Course Feedback

Hi all –

I hope you had a lovely break over the holidays and are having an enjoyable January in whatever form that takes. As you get ready for your second semester in the Urban Education program, I hope you’ll take a moment to give me some feedback here on the Historical Perspectives course for future planning. I believe you will have an opportunity to reflect on the utility of all the core courses at the end of the first year, but I’d like a little more specifics about the history course before it’s too far removed.

As I think you all know, Steve is retiring and moving forward I will alternate teaching this course with a colleague (hopefully always in person)  so my questions in the google form are mostly about content and assignments, although feel free to comment on any other aspect of the course. You will remain anonymous unless you choose to share your name.

I’m also around and happy to meet with you via zoom or phone — to talk about the course, or your research, or anything else you’d like.

All my best –


Huger Strike or not, Money is the Bottom Line in Eduaction

In the last couple classes we talked about the importance in positionally and the intentions of the researcher to begin inquiry projects that aim to answer or further explore certain ideas. Nowile Rooks idea for Cutting School came about in her years teaching at Princeton to an almost all elite white student body, who in the 2000s had a moment of revelation and a desire to “fix the education system” for black and poor children. That moment happened to coincide with Obama’s Race to the Top Initiative and the rise of private and public money to fund specific education projects. These systems were seen as saviors of the education of black and poor children, when in reality they were not only new forms of miseducation, but they were lucrative business opportunities. Rooks’ book came out of the notion “I need to understand this moment.” The book not only looks at the history of race and democracy through education, but it focuses on the segregation within education as a business. The main argument in her book is that education for blacks and minorities is unraveling and getting worse and white elites and businesses are making money from it rather than “fixing” education. Rooks coins this process as Segremonics “the business of profiting specifically from high levels of racial and economic segregation” (p. 17).  In the early chapters Rooks breaks down the business behind privatization of education and how it grew to become a money making industry by situating it in the history of education reform and the first for profit school that made way thanks to the Edison project. In the final chapters Rooks delves deeper into the narratives of families directly effected by poor quality education, the rise of charter schools, standardized testing, and the lost of community public schools to illustrate how segregation in education has transcend ethical and political agendas and is now down to the money.

Rooks shows that segregation in education did not just recently transform into being a business, rather in the recent decades it has expend to an industry of education. Schools now hire private investigators to tail students home, they set out bounty hunter rewards to track down families that don’t belong in the district and they offer checks for tips on students that may be ineligible to be in that school.  Yet, the government continuous failure to provide equal and equitable education pushes families to seek out the best education opportunities for their kids under their circumstances. Under the camouflage of addressing these specific concerns, business savvy people supported by white philanthropist and encouraged by a government that does not invest in education enough, created schools mainly for the sake of profit. These schools were build on a business model that needed majority poor, majority black students to function as a business in order to reap profits.

Rooks argues that people who create these schools and embezzle funding should be penalized in order to maintain integrity and honest in education. However, the irony is that rather than the schools and the administrators being punished for theft its the parents that are being criminalized. Over the last years there has been theft of over 100 million from charter school funding through mismanagement and direct theft, but no one was penalized for it (p.231). At the same time, parents who send their kids to better schools that are outside of the district have been sentenced to jail, prosecuted for “stealing education”  charged with thousands of dollars for fees and even convicted as criminals (p.232-233). Rooks uses the narratives of criminalized people to bring to life the failure of  school reforms and the “difficulties involved in navigating the caste-defining realities of apartheid education” (p.234). She highlights how wealthy families like Ebner, were able to reap from the system by using their wealth and resources while families like Williams-Bolar suffered baffling consequences (p.244).

