement stayed the same or improved. Meanwhile, students whose principals moved to other schools or to district-level positions saw a decrease in their math and reading scores.
The takeaway is that districts should be strategic about retaining strong principals but not afraid to remove low-performing ones, said Bartanen, who wrote the paper with Grissom and Laura K. Rogers.
Disclosure: The Carnegie Corporation of New York, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Walton Family Foundation and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation support both RAND and The 74.
The State of America’s Student-Teacher Racial Gap: Our Public School System Has Been Majority-Minority for Years, but 80 Percent of Teachers Are Still White
Migrant Children Separated From Parents Experienced Severe Trauma, Government Watchdog Finds. Here’s What That Means for America’s Schools
The Trump administration policy of separating migrant youth from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border has exacerbated mental health problems including post-traumatic stress among affected children, according to a new government watchdog report. Immigration and education experts predict that the debilitating effects of family separation will be felt in K-12 classrooms across the country as the children enroll in public schools.
The report by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services noted that many children entered the facilities after fleeing violence in their home countries and experiencing threats during their journeys to the U.S., and family separations worsened mental health problems. The report relied on interviews with mental health clinicians, medical coordinators and facility leaders at 45 migrant shelters funded by the department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. Shelter visits were conducted in August and September 2018.
Children subjected to family separation, the report noted, demonstrated more fear, feelings of abandonment and post-traumatic stress symptoms than those not separated.
“Separation from parents and a hectic reunification process added to the trauma that children had already experienced and put tremendous pressure on facility staff,” according to the report.
As Trump Pushes to Detain Migrant Families Indefinitely, Advocates Fear Expansion of Already-Inadequate Schooling
That added trauma from family separations was “the direct result of administration policies and choices during that time,” said Mark Greenberg, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, where he focuses on migration policy and social services. Greenberg previously worked at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration. While there’s more the federal government can do to provide trauma services, “the real point is to avoid creating more situations of trauma in the first place,” he said.
The report “underscores how destructive it was to have large numbers of separated children coming into the system,” he said. “It was made worse by the lack of preparation, but even with preparation, the reality was going to be that children forcibly separated from their parents were going to be deeply traumatized.”
Shelter staff reported elevated levels of mental distress in children who did not understand why they were separated from their parents, according to the report. Some children believed their parents had abandoned them, while others felt guilty and expressed concern for their families’ welfare. “Manifestations of their psychological pain” prompted physical symptoms for some children separated from their parents, the report noted.
“You get a lot of ‘My chest hurts,’ even though everything is fine [medically],” one medical director told the government watchdog. “Children describe symptoms, ‘Every heartbeat hurts,’ ‘I can’t feel my heart,’ of emotional pain.”
Though the report centered on challenges shelters faced in providing mental health services to an influx of children in their care — and not their educational needs — experts said trauma as a result of family separations could affect schools across the country. Once the children are released from custody, they’re placed with sponsors such as parents or other family members. At that point, they’re eligible to enroll in public schools, said Julie Sugarman, senior policy analyst for preK-12 education at the Migration Policy Institute. But she noted that there’s a lack of data on the education migrant children receive once they’re released from the shelters.
“We don’t know how many are enrolling versus just simply not enrolling or staying in the shadows,” she said.
Migrant children, not just those separated from their parents, often come to this country after experiencing trauma from violence, home displacement, malnourishment and even torture in their home countries, according to a fact sheet by the National Association of School Psychologists. Those conditions can affect students’ concentration, cognitive functioning, memory and social relationships.
The school psychologists association says it’s important for schools to recognize the trauma students may have experienced and to demonstrate sensitivity to family stressors and develop intervention plans for at-risk children. Schools need to assess the children’s academic and emotional needs, said Katherine Cowan, the association’s spokeswoman.
“That could mean that schools need more financial resources,” Cowan said. “It could mean that schools need more mental health professionals like school psychologists. It really will depend on the unique situation in each school system.”
Negative outcomes can compound if migrant children are placed in communities where residents are hostile toward their experiences, Cowan said.
“The other thing that schools need to do is ensure that those kids are kept safe, that they are in welcoming school environments and that they do not tolerate any hate-driven speech or actions,” she said.
Despite Prevalent Trauma, From School Shootings to the Opioid Epidemic, Few States Have Policies to Fully Address Student Needs, Study Finds
Prior to the new report, the psychologists association raised an alarm about the conditions children experience inside the shelters. In June, the association called on the Trump administration and Congress to improve the services for children held in “unsafe conditions that lack basic physical necessities, fail to provide proper adult care, inflict unnecessary cruel punishment and risk causing trauma.”
