Education

Sending Poor Kids to Middle-Class Schools Doesn't Fix the System

It doesn't produce better test scores, either

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Proximity is not destiny, educationally speaking. A generation of experience with racial integration has taught a clear lesson: Sitting black kids next to white kids in school is not a silver bullet that zaps unequal achievement.

However, the faith that proximity leads to equal achievement remains the cargo cult of education. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court barred school assignments based on race to increase racial diversity. So school leaders immediately began considering economic integration plans instead.

Sit poor kids next to middle-class kids. That should work!

Presidential candidate John Edwards—Mr. Two Americas—has made this the core of his education proposals. He promises "a million housing vouchers" over five years to move poor kids to better schools in the 'burbs plus $200 million to create magnet schools that will lure affluent kids to inner city schools.

The magnet school scheme was tried from 1985 to 1997 in Kansas City, Missouri, at a cost of $2 billion. To lure suburban white students, Kansas City's inner-city schools were equipped with lavish facilities: Indoor pools, gymnasia, high-tech science labs, computers, etc. But programs designed for the needs and interests of middle-class white suburbanites did not serve inner-city blacks. And few suburban students were willing to commute to city schools for a luxury athletic complex or a classics magnet. Test scores remained dreadful. By 1997, the district actually had a smaller percentage of white students than when the plan started.

Well, what about moving poor kids to better schools?

That's been tried too with no effect on academic achievement. The journal Education Next reports on a study of families who moved out of public housing projects and into better neighborhoods in Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York: "A randomized evaluation of the 'Moving to Opportunity' (MTO) program—a federal housing program piloted in five major U.S. cities that sought to relocate poor families by providing housing vouchers—shows that, contrary to expectations, moving families out of high-poverty neighborhoods has no overall positive impact on children's learning."

The new neighborhoods were significantly less poor and their residents were better educated. But researchers found no difference in children's reading or math scores or in behavior or attitudes toward school when comparing families that won the housing lottery with those who didn't. There also was no effect on retentions in grade or suspensions.

Researchers thought the youngest children might gain more than older students who'd spent years in schools with low expectations. Nope. Children who moved in the early grades did no better, compared to the control group, than older children.

You can take the poor out of the ghetto or barrio—and they're usually delighted to move to safer areas. But they take with them the same habits and attitudes that undercut school success.

In Baltimore, parents who used vouchers to move often didn't enroll their children in better schools, Johns Hopkins researcher Stefanie DeLuca writes, "Many MTO parents told us about frightening conditions in their children's schools and their concern for their children's well-being. Yet these fears and realities did not always translate into efforts to remove their children from these environments. Poor mothers and their children juggle myriad extreme conditions, and schooling is not always on the top of the list."

In my book, Our School, I describe the struggles and triumphs of a charter high school in San Jose, California, that recruits 'D' and 'F' students, works their butts off and sends all graduates to college. Downtown College Prep succeeds because it targets instruction to struggling students who come from low-income and working-class families; most are the children of poorly educated Mexican immigrant parents. Mixing in middle-class whites would dilute the focus.

Success may require explicit teaching of behaviors and skills that middle-class students don't need to be taught and extra counselors to deal with family problems and reach out to parents. It almost certainly requires a longer school day. What isn't essential is proximity to white or middle-class students.

Joanne Jacobs, is an adjunct scholar at Reason Foundation and author of Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds and an adjunct scholar at Reason Foundation. She blogs on education at JoanneJacobs.com.

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  1. Absolute performance is meaningless. You have to consider performance relative to ability (IQ or whatever proxy you want to use), or else you’re doomed to talk nonsense.

  2. Absolute performance is meaningless.

    What the fuck?

  3. Is JJ trying to drive the price of strawmen up?

  4. “””Success may require explicit teaching of behaviors and skills that middle-class students don’t need to be taught”””

    Yeah, such as the ability to take education serious, do homework, pay attention, and learn.

    I don’t believe schools fail students, it’s the other way around.

  5. Could it possiby be that the problems of low acheiving students cannot be fixed by throwing money at them?

    In other words, perhaps there are things that money cannot buy.

  6. “Yeah, such as the ability to take education serious….”
    Apparently you didn’t take grammer too seriously when you were in school, TrickyVic.

  7. But surely, being surrounded by white middle class kids will equal better academic performance. I mean, they’re sitting next to white kids. Doesn’t that make people smarter?

  8. I don’t believe schools fail students, it’s the other way around.

    You teach the kids, not the curriculum. When someone asks you for directions, do you give them the exact same way, regardless of who you are talking to?

