GAPS AND SCHOOLS: Concern about one school's new gaps!

TUESDAY, MAY 15, 2018

Part 2—The second parent's tale:
Is District 3's proposed "desegregation" plan a good idea?

We can't tell you that! According to Elizabeth Harris' report in the New York Times, the proposal would affect middle schools in New York City's District 3, "a swath of Manhattan that includes the Upper West Side and a bit of southern Harlem."

Unlike many of the 34 districts in the giant New York City school system, District 3 "is a mix," racial diversity-wise. "A little more than half the students are black or Hispanic," Harris reports, "and about 40 percent of them are white or Asian."

"They just don’t generally go to school together," Harris writes. Hence the proposed desegregation plan.

Is that plan a good idea? That's a matter of judgment! From Harris' report, it's fairly clear that there are two possible effects of the proposal.

There's a social aspect to the proposal. In District 3's middle schools, kids would attend school, to a greater degree, with kids of other "races."

It's also clear that many parents see possible academic effects of the proposal. As we noted yesterday, Irene Butler has three grandchildren in District 3 schools. She thinks the plan might help struggling students do better in school, even avoid dropping out.

Today, we'll look at a quote from a second parent who may have a different view. As quoted by Harris, this parents wonders if the proposal might lead to academic confusion as kids of widely-varying achievement levels are thrown together in class.

We'll look at that second parent's tale at the end of today's report. First, let's get clear on the effects this proposal would have on the pair of middle schools on which Harris capably focused.

As noted yesterday, the Goofus in this tale of two schools was West Prep Academy. Last fall, only 14 percent of incoming sixth-graders at West Prep had passed the state of New York's fifth-grade math exam the previous year.

Irene Butler seemed to say that many of these kids were "struggling" in their classes at West Prep. She thought these kids might do better in the second middle school under review.

That second school, School 54, was the Gallant of the tale. It's located just two blocks from West Prep, but on an academic basis, it's a bit of a world away.

At least 88 percent of School 54's incoming sixth-graders passed that same fifth-grade math exam last year. Kids at this "sought-after, higher-performing" school got 3s and 4s on the state math exam.

Two blocks away, the chowderheads at West Prep mainly got 1s and 2s.

Perhaps you can see what this means. Thanks to current admission procedures, these schools are operating under a type of "achievement apartheid."

The higher-achieving kids get admitted to the the higher-achieving School 54. Their lower-achieving peers get shunted off to nearby West Prep. Thanks to the tragedies of our American history, this also creates a racial disparity between the student bodies of the two schools:

According to Harris, School 54 is 69 percent white and Asian, 31 percent black and Hispanic. Two blocks and a world way, West Prep is 97 percent black and Hispanic—and that's the way Harris called the roll. Don't blame this census on us!

What would happen to these two schools under the proposed plan? According to Harris, the proposed plan "would give priority for 25 percent of the seats at all the district’s middle schools to students who score below grade level on the state tests."

Those seats would go to kids who scored 1 or 2 on the state math exam. Under this proposed arrangement, the racial mix at the two schools would end up looking something like this:
School 54:
50 percent white and Asian
50 percent black and Hispanic

West Prep Academy:
20 percent white and Asian
80 percent black and Hispanic
The academic mix at each school would change too. Most likely, 75 percent of School 54's students would have passed the state exam in math, with an increased tilt toward kids who got 4s. The other 25 percent of the kids would have failed the exam.

Two blocks away, a bunch of kids who passed the exam might end up attending West Prep instead of School 54. Or their parents night pull them out of New York's public schools. In the district called the real world, this is something which happens—and no, not just with white kids.

That's the way the proposed plan would likely work out. Would the plan lead to better results on an academic basis?

Irene Butler said that struggling kids from West Prep might do better at School 54. On its face, that might seem to make perfect sense.

That said, a second parent asked a fairly sensible question. In a search for context, we'll quote Harris at some length:
HARRIS (5/2/18): Historically, in drawing school zones and allowing parents choice in which schools their children attend, the city has been seen as trying to keep white families in the public schools.

District 3 is now trying to redress some of its inequities, though this plan may not ultimately be adopted...[Some people] have questioned how the schools will adapt their teaching to meet the needs of students who come in at such different [academic] levels.