How far should families go to get the government and education entities to listen to them? Do they really have to result to a hunger strike? In chapter 7, Rooks focuses on narratives of community activist and protests across different communities that were most impacted with segrenomics. One aspect she looks at is the protests against standardized testing that happens in 2015 across both white and black/latino communities. Although standardized testing “being a common enemy” across communities, the effect of testing wasn’t the same, nor was the reasons for protests. Black communities protested against the tests not just because they were limiting future opportunities for children, or because they did not equitable measure intelligence, but because testing was used as a form of policing in black communities and eventually resulted in the closure of many community public schools that were the only schools available for some students. This gave rise to more charter schools popping up in poor and black communities. The test score gap between rich and poor children grew 60% from 1960 to 2014, which is almost double the gap between white students and students of color (p. 264). Although there are many research that proves that testing is inadequate at quantifying students abilities and that it is inherently racist, it still exists and counties to grow because education continues to be a money making industry. For example the SATs were first designed in order to keep Jewish students from entering Ivy League colleges in the 1940s, but then grew to become a large profit base industry (p.264). Later on companies like Kaplan developed to allow students to “beat the test” and access that Ivey league tower, but in reality these companies were supporters of the test because it was the reason for their existence and they are making millions of dollars from it (264). What we as a nation need to do is reevaluate what education means and take out the business opportunity from it, only then can schools realistically center the students need and until then, our capitalist society will continue to devour our moral and ethical standards of living.

Rooks Chapter 1 and 5: Missed Opportunities

In Chapter 1 and 5 of Cutting School: The Segrenomics of American Education, Noliwe Rooks, and Daine Ravitch announce an age-old trope in American pedagogy that education might be better delivered to the public if it were cheaper. Although public education in America has historically steered our society to maintain ideologies of democracy, Christianity, and capitalism, the quality was always far-ranging as it was dispensed to communities of varying socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s not unbelievable to see that even modern initiatives to provide better public education continue to contribute to incongruent delivery of quality. 

With what sometimes seems like unlimited financing, the private sector can experiment more comfortably and often bring solutions to the table the public sector can’t. SFER, TFA, and many other private organizations represent injections of ingenuity in the public education reform landscape that many urban school districts can’t contribute to. Neoliberal economic models have made way for urban school improvement to have a “dual bottom line.” The privileged are able to provide what they feel is a good education by “giving back” and being “good citizens.” Additionally, these same privileged citizens are also able to profit from their investment as Rooks says, “some— a small but important number— believe they are acting rationally by treating the public education sector as an investment opportunity.This crusade to remedy the bad education of America’s poor only exacerbates inequality in African American and Latino communities and builds a more profound socioeconomic divide.

Privatization offers charter schools, teacher training programs, and virtual schools. Rooks believes these are all structural innovations that allow school districts to outsource improvement for “underachievement” of marginalized groups to private organizations. Much like charter schools, virtual schools have become a popular solution to urban districts with low achievement and strapped budgets around the country. Virtual learning promises the delivery of accessible and individualized education, but the personal economics of large portions of students engaged in these platforms prevent this. Rooks states, “supporters of online learning say that all anyone needs in order to access a great education is a stable Internet connection, but only 35 percent of households earning less than $25,000 have broadband Internet access.” Unfortunately, one of the reasons success is stalled is because these initiatives don’t appear to consider the targetted community in the development of educational programs explicitly created for that community. 

In these two chapters, Rooks argues that the biggest issue with the privatization of school improvement is that school districts overlook the stakeholders in African African and Latin American communities. This avoids the clear socioeconomic divide and handicaps any possible improvement. Rooks states, “today we not only accept this injustice as an unavoidable fact but allow our government to empower corporations to benefit from the very segregation we once swore to eradicate ” What is ironic is these private organizations only exist because of racism. Moreover, the access they were given to support urban schools provided an opportunity to attack racism, segregation, and other institutional problems that prevent learning in communities of color.