    …take education serious[sic], do homework, pay attention, and learn.

    Well, yes, exactly. The very first goal of educating children is to teach them how to learn.

  9. I have to agree that taking education seriously is the number one priority, but that’s not necessarily something that can be taught by teachers. That’s something that parents have to teach their children.

    Moving kids to a new neighborhood isn’t going to change their habits. Bringing in teachers that can focus on low-income students would help more. Throw money at better teachers; don’t waste money on moving people to new school districts.

  10. This here solution what we got here it make the childs learn more betterlier. If the kid be next to the rich kids they would be learn better from they’re teach. They better get going while the gitin is good to the more richlier schools.

  11. Could it possibly be that the problems of low acheiving students cannot be fixed by throwing money at them?

    Are you suggesting that some people may actually be smarter than other people? That intelligence and other abilities may actually be inborn to a large extent?

    Heresy!

  12. joe:

    “Apparently you didn’t take grammer[sic] too seriously when you were in school,”

    As seriously as you took spelling?

  13. jbd | October 3, 2007, 5:06pm | #
    “Yeah, such as the ability to take education serious….”
    Apparently you didn’t take grammer too seriously when you were in school, TrickyVic.

    joe:

    “Apparently you didn’t take grammer[sic] too seriously when you were in school,”

    As seriously as you took spelling?

    Swing and a miss! If you’re gonna call someone out, make sure it’s the right person.

  14. “””Apparently you didn’t take grammer too seriously when you were in school, TrickyVic.”””

    Indeed, not my strong suit.

  15. “””That’s something that parents have to teach their children.”””

    I’ll say true if you put “try” in front of “teach”. If a kid is not interested in learning, there is little that the parent or teacher can do.

  16. Okay, you got me, Joe.

  17. As I’ve just demonstrated my inability to read…

  18. Has anyone noticed that the decline of public education began with the introduction of forced busing?

  19. Success may require explicit teaching of behaviors and skills that middle-class students don’t need to be taught and extra counselors to deal with family problems and reach out to parents

    Seems a lot like parenting to me. Instilling a love of learning, and the discipline to succeed is normally taught at home. I don’t like where this (potentially) leads, but reality has consistentlt ignored my likes and dislikes.

    Standard libertarian disclaimer, it’s their children, let them raise them. Vouchers all around.

  20. Apparently you didn’t take grammer too seriously when you were in school, TrickyVic

    As seriously as you took spelling?

    Shaking head, Boys, boys, Don’t make me come in here again!
    It’s a blog, not a dissertation!

  21. bussing

    Kissing that frog ain’t gonna make it any smarter, Skip.

  22. “it’s just too fucking easy 😉 look, you have here a bunch of journalists and educational professionals getting together to ‘analyze’ the world. ’nuff said” – Razib Khan

  23. Sp3lng is 4 g33ks.

  24. Where education really started to drop was with the increase of the welfare state. Prior to welfare, poor people knew that education and marriage were about the only ticket out of poverty. Poor areas, especially poor black communities, had educational systems that weren’t pretty, but highly effective. With welfare, education and marriage are far less meaningful. Why get an education and work your tail off to get the same amount of money/benefits if you just go on welfare. I just saw a chart where it showed a single parent with two kids in New Mexico could have a job making $10,000 or $40,000 and her net income after taxes and government benefits was basically the same (roughly $40,000). What incentive is there to get an education so that you can get a job that you will actually have to work hard at and see less of your kids, but see no financial benefit from it. The parents of the poor (increasingly just single parents) are just teaching the kids how to make it in a welfare society, where education doesn’t matter much unless you do very well academically and have some top notch abilities that will help you to earn above roughly $40,000. Education didn’t work for them so why would they think it will work for their children.

  25. TrickyVic said: Yeah, such as the ability to take education serious, do homework, pay attention, and learn

    Grammatical error aside, I think this is absolutely the case and ovelooked by many policy makers. I think self-esteem and an ability to be an effective student/learner act somewhat like a feedback loop, too, at least in the classroom.

  26. Reason Foundation scholar Joanne Jacobs debunks a silly response to failing students and failing schools.

    If anything the article debunks the very silly concept of “failing schools.”

    In my book, Our School, I describe the struggles and triumphs of a charter high school in San Jose, California, that recruits ‘D’ and ‘F’ students, works their butts off and sends all graduates to college. Downtown College Prep succeeds because it…

    Oh really?

