Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Perhaps Segregated Schools Are Just Fine

This maven rarely responds to comments that are posted in response to my opinions. I see no purpose in getting involved in debates with those who disagree with me. However, sometimes I need to respond when I think that my views are being misrepresented. In response to my post last Thursday, RPS Strategic Plan, What Is Obviously Missing, Anonymous wrote:

Exactly what are you saying with your comments on race and class? Are you saying that Black kids are not as smart as White kids? Are you saying that schools with a majority Black population are not as good as schools with a majority White population? As long as funding, teaching skills and salaries are the same and special needs are met, what difference does race and class make? So what if a school's population is 100 percent Black? So what if a school's population is 100 percent lower income? Thank goodness you weren't elected! We need to ask what are the real problems in underperforming schools? Is it teachers? Discipline? Outside support? Whatever they may be, we need to address those problems - not race and income.

First let me make it clear. I did not say nor do I believe for a second that African American children are not as intelligent as white children. Nor did I say that majority black schools are not as good as majority white schools.

As to the rest of the comment, Anonymous may be right that it doesn’t matter if schools are 100% black or 100% lower income. Perhaps the Supreme Court of the United States was wrong when it said, “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Perhaps people like Thurgood Marshall and Oliver Hill were wasting their time in trying to integrate the nation’s and the Commonwealth’s public schools. Perhaps those who are deeply concerned about the re-segregation of our public schools are worrying for nothing. Perhaps those who predict that a school system with more than 50% of its students receiving free or reduced lunches rarely succeeds are simply wrong. Maybe ethnically or economically public schools are just fine.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

RPS Strategic Plan: What Is Obviously Missing

A few months ago, Richmond Public Schools revealed that it is formulating a five-year strategic plan. It invited members of the community to get involved in the process, staging meetings in various parts of the city to gather public opinion. After the meetings, Dr. Yvonne Brandon, Superintendent of RPS, appointed a Strategic Planning Team, composed of about thirty people representing the school board, school administration and teachers, parents and community groups. After a three-day retreat, the Strategic Planning Team released its Draft Strategic Plan.

The plan is a short document setting forth the outline for the continuation of the planning process. The plan contains sections setting forth Richmond Public Schools’ mission and values, and objectives for students to meet. It also contains six strategies, and the process envisions that a separate action team will be created to flesh out each of the strategies. The six strategies are:

We will . . .
1. Develop and implement engaging, innovative, and rigorous curriculum that will optimize learning.
2. Adopt a systemwide approach to inspire and empower students beyond traditional academics.
3. Recruit and retain the highest quality faculty, staff, and administrators and maximize their effectiveness.
4. Design, develop, and implement new buildings and technology infrastructure that are adaptable to new curriculum and instruction and evolving needs of individuals and communities.
5. Engage all facets of the community as partners in accomplishing our mission and objectives.
6. Align people and resources strategically to maximize impact.

Four of the strategies are self-explanatory. The first relates to curriculum. The third deals with RPS employees. The fourth deals with buildings and technology. The fifth deals with community partnerships. The other two strategies, the second and the sixth, are vaguely written and the Strategic Planning Team needs to clarify them before the action teams for those strategies can do their job.

I have great confidence that the six action teams, which will begin their work in January 2011, will do excellent jobs in developing the details for each of the draft strategies. However, they will not be dealing with two of the most serious issues facing Richmond Public Schools. First is the fact that Richmond Public Schools is a segregated school system—both ethnically and economically. Second is the related fact that a significant proportion of middle-class parents in Richmond opt out of RPS either by enrolling their children in private schools or by leaving the city so they can enroll their children in suburban public schools.

These are certainly not new issues for this maven. I wrote about them extensively, and made them part of my campaign for the school board two years ago. I will not repeat my arguments here. However, you might want to look at the following:
You Got Trouble Folks! Right Here in River City; Am I Obsessed With Middle Class Parents?; Middle Class Obsession Revisited.

In the two years since I wrote these pieces, Richmond Public Schools has had slight progress. The percentage of white children enrolled in our schools has increased from 7.35% to 8.15%. The percentage of African American students has dropped from 87.82% to 85.09%. But, our schools are still overwhelmingly segregated. Our high schools, both general and magnet (Franklin Military, Open, and Richmond Community) have African American enrollments ranging from a low of 78% to a high of 98%. Our middle schools have African American enrollments ranging from a low of 72% to a high of 98%. And, our elementary schools, where most of our white children are enrolled, have most of them in 5 schools. Among the other elementary schools, we have seven schools in which the African American enrollment is 98.3% or higher.

It is more difficult to see whether there is any progress in the area of economic integration because RPS has not yet published statistics for the 2009-10 school year. However, for the school year 2008-09 we know that system-wide 73% of elementary school students, 77% of middle school students and 70% of high school students were eligible to receive free or reduced-cost lunches (a standard measure of economic need). Among individual schools the subsidized meals rate ranges from a high of 98% to a low of 15%. This is a clear indication of economic segregation in our schools.

The middle class flight from Richmond Public Schools to private or suburban school systems is hard to measure. We know how many Richmond children attend RPS; we do not know how many Richmond children have not been enrolled in RPS. We can get a clue from the total RPS enrollment numbers. If you remember, two years ago I pointed out that RPS’s total student enrollment was decreasing by about 500 students per year. Since that time, this is the yearly drop in RPS enrollment:
2006-07 to 2007-08: decrease of 476;
2007-08 to 2008-09: decrease of 569;
2008-09 to 2009-10: decrease of 208.

The latest statistics are encouraging, but it is not clear whether this is a one year anomaly or that we are actually trimming the annual drop in enrollment. So, I need to rely on anecdotal evidence. I can report great progress. Remember those neighbors that I said would never send their child to RPS? Well, they changed their minds after their daughter was accepted to William Fox Elementary (63% white, only 20% subsidized meals). That’s one Richmond child we have saved from banishment to the counties.

Even if we have seen slight progress in RPS in the past two years the related problems of segregation and middle class abandonment still plague our school system. So long as the strategic planning process does not deal with these issues, the final plan it comes up with will have little chance of making Richmond Public Schools into the excellent school system that our children deserve.