COVID-19 and School Segregation

While I understand that this reading was unassigned in order to lend more attention/focus to the other readings, I still wanted to write my blog post about it because it contains data relevant to segregation and COVID-19’s impact on New York City schools. Segregation is Killing Us is a collaborative effort between Territorial Empathy (a non-profit focused on solving pressing urban issues) and Integrate NYC (a youth-led organization advocating for equity in schools) to outline how redlining has impacted low-income communities of color and how these long-standing inequities have impacted students during the COVID-19 pandemic. I appreciated this reading because it presented the information in the form of an ArcGIS Esri StoryMap with interactive data visualizations (so naturally, I gravitated towards it). Since not everyone will have the time to go through this story map, I wanted to try and highlight some of the information they conveyed, along with a couple of screenshots of visualizations related to student data (note that you can see data visualizations much clearer, as well as interactive, directly on their site, I just wanted to provide a few screenshots for surface-referencing). 

Figure 1. Percent Positive COVID-19 Tests by Area Code (Territorial Empathy, Segregation Is Killing Us)

Figure 2. Epidemiological Curve of COVID-19 Cases by Predominant Income (Territorial Empathy, Segregation Is Killing Us)

At the peak of Phase 1 of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, there began to be an increase in conversations surrounding the racial disparities in resources available for communities to survive the health and economic effects of the first wave. Wealthier and less diverse areas of the city were significantly less impacted (see Figure 1 and Figure 2). When compared to the statistics of white New Yorkers, Black and Latinx New Yorkers are 1.5x more likely to be infected by COVID-19 and 2x more likely to die from the virus. According to Territorial Empathy, the reasons for this are largely attributed to New York City’s history of redlining and the accessibility of quarantining/social distancing. 

Figure 3. Predominant Race by Zip Code (2019) (Territorial Empathy, Segregation Is Killing Us)

When it comes to income, a whopping 77% of New York City’s essential workers are people of color, with over half (roughly 53%) of these workers being foreign-born, and 19% are not American citizens. Currently, when it comes to housing, about 70% of the neighborhoods that the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) once defined as Class D/”Hazardous” are now occupied by communities of color, and by extension, many of these essential workers (see Figure 3 above for census data on predominant race by zip code). These communities have suffered from disinvestment, in addition to higher rates of respiratory issues due to the industrialization of these areas, which causes residents to be more vulnerable to the severe effects of COVID-19. Also, residents within respiratory hotspots are quadruple as likely to be Black, Latinx, or Indigenous.

Figure 4. Schools Under Capacity by Predominant Demographic (Territorial Empathy, Segregation Is Killing Us)

These statistics are shocking, but some of these racial disparities parallel those present in the NYC public school system. As many of us know, New York City is unique in that it has complicated admissions policies that essentially enable the further exclusion of diverse student bodies through “screens” (criteria). School applications can require criteria such as “behavioral scores” and standardized examinations to determine a student’s admissions priority level, creating a severe equity gap in the admissions process. On behavioral scores specifically, data provided by Territorial Empathy shows that across the entire city, the predominant demographic of students receiving disciplinary actions are disproportionately Latinx and Black by a massive 88%. This, alongside other screens, results in students of color being funneled into under-funded schools. Notice how the student demographic data on schools currently under capacity portrayed in Figure 4 shows greater density in the communities that suffered more from COVID-19 in Figure 1. The data Territorial Empathy compiled also showed that over-capacity schools in areas that would have received an A or B (by HOLC’s standards) continued to receive an increase of funding during the pandemic, while under-capacity schools within C or D zones are losing several hundred thousand dollars in Fair Student Funding. This, of course, severely limits the student resources available at schools similarly to the inaccessibility of resources between communities during Phase 1 of the Coronavirus.