    Downtown College Prep is:
    – below, or far below, state average for “Algebra I,” “Algebra II,” “Science,” “English,” “Chemistry,” “History”…etc, etc – in fact it’s below average the Cal state average for nearly everything (CST). For the 11 grade (the latest grade listed at ‘greatschools’), it’s below or far below, avg. for Algebra, Biology, History, English, Chemistry – everything listed except Geometry, where it’s a fair amount above the state average.

    The API statewide rank of Downtown College Prep is “1” – the worst on a scale of 1 to 10.

    It kinda make we wonder about the supposed “colleges” that *all*(!) the students end up attending….which colleges do all the students attend?

    It also makes me wonder why Reason would print an article claiming that this school is some sort of success story. (Not really – see the previous quote from “Razib.”)

  27. At this point, I’d settle for having Americans just admit that they don’t care about the education of the lower class. I mean, the whole reason we have a lower class is to do the work that doesn’t require an education.

  28. I mean, the whole reason we have a lower class is to do the work that doesn’t require an education.

    No, that’s why we have wide-open borders. Try to keep up, Dan.

  29. Is it not possible that Blacks, on the average, actually have lower IQs than Anglos, and this is the reason that many do not do well in school.

  30. TerrellPerry,

    Yes it is possible.
    But based on the best available evidence, not true.

    Cue FleMur…

  31. TerrellPerry,

    What you are saying with your question is this…

    The genetics that cause dark skin also cause lower IQ.

    There is NO evidence for this.

    If you try and expand the question to talk about racial differences (Caucasian, African, Asian) there is the significant problem of defining races.

    Race is a socio-political term without a biological basis, making it difficult to implement rigorous scientific study.

  32. TerrellPerry,

    Meant to include this link above

    http://raceandgenomics.ssrc.org/

    An in-depth discussion of the biology (or lack thereof) of racial distinctions. Both sides are presented in detail.

  33. The every-day socially defined geographical races do identify groups of populations that are somewhat more closely similar to each other genetically. Most important from the standpoint of the biological meaning of these racial categories, however, most human genetic variation does not show such “race” clustering. For the vast majority of human genetic variations, classical racial categories as defined by a combination of geography, skin color, nose and hair shape, an occasional blood type or selected microsatellites make no useful prediction of genetic differences. This failure of the clustering of local populations into biologically meaningful “races” based on a few clear genetic differences is not confined to the human species. Zoologists long ago gave up the category of “race” for dividing up groups of animal populations within a species, because so many of these races turned out to be based on only one or two genes so that two animals born in the same litter could belong to different “races.”

    http://raceandgenomics.ssrc.org/Lewontin/

  34. Oh yeah? What about (insert one of a very few diseases which have a “race”-correlated prevalence, such as sickle cell, Tay-Sachs, etc.)? You still think race isn’t biologically based?

  35. It’s about your desire to learn, not others’ desire for you to learn.

    That is something the policy makers, nor parents are willing to admit. They think the kids are the victims not the problem. I see it as part of the kids are victims of society philosophy.

    What parent would ever stand up and blame it on their kid?

  36. “””Zoologists long ago gave up the category of “race” for dividing up groups of animal populations within a species,”””

    Are you telling me they don’t seperate an Indian elephant from an African elephant anymore? How are we suppose to learn the difference? I haven’t been to good zoo since 1982.

  37. Vic,
    Asian & African elephants are not of the same species (or even genus). Different races of humans are not sufficiently different genetically to even be considered subspecies.

  38. I’ll say true if you put “try” in front of “teach”.

    If you do put “try” in front of teach you will have caused a split infinitive and arguably created another grammar error.

  39. Scooby,

    You beat me to it, but I just learned that there are two different African species. I thought I’d share.

    African and India elephants are two different species, not merely two different ‘races’ (no matter how one defines or interprets the term race) of the same specie. I just learned from Wiki that there are two different species of elephants in Africa.

    From wiki:
    African Elephants
    ? African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana).[1]
    ? African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis).[1]
    ? Bush and Forest Elephants were formerly considered subspecies under the name Loxodonta africana
    Asian (Indian) Elephants
    Elephas maximus

  40. I’m no expert on the matter, but even though IQ correlates with general intelligence, they ae not equivalent. In reality, one’s measured IQ can vary slightly dependent on A) tests taken and B) the ways in which one generally applies his or her faculties.
    The context within which a person is educated has a lot to do with a student’s focus and attitude during school.
    Thus, I am inclined to agree with TrickyVic and insist that the environment one grows up in, especially concerning one’s parents’ attitude and peers’ attitude towards education makes a significant impact as to how a child considers his or her education.
    It may be politically incorrect to say so, but people who grow up in impoverished cicumstances are for a number of reasons, from my observations at least, more likely to be distracted from their studies or otherwise not as strongly encouraged to apply themselves academically as middle-class or upper-class kids.
    As a black person, I can tell you that divergent, or “nerdy” thinking is often discouraged, as much by bigots of one’s own skin color as by white bigots.
    I saw immigrant kids from Jamaica and West Africa who seemed to take their education more seriously than many black American kids, including myself.
    By the way, I know my grammar is atrocious.