“Our professional values as school psychologists require us to act,” the association wrote in an open letter, which noted that adverse childhood experiences “have been linked to outcomes including suicidal attempts and thoughts, alcohol and drug abuse, diabetes, depression and increased risk of physical injury. Experiences of trauma may be particularly difficult for young children to resolve.”
Once migrant children are released from shelters, schools can play an important role in providing them with needed services, Greenberg said. The children, who are unauthorized residents, are often placed with family members who are themselves undocumented, Greenberg said. As such, they’re typically ineligible for public benefits and may lack access to mental health services.
Elite Schools, Prized by Parents and Politicians Alike, May Actually Hurt Disadvantaged Students More Than They Help, New Research Shows
Applying to one of Chicago’s 11 selective enrollment high schools is a little like banking on the Bears to triumph at the Super Bowl: probably futile and, at times, downright depressing.
The elite public schools, which admit students on the basis of high grades and exam scores, attract thousands of high-achieving applicants each year. In 2018, roughly 30 percent were ultimately offered a spot, and less than half of those were accepted to their top choice. That level of demand is comparable to the nationwide quest for slots at highly touted universities. It’s also understandable, given that five of the academies were recently listed among U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the nation’s 100 best public high schools.
To temper that extraordinary competition, Chicago Public Schools have instituted an affirmative action system that lowers admissions criteria for disadvantaged students. By expressly setting aside places for students of low socioeconomic status, Chicago has rendered the sector substantially heterogeneous along class and racial lines — so much so that the district is now held up as a model to others that have struggled to diversify their own exam schools.
New York’s system of exam schools has come under particularly close scrutiny; admissions data show that just seven black students were accepted to the prestigious Stuyvesant High School last spring (out of a freshman class of nearly 900). Last year, after the city proposed changes to the schools’ testing and admissions policies that would result in more racial diversity, Asian-American parents and community activists sued.
Race-Blind or Discriminatory? NYC’s Plan to Diversify Elite High Schools Becomes Latest Fodder for Advocates Seeking Supreme Court Rollback on Affirmative Action
Even more recently, a task force convened by Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered a plan to eliminate most of the gifted education programs in New York’s public schools, along with the bulk of the city’s screened and selective admissions schools, in order to desegregate what some believe is a two-track system. The proposal has already drawn fierce criticism.
According to new research, Chicago’s diversity measures haven’t succeeded in lifting academic performance for those they were designed to help. Two recent studies — one released as a working paper and another soon to be published in an academic journal — show that students at Chicago’s selective enrollment high schools see no improvement in their test scores. In fact, academic records show that they earned worse grades and GPAs than their peers who were rejected from the schools.
While all students were likely to see their class ranks adversely affected (a predictable result of gaining a horde of extra-diligent classmates), the most disadvantaged saw the biggest declines. Disturbingly, they were also less likely to enroll at selective colleges than similar kids who weren’t offered admission to an elite high school.
Lisa Barrow, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and a co-author of one study, said she had hoped to find evidence that elite high schools could make a difference for nonwhite and less affluent students. Those hopes were dashed.
“We thought, ‘Well, surely [selective high schools] must matter in Chicago because they have this place-based affirmative action,’” she said. “So we were surprised and disappointed to discover that not only did they not generate better outcomes for students from low-socioeconomic-status neighborhoods — in terms of the academic measures — they’re potentially making them worse off.”
The notion that elite public schools don’t actually improve outcomes for their students is not a new one — though it remains counterintuitive. Prior research has indicated that the academic performance of students at storied institutions like Boston Latin or Stuyvesant was more attributable to their own aptitude (and perhaps their families’ resources) than to anything going on inside classrooms. In other words, the high-flying applicants would likely excel anywhere.
Economists even coined a term for the misapprehension: the “Elite Illusion.”
Chicago’s system was meant to be different, though. In a recent overview of selective high schools in eight major cities, Brookings Institution scholar Richard Reeves noted that “only in Chicago are the [selective school enrollments] close to being representative of the city as a whole, in terms of both race and economic disadvantage.”
The schools’ inclusiveness is the legacy of a long-running desegregation order imposed by a federal court in 1980. When a judge vacated that decree in 2009, the city switched from using a race-based affirmative action plan to one rooted in geography and socioeconomic status. Every census tract in the city was sorted into one of separate tiers according to variables like median family income, homeownership and prevalence of single-parent households. Tier-one areas are the least advantaged, tier-four areas the most.
