Bob Herbert of the NY Times wrote an excellent column about race and poverty in learning called Separate and Unequal. From his column:
Educators know that it is very difficult to get consistently good results in schools characterized by high concentrations of poverty. The best teachers tend to avoid such schools. Expectations regarding student achievement are frequently much lower, and there are lower levels of parental involvement. These, of course, are the very schools in which so many black and Hispanic children are enrolled.
Given the new approach to assessing teachers, you couldn't necessarily blame teachers for avoiding these schools.
Long years of evidence show that poor kids of all ethnic backgrounds do better academically when they go to school with their more affluent — that is, middle class — peers.
Studies have shown that it is not the race of the students that is significant, but rather the improved all-around environment of schools with better teachers, fewer classroom disruptions, pupils who are more engaged academically, parents who are more involved, and so on. The poorer students benefit from the more affluent environment. “It’s a much more effective way of closing the achievement gap,” said Mr. Kahlenberg.
But it isn't teachers deciding where kids go to schools, it's districts.
From the column:
In important study conducted by the Century Foundation in Montgomery County, Md., showed that low-income students who happened to be enrolled in affluent elementary schools did much better than similarly low-income students in higher-poverty schools in the county.
The study, released last October, found that “over a period of five to seven years, children in public housing who attended the school district’s most advantaged schools (as measured by either subsidized lunch status or the district’s own criteria) far outperformed in math and reading those children in public housing who attended the district’s least-advantaged public schools.”
Mr. Herbert thinks it boils down to politics.
What I think is a shame is that we have to do all of this humiliating dancing around the perennially uncomfortable issue of race. We pretend that no one’s a racist anymore, but it’s easier to talk about pornography in polite company than racial integration. Everybody’s in favor of helping poor black kids do better in school, but the consensus is that those efforts are best confined to the kids’ own poor black neighborhoods.
There were some interesting letters to the editor. From the letters:
In our work with the West Metro Education desegregation initiative in Minneapolis public schools, the students in grades 3 to 7 who got on the bus to attend suburban schools made three times the progress in both reading and math when compared with similar students who did not participate.
But wasn't it economic disparity that caused Davis Guggenheim ("Waiting for Superman") to pass by three public schools while driving his children to their private school? If those private school teachers were moved to the public school, the students staying the same, would he have his children follow their teachers? I doubt it. Economic disparity trumps teacher ability.
Mr. Herbert is leaving the Times; his last column was in Saturday's Times.