  41. It’s in dispute whether the different African elephant groups are separate species (and whether it’s two or three or more different species). It’s not disputed that African elephants are not the same species as Asian elephants.

    If human subgroups would have been separated more completely for longer, the races might have evolved into separate species. As it actually happened, we didn’t- not even close.

  42. I work for a non-profit residential facility that boards impoverished youth ages 2 to 19. No matter what the student demographic there will be students who are serious about school and those that are not. What Joanne states:
    “Success may require explicit teaching of behaviors and skills that middle-class students don’t need to be taught and extra counselors to deal with family problems and reach out to parents. It almost certainly requires a longer school day.”
    Is what our residential facility provides, an excruciating long school day of teaching to social behaviors as well as to them academically. Seriously, these kids are taught to every waking moment! I’ve seen some amazing improvements in some of the students since working here, and there have even been incidents where the change in the child leads to improvement of the attitude and behavior of the parents.

  43. So, let me see if I understand Mr. Edwards’ logic: the government has been in the education business for decades and has performed miserably; therefore, the government should delve deeper into the housing business to solve the problem. Another classic example of addressing the failures of socialism with more socialism.

  44. Scooby | October 4, 2007, 12:44pm | #
    Vic,
    Asian & African elephants are not of the same species (or even genus). Different races of humans are not sufficiently different genetically to even be considered subspecies.

    More accurately, racial categories are not based on genetically meaningful criteria. Racial categories, therefore, do not provide a valuable way to group humans for studies of innate biological capacities.

  45. Are you suggesting that some people may actually be smarter than other people? That intelligence and other abilities may actually be inborn to a large extent?

    No, what I was suggesting was that some people value education less than other.

    I will use myself as an example. Both of my parents graduated from college. It was expected that I do my homework every day. I did do my homework every day. If I had gotten a ‘C’ or worse in any class because I did not do my homework or I didn’t show up to class/school, there would have been hell to pay.

    My sister grew up in the same environment. She wasn’t as good a student as I was and had a hard time with Algebra and other advanced math classes. She still did her homework. She didn’t get good grades in math, but as long as she tried, my parents were ok with her grades.

    Compare that to other parents who don’t care if there kids do their homework or learn anything or even show up to school.

  46. At this point, I’d settle for having Americans just admit that they don’t care about the education of the lower class.

    Could it be the lower classes don’t care about education? Don’t care about learning, Don’t care about showing up to school, etc.

    As someone else said on this board, poverty is a lifestyle choice in 21st century america.

  47. The low averages at the College Prep School are due more to the initial language deficiencies. There’s no way you can compare their averages to kids whose parents speak fluent English.

    The problem with public education is that the lack of specialization is inefficient. The slowest students miss a lot, and the smart ones learn less than they could; the teacher hits the kids in the middle.

    Having been a public school teacher, my experience is that the system is so inefficient! I taught algebra and geometry;
    some kids will stop you when you lose them; most remain silent and passive.

  48. http://raceandgenomics.ssrc.org/

    Debunked
    Debunked
    Lewotin’s is a socialist grinding political axes. His claims are incorrect (polite version).

    Race is a socio-political term without a biological basis, making it difficult to implement rigorous scientific study.

    Nope. “Of 3,636 subjects of varying race/ethnicity, only 5 (0.14%) showed genetic cluster membership different from their self-identified race/ethnicity.”

  49. But based on the best available evidence, not true.
    Cue FleMur…

    Well, Neu Mejican, where’s your evidence?

  50. The government does not fund the non-profit organization that I work for, it is a private institution. I definitely do not think that the government should become more involved.

  51. The low averages at the College Prep School are due more to the initial language deficiencies.
    And your source is…?

