The Mismeasure of Schools: Data, Real Estate and Segregation

Have You Heard Episode #23: The Mismeasure of Schools: Data, Real Estate and Segregation

In this episode, Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider discuss how test scores and other current metrics distort our picture of school quality, often fostering segregation in the process. What would a better set of measures include? Our intrepid hosts venture inside an urban elementary school to find out. You can read the entire transcript here, and be sure to check out Jack’s new book, which is really the star of the latest episode.

The Right’s Long Crusade Against “Government Schools”

Have You Heard Episode #22: The Right’s Long Crusade Against “Government Schools”: a Conversation with Historian Nancy MacLean

Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: the Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, is one of the most buzzed about books of the summer. But her book is also about public education, and the Right’s long crusade to privatize what they call “government schools.” You can read a transcript of the entire interview here. MacLean’s book is fantastic, and I hope that this interview encourages you to read it. Just don’t blame me if you need to sleep with the lights on! Note: if you’re wondering what happened to Have You Heard’s other half, Jack Schneider, he’s been traveling and will be reappearing in episode #23.

Take Your Money and Run

How parental powerlessness distinguishes urban charter schools from suburban public schools…

By Emily Kaplan

This is how you get your child into a public school in an affluent suburb:

1. Make a lot of money.
2. Buy a house in an affluent suburb. 

Congratulations! Your child will now receive a top-tier education!*

*If you ever feel that your child is not receiving the education to which she is entitled, exercise your right to go directly to the administration and complain. (Your tax dollars pay their salaries, after all.) Work with teachers and administrators, many of whom have decades of experience, to create an individualized education plan for your child. Do not fear retribution: your child cannot legally be driven from the district in which you have chosen to live.**

**If you still feel that your child is not receiving the best education property taxes can buy, you may choose among several courses of action, including: going to the school committee (an elected board on which sits one or more parent representatives like yourself); running for a seat on said committee; sending your child to a private school; or moving to another suburb, where you may repeat the steps above until you are satisfied.


This is how you get your child into a Boston charter school:

  1. Possess the social capital to be informed about the existence of— and application procedures of— charter schools. (Good luck to recent immigrants, particularly those who do not speak English!)
  2. Make the harrowing decision that the education your child would receive in the local district school is so under-resourced and/or deficient, academically or otherwise, that you are potentially willing to tolerate one or more of the following characteristics of many charter schools:draconian discipline; an obsession with testing; a developmentally inappropriate curriculum; a curriculum which is not culturally representative of your family; an inexperienced team of teachers and administrators, many of whom have never taught in any other environment; treatment as a pawn in a drawn-out political ruckus about charter schools’ right to exist and/or expand (or not.)
  3. Attend lottery night, at which you will be informed by a charter school administrator that if— and only if— your child “wins the lottery,” he or she can have the chance to graduate from high school, gain acceptance to college, and succeed there. (According to her, if you “lose,” of course, the chances of your child having a fair shot in life are slim to none.)
  4. Look around the room of parents and their children, all of whom are just as desperate for quality education as you are.
  5. Realize that, statistically speaking, 90% of them will “lose.”

If you “win,” congratulations! Your child has a chance of receiving a decent education!*

*If you ever feel that your child is not receiving the education to which she is extraordinarily lucky to have “won,” well… she can always go back to the district you fled, right?

Continue reading →

*Guinea Pigs in an Urban Laboratory*

In her new book, Unequal City, Carla Shedd looks at race, schools and perceptions of injustice through the eyes of young people…

unequal cityJennifer Berkshire: I want to start by giving everyone a moment to order your amazing new book, Unequal City. Waiting…Waiting… OK. Here we go. You did something highly unusual in your book: you looked at how major policy changes in education and housing over the past two decades in Chicago have impacted kids. And you did that by actually interviewing kids. Where did you get such a crazy idea? 

Carla Shedd: That was a big goal of mine, to really place kids at the center and think about how they understand these larger transformations in their lives. So often we have the numbers or we have snapshots of particular parts of the process and how kids are faring. But we really don’t listen to young people, and we never put their voices at the center of the conversation. How often are the people who are most impacted by these policies able to truly have a voice? In the book I argue that these young people are the city’s guinea pigs. They’re a walking experiment in an urban laboratory. Continue reading →

The Chicago Charter Blues

The Windy City’s experiment with charter choice falls flat…

bluechicago2Chicago’s grand experiment with education reform dates all the way back to the 80’s—as in the 1880’s. In recent years, Windy City-style reform has meant charter schools, lots and lots of charter schools. So what has the Chicago’s choice-i-fi-cation meant for students? According to a new study, the charter experiment has wrought the unthinkable, producing worse schools that are even more highly segregated than Chicago’s already highly-segregated schools. The study made headlines and raised plenty of eyebrows, not to mention hackles. But can mounting evidence of an experiment-gone-awry shift the city’s reform winds? I recently chatted with Myron Orfield, the author of the new study, to find out.   Continue reading →