Figure 5. Admissions Priority by Individual Considerations (Integrate NYC, Segregation Is Killing Us)

After outlining other inequities in the school system, Integrate NYC proposes what I find to be a pretty compelling new school admissions policy as a step towards repairing the harm and marginalization of students within New York City. Titled the “Admissions Impact Score,” this policy takes into consideration the community and individual impact of injustices exposed by COVID-19, and then places students most impacted into a priority group for the admissions process (Integrate NYC). Under this policy, Student Priority Scores rank students holistically by looking at the individual as well as inequities/challenges such as linguistic isolation, poverty, household size, technology access, and more. This way, if the pandemic has unfairly impacted a student, these disadvantages will be converted and increase their priority level in the admissions process (see Figure 5). Individual considerations that could affect their priority score includes categories like free/reduced lunch eligibility, English language learners, students with IEPs, and more. With the algorithm weighing COVID-19’s effects relatively heavily, Integrate NYC was sure to explain that as time goes on and we see more relief from the pandemic, the algorithm will shift with the needs of the students. This way, this admissions approach is sustainable and can continue to bring more balance to NYC schools after the pandemic officially ends.

Figure 6. Admissions Priority Map (Integrate NYC, Segregation Is Killing Us)

To wrap up these highlights, Territorial Empathy took the data analyzed and combined by Integrate NYC to create an impact map of coronavirus on NYC communities. Each variable had a varying level of significance within the algorithm based on magnitude, with the map in Figure 6 then reflecting the priority scores of neighborhoods (1 being the highest priority for admissions, 3 being the lowest). When compared to Figure 1, we see a near-identical map between data of the communities who suffered and the students who should be prioritized in admissions processes. With New York City’s long-standing battle to have school populations accurately reflect the populations of the communities they occupy and how much we’ve discussed admissions policies in our class, I’m curious to know what others think about this approach to creating more equitable schools across the city? Are there any drawbacks to this approach? I also wanted to make mention of the fact that I believe what Territorial Empathy and Integrate NYC accomplished with this work is a significant example of how digital tools can be used to greatly enhance the presentation and communicative style of education-related research. Converting data into interactive visuals allows for us to compare numbers and impacts in a faster, more critical way than ever before (and a lot of these visualizations can be made with relative ease if anybody is interested in creating one down the line). I highly encourage everyone to scroll through and check out Segregation is Killing Us when you have the time!

“Mo’ Charters, Mo’ Problems”

The latest School Colors podcast, “Mo’ Charters, Mo’ Problems” illustrates the problem of framing issues as binaries. In the charter school debate, the binary is that charter schools are either seen as the solution to problems of educational inequity or a problem that’s destroying the public school system. As Mark Winston Griffith and Max Freedman demonstrate, it’s not always that simple. Large charter school networks perpetuate a host of problems that I find problematic, including: 1) a lack of accountability to the communities they serve, 2) co-locating and taking resources away from public schools (the co-location problem is particularly true in NYC), 3) hiring a non-unionized, mostly White staff of teachers that do not represent the student body, and 4) creating a no-excuses culture that, as Mark points out, “seems to champion the view that Black bodies need to be controlled, policed and micromanaged.”

However, many of these problems are true in public schools as well. Most public schools are not accountable to the communities they serve, particularly parents. Resources in public schools are inequitably distributed by zip code. The majority of public school teachers are White women. Although they are unionized, many teachers (myself included) are frustrated by the top-heavy UFT in NYC and do not feel like the union represents them. COVID-19 has illustrated that the UFT is not responsive to local teacher organizing, and definitely still not responsive to the needs and desires of the communities of color that the school system serves. On top of all of this, the school-to-prison pipeline is alive and well in public schools.

Then there are charter schools like Ember, which incorporate many of the elements parents and community members were fighting for in Ocean Hill-Brownsville. Aren’t these the schools we want, even if they are charter schools? I found myself wrestling with this question, yet again, at the end of the episode. When Ember’s extension for a high school wasn’t approved by the state, I was disappointed and upset (although not surprised). And yet, I’m still uncomfortable with the idea of charter schools. Why?

