ASD

ASD leader’s comments bring attention to relationship between charters and school segregation

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
Students settle in to lunch at Aspire Hanley Elementary School, a charter school operated in Memphis through the state's Achievement School District. A bill in the Tennessee legislature would allow schools such as Aspire to enroll students from outside of their residential zones.

After Chris Barbic, the superintendent of the state-run Achievement School District, was criticized for commenting earlier this week that charter schools are not solely responsible for racial segregation in public schools, ASD officials said that the lack of diversity within its own charter schools is due to historic housing and school zoning trends and the unique restrictions placed on the ASD in state law.

“The schools we’re inheriting that have been in these systems for a long time – they’re already racially segregated schools. They’re schools where one in 10 kids reads on grade level,” Elliot Smalley, a spokesman for the ASD, which is tasked with improving the state’s worst schools, said on Friday.

“We absolutely believe segregation is an issue…but it’s unfair to suggest that it’s all on charter schools. It’s on communities, it’s on schools, it’s on everyone,” he said.

The state-run district is required by the First to the Top law to serve only students who are zoned to schools ranked in the bottom five percent in the state. “It’s clear what our charge is – it’s to serve the kids who are zoned to our schools, to serve our neighborhoods,” Smalley said. Charter school advocates in Tennessee are petitioning for students who are not zoned to priority schools to also be able to attend ASD schools.

Acceptable separation?

Barbic landed in hot water earlier this week after an event at Lipscomb University, in Nashville, highlighting disputes in Tennessee and nationwide about which students charter schools should serve. News outlets reported that the state official had said that some level of segregation in charter schools was “acceptable.”

House Democrats denounced Barbic’s comments: “Only one day after the nation paused to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is disturbing to hear the head of our Achievement School District downplay the role of diversity in a well-rounded education,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh in a press release. “Too many people have fought too hard to bring about an integrated, well balanced school system for comments like this to move us towards resegregation.”

Nashville Public Radio later clarified that Barbic himself had not said that segregation in the schools is acceptable, but the comments are still causing ripples: Representatives from the state’s Black Caucus said the comments were troublesome on Thursday.

A spokeswoman for state representative Larry Miller, a Democrat from Memphis and a member of the black caucus, said that representatives are planning to arrange a meeting with Barbic and would not issue an official statement on the comments until after that meeting.

Smalley said that while Barbic was open to discussing the issue further, no meetings had been arranged.

Barbic’s remarks, as reported by Nashville Public Radio, follow:

“I mean, absolutely diversity is important. But the fact is schools reflect the neighborhood. Nashville is not a diverse city. This idea of living in these mixed income, mixed race neighborhoods across the city is a great goal. It’s not reality. To talk about charters as segregating the population, like Art (Fuller, head of Knowledge Academy in the old Hickory Hollow mall) said, charters are representations of the community.

“So I think you’ve got to be about quality. Yes we want diversity but I just think we got to be honest about the situation and speak honestly about race and class, which goes way beyond the power of a school and not start to throw charters into a place where really they’re not responsible for the neighborhood demographic patterns of Nashville over the last 100 years.”

Who should charter schools serve?

The state-run district oversees a number of charter schools, which take over priority schools and are charged with dramatically improving their performance. Unlike other charter schools, which can run lotteries or take application, ASD schools are required to enroll only students who are zoned to priority schools, including any student who was zoned to the school before it was taken over over.

Those students are overwhelmingly African-American and poor: Some 96 percent of the state-run district’s 2,000 students were African-American in the 2012-13 school year year, according to the state’s report card. That same year, Memphis City Schools’ student population was about 81 percent African-American, and Davidson County Schools, which includes Nashville, was about 45 percent African-American.

Smalley said that while approximately 24 percent of students in the state of Tennessee are African-American, 92 percent of students in priority schools eligible for the ASD are African-American.

Outside the ASD, in Tennessee, charter schools were limited to serving at-risk students until 2011. That restriction has since been lifted, but most charter schools in the state still aim to serve that group. A charter school aimed at middle class students in Nashville drew fire last year for targeting middle-class students, prompting conversations about diversity in that city’s schools.

When asked if he thought there was a benefit to having schools that serve entirely high-needs populations, Smalley said, “there is benefit in clarity around mission. I think there’s benefit in a belief in high expectations for all kids, regardless of race or background.”

“The thing we can 100 percent control right now, and the most urgent need, is the quality of education we are providing,” Smalley said.

In 2010, the University of California, Los Angeles’ Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles released a report called “Choice Without Equity” that showed that charter schools are often more segregated by race than regular public schools. Many charter schools specifically target students from failing schools, who are often minorities and often from low-income families.

But a 2012 report from the same group indicates that segregation in regular public schools has also been increasing, especially in the south.

Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a Washington think tank, has studied charter school diversity and is publishing an upcoming book with coauthor Halley Potter on the topic. He told Education Week in 2012 that “the charter school community is recognizing that to the extent that it’s seen as segregated, that’s a negative thing.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.