Admissions rankings for selective high schools are determined using a 900-point scale, equally weighted between students’ seventh-grade GPA in core subjects, their performance on seventh-grade standardized tests and their scores on an admissions exam. For each of Chicago’s 11 selective high schools, only 30 percent of seats are reserved for the students with the highest admissions scores; another 5 percent are left at principals’ discretion, and the rest are evenly divided among top applicants in the four socioeconomic tiers.
To determine the effects of the system, Barrow and her co-authors gathered academic data for all applicants to Chicago’s selective high schools, including their application scores, GPAs, ACT scores and graduation and college-enrollment rates. They were thus able to directly compare students who were admitted to a selective high school with those who narrowly missed the cutoff.
In tracking those students, the study found results echoing those from prior research: There was “no evidence” that attending a selective high school raised ACT scores for students of any socioeconomic tier. High-performing students who scored just below the admissions cutoff learned about as much as those who scored just above. This was even true of rejected tier-one applicants, who would theoretically be consigned to high schools with much lower graduation rates and test scores.
But the authors also highlighted a phenomenon that hadn’t been detected before: Selective high school students earn slightly lower grades and GPAs than their peers at non-selective high schools. And if that weren’t bad enough, those declines are progressively worse for disadvantaged students.
Attending a selective school modestly depressed the scholastic performance of tier-four students, whose ninth-grade GPA was measured at .09 points lower than their peers who weren’t admitted to a selective-admission school. Their class ranking was consequently reduced by 10 percentile points, the authors found. But the effects were larger for their classmates from less affluent tier-one neighborhoods: a drop of .29 points of GPA, and a 17-percentile-point reduction in class rank.
Most dismaying of all, tier-one students were actually six percentage points less likely to attend a selective college than their peers who didn’t attend an elite high school. In other words, for students from Chicago’s worst-off neighborhoods, being accepted to an elite school doesn’t lift them to incredible new heights; it seems to be holding them back.
Barrow said that the study didn’t reveal the cause of the problem.
“It could be they’re not applying to selective colleges because they have somewhat lower GPAs, and they look at this data and it suggests they wouldn’t get in,” she said. “It could be that they’re not getting in. It could be that they’re not getting scholarships. Or it could be that counselors are influencing where they apply in ways that respond to their grades. We don’t know what’s going on.”
Charter schools’ role
A second piece of research may go a long way toward providing the explanation.
Just released as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, and awaiting peer review, the study was conducted by MIT economists Parag Pathak and Josh Angrist, who originally coined the term “Elite Illusion.” The pair, along with co-author Román Andrés Zárate, aimed to use Chicago’s selective high schools to examine the question of academic “mismatch”: the theory that students admitted to elite institutions through affirmative action aren’t truly prepared for the academic rigors they encounter there.
In conducting their own analysis of academic results, Pathak and Angrist found no evidence of mismatch; whether or not students benefited from affirmative action, they saw no gains in their math and reading scores at elite high schools, the authors write. Rather, they found that the selective schools are, in fact, driving academic outcomes, but in an unexpected way: by accepting students who might otherwise have received a better education at one of Chicago’s high-performing charter school networks.
Specifically, the paper finds that many applicants rejected from selective schools ultimately attend a high school in the Noble Network of charters, where they go on to attain much higher test scores. By admitting some students, therefore, the coveted exam schools are in effect “diverting” them from attending Noble schools, where they would perform better.
“We ask, ‘Where are these kids going to go if they’re not offered a seat at a selective school?’” Angrist said in an interview. “The answer is that most of them go to traditional schools, but a very large fraction goes to Noble.” Selective schools’ comparatively poor test results were the result of a substantial fraction of their unsuccessful applicants going on to enroll — and score better — at Noble charters, he argued.
The finding builds on earlier research on Noble conducted by academics Matthew Davis and Blake Heller, who found that attending a Noble school made students 10 percentage points more likely to complete at least four semesters of college. Angrist said that his new study reconciles the conclusions from both Barrow’s study (that low-income students at exam schools actually realize negative academic impacts) and Davis and Heller’s (that students do particularly well at Noble), suggesting that they are actually “one and the same.”