Deborah Kross, who lives on 118th Street and is white, has three children at District 3 public schools, including one at School 54. She shares some of those concerns. “A question I’ve asked twice in these meetings is, ‘What’s the plan for middle schools to bring together in the same classroom people with the very broad abilities?’ And there’s no response to that,” she said.
Where Butler voiced a reasonably sensible hope, Kross has asked a reasonably sensible question.

She pictures kids from vastly different academic levels thrown together in the same classrooms at School 54. Some of the kids will have aced the state math exam. Some of the kids will have achieved the lowest possible score.

"What's the plan" for dealing with this? Kross says she has asked this question at two pubic meetings. She says she's received no answer.

Almost surely, Kross is right. Almost surely, she has received no answer.

That said, everyone knows what the answer will be. Tomorrow, as a bit of background, we'll take a look at the size of the gaps which are involved in this second parent's tale.

Tomorrow: Achievement gaps in New York City, among kids we don't care about


  1. "She pictures kids from vastly different academic levels thrown together in the same classrooms at School 54. Some of the kids will have aced the state math exam. Some of the kids will have achieved the lowest possible score."

    Including more low achieving kids in a school will bring down its average scores, but why should it affect the achievement of kids who are doing better in their classes? The struggles of the kid in the next seat do not affect the learning of the child who is able to grasp the lesson.

    Learning doesn't come from the teacher, it comes from the child. Gifted kids are taught in regular classrooms all the time. They are expected to deal with their boredom and use their extra time productively and to show empathy for classmates. That experience is considered character-building for them. Why not average kids too? Why shouldn't they have the same experience of waiting for or helping slower peers catch up?

    Aside from home schooling, there are no schools that fully individualize instruction, thus every class is a misfit for many children, for some portion of time. This can be as true at a well-performing school as at a poor one -- the difference is in the average test scores, not how well the teacher meets the needs of each individual child. We have no measure for that.

    So how much should schools and communities cater to parent demands and fears that being with slower children will damage their own kids?

    I think the opportunity for a more fully democratic experience, the chance to know, befriend, and interact with people from a variety of cultures, is much more important than being among nothing but smarter kids. The today's kids will inhabit as adults will be multicultural, like it or not. And they will have to adapt themselves to working with slow learners and people much smarter than themselves. Because that's what the world is like.

  2. Somerby starts with
    "Is District 3's proposed "desegregation" plan a good idea?

    We can't tell you that!"

    And ends with
    "Achievement gaps in New York City, among kids we don't care about"

    He can't say whether "desegregation" will work, but he can say with certainty that "we don't care about" those kids.

    It is of course possible that he is being coy with his opening remarks. It is also possible that he really does care about achievement gaps. It is also possible that those supporting some form of "desegregation" in the specific case cited here also care about the gaps and the kids; if the gaps didn't exist, one assumes there would be no push to change anything at all.

    In the old days, there were no advanced classes, no remedial classes; all the students were in the same class. The teacher taught to a single lesson plan; some kids made A's, some flunked out. There were achievement gaps presumably, but no NAEP test. We just lived with these facts. And back then, parents had little choice where to send their kids, outside of non-free private schools, which wasn't financially possible for many.

    Nowadays, parents have choices in the public schools. If the school across town offers an arts program, or advanced placement classes, or a certain curriculum emphasis, the parents may choose to put their kids in the specific school they prefer for their kids. This causes distribution problems, as the Columbus school experienced, according to Somerby's column yesterday. Part of the problem stems from the fact that some districts devote more money and resources than others.

    It's never been clear what Somerby is ultimately arguing. He claims to care about achievement gaps, but doesn't seem to like the idea of "standards". Ultimately, it is tests like the NAEP that measure these gaps in the first place and can lead to calls for change, even to the extent of closing underperforming schools. In the case of the two NY schools he cites today, what does Somerby suggest? Either you take steps to fix the gaps or you don't. Perhaps the gaps can't be fixed, in which case we go back to the old-fashioned acceptance as a society that these gaps will naturally exist.

  3. "We can't tell you that!"

    Sure you can, Bob. If they insist on housing kids in schools without forcing them to study (which, apparently, is the case), then segregating them by achievement levels is definitely the way to go.

    And whatever "racial" composition this approach might generate is totally irrelevant, since the whole concept of "race" is total bullshit. As you're well aware.

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