I’d love to hear other’s thoughts because I’m still working through my discomfort with charter schools, but I believe my discomfort stems from 2 larger, ideological reasons: 1) Like I said in my post last week, injecting the idea of capitalist competition into education feels uncomfortable to me. If competition means there will be losers, then those “losers” will be students and families who have a constrained set of choices and are stuck in “failing” schools. I believe schools should be community hubs, and the idea of calling any community we’re building “failing” sits uneasy with me. 2) As charters are currently set up in NYC, they are accountable to the state and possibly to their donors. Their structure is not set up to be accountable to the communities they serve. As some of the interviews in the School Colors episode illustrate, many charter schools do not treat parents like they’re community members who the school is accountable to, but rather like they are part of the problem and need to be changed. Ultimately, my issue is not with individual charter schools like Ember. The public school system is not going to change overnight, and we probably need schools like Ember now given the imperfections of our public schools. However, my problem IS when charter schools are framed in the neoliberal agenda as the solution to all of our problems with education. Not only is this inaccurate, it is damaging to the future of public schools that I want to fight for.

2 thoughts to ponder

  1. According to Rooks, as of 2016 the annual expenditure of public funds on the public education sector is $500-600 billion.
  2. Willie Sutton, the noted bank robber, when asked once why he robbed banks, replied “Because that’s where the money is.”

Co-mingle those two insights as you ponder why private equity types and venture capitalists might be interested in “fixing” public education.

A political education

Elizabeth Todd-Breland gives us a lot to think about in A Political Education: Black Politics and Education Reform in Chicago since the 1960s. Covering a half century of the history of education in Chicago, she writes about the central and often silenced role of Black women in the struggle for educational equity. She does a fantastic job of showing the complexity and political diversity of this struggle with some women choosing to organize within the CTU and others outside of it, some embracing independent schools and charter schools and other sticking with public schools, some fighting for integration as others demanded equal funding and resources.

What makes this complex and multifaceted history such an engaging read is its rootedness in Chicago, a city whose educational system she knows not only as a professor, but also as a student, teacher, parent, and board of education  member (where she has been a leader in the struggle to remove police officers from CPS). I appreciated how she was able to track individual people, schools, and neighborhoods across the decades to show continuities in struggle over time. I found this to be the most compelling text in terms of scale, as she managed to jump scales from the city to the nation without falling into the trap of generalizability that Ansley Erickson warns of—I think she did this most strongly in the epilogue with her discussion of Rahm Emanuel 😠, Barack Obama, and other figures who bridged educational policy in Chicago and Washington.

Class this week and feedback on your papers

Dear class,
We hope you had a healthy and happy holiday weekend, however you celebrated. We are looking forward to seeing you all in class on Wednesday, with our guest Elizabeth Todd-Breland joining us to talk about her book. It really is an ideal book to encounter at this point in the semester, as many of you are grappling with the same big ideas that she discusses/illuminates/highlights. We know you’re going to get a lot out of reading it.
Believe it or not we are done reading and grading your papers and will be emailing them directly to you later this evening. Overall we thought you are raising really interesting ideas about the history of education and its place in a larger  history of social and political change, and we are excited to see what you produce for your final papers. At the same time, we urge you to get full drafts of your next paper done in advance of the due date (December 16) so that you may benefit from peer review, perhaps a virtual visit to the writing center, and your own editing process.  Many of your papers just needed more time to bake and be tweaked.
As a reminder, all students are receiving full credit for the first two papers, but we did give you a letter grade as requested so that you may see where we think your paper lines up with expectations in a doctoral program.
If you have any questions —  about your grade or anything else — please do not hesitate to contact one or both of us.

Judith’s Open Office Hour

Hi all –

I’ll be hanging out on zoom from 4:30-5:30 on Monday, November 23rd if you want to drop by (with any questions). And again, as always, feel free to email and request a personal meeting if that works better for you.



my extra office hour

I will holding my extra office hour on Saturday at 10am. If you are interested in joining me please send me an email and I’ll email you the Zoom link so as not to have to post the link on this open blog.