New Columns on Urban Education Reform: Politics and Segregation

Urban education reform fights have a way of driving the national policy conversation. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ongoing efforts to change the trajectory of the Big Apple’s public schools have taken on importance well beyond the five boroughs. Of course, the political feedback system is a loop: if de Blasio’s push for pre-K influences media coverage of early education, it also brings new attention from outside. For instance, a recent UCLA report claiming that the state of New York has America’s most segregated schools quickly became a weapon in the ongoing fight over school choice. But, as I write in a piece published yesterday for the Daily Beast, there’s little evidence to suggest that charter schools are driving New York’s deplorable segregation record:

The report lauds some charters for racial integration—such as Brooklyn Prospect Charter School. While BPCS gets good academic results and is more racially integrated than many New York City charters, it’s student body is relatively wealthy compared to other city schools. What’s more, its academic numbers are strong, but fall well behind some of New York’s less racially integrated charter schools (who frequently serve student populations with much higher rates of poverty). Is the school’s racial integration laudable, despite the fact that its students, on average, come from a wealthier background relative to other city schools? Your mileage may vary, depending on your ideological priors.

Washington, D.C. residents—who are at the polls today voting in mayoral primaries—are more than familiar with the local-national education reform feedback loop. It wasn’t so long ago that former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee’s efforts to reform D.C.’s public schools became a proxy battleground for arguments over the proper approach to teacher accountability, school choice, and even poverty in general. Yet, as I wrote in a piece published today for Talking Points Memo, the District’s education reform arguments going into today’s primary election were relatively tepid:

The last four years are evidence that the onetime “reforms” have become the baseline. Here, the argument isn’t whether we’ll have a consequential teacher evaluation system, but how we’ll weight the one we have. And this has been great for DC students, families, and teachers.

Does D.C.’s experience provide a lesson for other cities struggling with the polarizing politics of education reform? Read the entire piece to find out!

[Cross-posted at Ed Central]

Conor Williams

Conor Williams is a Senior Researcher in the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation. Find him on Twitter: @ConorPWilliams