    I skipped most of the article the first time I looked at it (old news wrapped in fluff), but then I finished it out of curiosity and noticed the surprising claims about “Downtown College Prep.” So far every claim I’ve seen of amazingly successful school programs, improvements, etc, has turned out to be false – just as this one was (ref the “Razib” quote again).
    Still, it was dishonest, or extremely shoddy journalism, at least,, to present it as a success story. I checked up on it because I already guessed/knew that it was false, plus I’ve taken every statement of fact presented in Reason with a large grain of salt ever since they started in with the goofy immigration propaganda.
    “Open borders” ideology and the ability to use the phrase “failing schools” with a straight face both derive from Marxist (liberal) fantasies about human nature, or the supposed lack thereof, a modern form of Lysenkoism – which I guess shouldn’t be surprising since the mag is almost entirely about politics and pop-culture, not science, and most especially not about any science that flies in the face of assertion-based liberal philosophy. (The same thing applies to political/big-gummint issues.)

    There’s no way you can compare their averages to kids whose parents speak fluent English.
    Funny, though, how language problems magically affect Chinese and Korean (etc) immigrants, and the kids of those immigrants, in the opposite direction.

  52. A person’s learning skills are perhaps as much acquired/developed as they are ‘inborn’. And learning is an active and dynamic process.

    For myself at least, a genuine interest in my own intellectual development is a far greater motivator than fear of discipline.

    It’s a long, hard road to sapience, and it seems that neither tyrants nor bigots appreciate the spark of discernment in those whom they look down their collective noses at.

  53. FleM,

    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1893020

    It is always more complicated than you present it.

    The fact that, given enough genetic data, individuals can be correctly assigned to their populations of origin is compatible with the observation that most human genetic variation is found within populations, not between them. It is also compatible with our finding that, even when the most distinct populations are considered and hundreds of loci are used, individuals are frequently more similar to members of other populations than to members of their own population. Thus, caution should be used when using geographic or genetic ancestry to make inferences about individual phenotypes.

  54. To help get a better sense of what “frequently” means in the above quote…

    Accordingly, Risch et al. (2002, p. 2007.5) state that “two Caucasians are more similar to each other genetically than a Caucasian and an Asian.” However, in a reanalysis of data from 377 microsatellite loci typed in 1056 individuals, Europeans proved to be more similar to Asians than to other Europeans 38% of the time (Bamshad et al. 2004; population definitions and data from Rosenberg et al. 2002).

    And this is without getting into the issue of which differences matter for the capacities important for school success.

    A final complication arises when racial classifications are used as proxies for geographic ancestry. Although many concepts of race are correlated with geographic ancestry, the two are not interchangeable, and relying on racial classifications will reduce predictive power still further.

    Race as used in common parlance is not a scientific

  55. term.

  56. Well, Neu Mejican, where’s your evidence?

    A reasonable review.
    http://www.ssc.uwo.ca/psychology/faculty/rushtonpdfs/Nisbett.pdf

    Even if you take Rushton and Jensen’s claims as absolutely unassailable, they only claim 14% of the variation as attributable to race. That leaves 86% explained by something else.

    R & J’s estimate is at least twice the more supportable estimate.

  57. A very nice discussion of the issue.

    http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/weblog/520.html

    A debunk, of sorts, of FleM’s debunk.

  58. What isn’t essential is proximity to white or middle-class students.

    Right — and no failed magnet or busing programs are not needed to demonstrate this. There are a number of affluent and integrated cities in the country, most of them also college towns (Berkeley, Madison, Evanston, Princeton, Ann Arbor, etc). Pick any one these and google in combination with ‘achievement gap’, and the story is the same everywhere.

  59. I went to ghetto schools from K-12. It was hell everyday. I had people wanting to fight me for no reason. I couldn’t pay attention in class because the students were always being loud and making fun of people. The teachers called the students stupid and said they didn’t care if we learned or not, because they were still getting paid. Most of these students did not go to college they have kids now and are on welfare. The problem can’t be fixed by moving them to schools with middle class students because they will be ghetto and be on the look out for the next person to talk about and fight. Until the black society gets better role models besides rap stars(which I don’t see happening in this century) I don’t think anything can be done. I’m not racist just a black person who went to school with ghetto people and hated everyday of it.

  60. I attended schools that bused inner-city kids into the suburbs and this experiment actually achieved the opposite of the desired result.

    The delinquent behavior of the inner-city kids actually contaminated the rich kids from the suburbs. It seems like none of the good behavior from the rich kids rubbed off on the blacks, but a lot of the underachieving and anti-social behavior rubbed off on the whites.

    Basically, the animal like behavior of the inner city kids lowered the bar for what was acceptable for the whites. Teachers wound up giving anyone who showed up for class and didn’t get into a fight an A.

    In addition, the threat of violence from the inner city kids led to apathy about school work.

    Unfortunately, the only way to end the cycle of delinquent behavior is to support sterilization or child tax. Poor people should be punished for having kids out of wedlock and without means to support them.

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