Not all education observers will agree that elite schools like those in Chicago, New York and elsewhere truly provide no benefit to their students. Many point to the social capital gains that accrue to pupils studying alongside more affluent peers for the first time. Even in Barrow’s otherwise-gloomy study, survey data indicated that students at selective high schools were more positive about their school environments and relationships with their peers. That kind of finding “can’t be dismissed,” Barrow said.
“These differences in high school experiences may in part help explain why the selective-enrollment high schools are so popular despite having limited, and perhaps negative, impacts on academic outcomes,” she and her co-authors wrote.
Still, given the scant evidence of their academic efficacy, and the mounting proof that high-performing charter schools like Noble are showing success closing achievement gaps between student populations, Angrist said that he hoped both parents and policymakers would adjust their perceptions of both sectors.
“So much media attention and political energy goes into discussions of who gets to go to exam schools. They’re way oversubscribed, and there’s a vigorous debate about minority access to those schools. We’re basically saying, ‘You’re arguing over something that may not be worth much. Your view of this is potentially being distorted by a misreading of the facts.’”
The recent and highly publicized trend of school district secessions has contributed to racial segregation between school districts, according to a new study published in the journal of the America Educational Research Association. Following a community’s decision to secede, segregation along district lines has increased between white and nonwhite students in several counties in the American South, the authors find.
The research shines a new light on the controversial practice of secession, which occurs when one community breaks away from its existing school district to create a new one with different boundaries. The process is often driven by relatively advantaged areas that choose to create a splinter district, leaving behind less affluent communities with suddenly diminished school funding prospects, according to a report released earlier this year by the research and advocacy group EdBuild. Some 128 communities had pursued secession from their districts in the 21st century, the report found.
Report: School District Secessions Are Accelerating, Furthering ‘State Sanctioned’ Segregation
The study published by AERA — co-authored by Pennsylvania State University professor Erica Frankenberg and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, along with Kendra Taylor of the research organization Sanametrix — focuses more specifically on the South, where seven counties experienced school district secession between 2000 and 2015. In those counties (Jefferson, Marshall, Montgomery, Mobile and Shelby counties in Alabama; East Baton Rouge Parish in Louisiana; and Shelby County in Tennessee), a total of 18 new school districts were created during that period.
Left Behind: Can East Baton Rouge Schools Survive the Breakaway of a Wealthy — Majority White — Community?
In recent decades, Southern school districts have been comparatively less segregated than those in other areas of the country, largely as a result of court orders compelling many to reduce racial homogeneity in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. In the seven Southern counties in question, the authors noted that the aggregate public school population was much more diverse than the Southern region as a whole (generally defined as the 11 states that made up the Confederacy): Between 2000 and 2015, the white percentage of public K-12 students in those counties fell from 42 percent to just 32 percent, compared with a decline from 54 percent to 43 percent throughout the entire South over the same time.
In an interview with The 74, Frankenberg said that her interest in the topic stemmed partially from personal experience.
“One of the reasons I find this interesting is that I grew up in Mobile County, which is one of the districts where secession has taken place,” she said. “Two of the three towns that seceded were overwhelmingly white. And so you suddenly no longer had those students as part of the pool from which you could conceivably create more integrated spaces.”
Indeed, by examining levels of racial segregation in those seven counties at the level of U.S. census blocks, Frankenberg and Siegel-Hawley found that, following secession, school district boundaries were responsible for much greater shares of racial segregation between students.
In 2000, they calculate, district boundaries contributed to 60 percent of total segregation between black and white students; 15 years later, they accounted for 70 percent of segregation between those groups. Similarly, district boundaries accounted for just 37 percent of segregation between white and Hispanic groups in 2000, rising to 65 percent in 2015.
In other words, segregation in these counties is increasingly occurring between, rather than within, school districts.
That’s an important development because of the historical difficulty of moving students across those district boundaries. Many Southern districts have traditionally been organized on the “one-county, one-district,” model, ensuring that white parents couldn’t simply move to another part of their metropolitan area to pull their children out of diverse schools. Since few policy levers exist in the South to move students across districts (charter schools, for instance, did not exist in Alabama until 2015, the last year included in the study), Frankenberg noted, the increasing association of school districts with more homogeneous racial communities is an ominous trend.
“Really, one could think about the creation of these new school districts as a form of school choice,” she said. “[Seceding communities] were choosing to create districts to exercise control over the resources of that district, as well as over decisions of who could attend and who couldn’t. Some people have been able to enact choice, and then there are some who are left behind, which may or may not be fully understood.”