Friday, August 01, 2014

Segregation and peers’ characteristics in the 2010–2011 kindergarten class

60 years after Brown v. Board of Education

Schools remain segregated today because neighborhoods in which they are located are segregated.
Education policy is housing policy. (Rothstein 2014)

Equality of educational opportunity was certainly an unrealized goal of many Americans since 1954 when the U. S. Supreme Court ruled the racist concept of "separate but equal" unconstitutional. But closing achievement gaps did not become an explicit policy goal of public school systems much before No Child Left Behind (2001). Granted, in Kentucky, the philosophical shift occurred a bit earlier. Driven by high-stakes testing and the public reporting of disaggregated student test score results, the Kentucky Education Reform Act made equality of educational outcomes among all subgroups of students the new policy goal in the commonwealth. It was not until 1992 or so...that it could truly be said that public school policy demanded the elimination of academic disparities between whites and students of color.

The "Great Society" programs of President Lyndon B. Johnson, during the mid 60s and 70s, were effectively dismantled by President Ronald Reagan. Achievement gaps that were closing (somewhat and slowly) began to expand once again.

As Bill Clinton had argued repeatedly in his 1992 campaign, cognitive skills were thought to be the most important determinants of personal success. But in 1994, when Charles Murray argued in The Bell Curve that cognitive inequality was largely explained by genetic inequality, a large resurgence of interest in "the cognitive hypothesis" was generated.

As Asa Hilliard observed, "Here we have the dangers of the misuse of one type of high-stakes standardized test exposed. The authors see IQ as intelligence, and they see intelligence as the causal factor for poverty and for affluence, or low- and high-class status. This means that the low class does not have the mental capacity to be improved, and therefore, charitably; they should be neglected."
In The Black-White Test Score Gap (1998) Jencks and Phillips found that "reducing the test score gap was probably both necessary and sufficient for reducing racial disparities in educational attainment and earnings.

The new philosophy of equitable outcomes became a federal goal with NCLB.

This new study is from the Economic Policy Institute:

Executive Summary

Closing achievement gaps—disparities in academic achievement between minority and white students, and between low-income and higher-income students—has long been an unrealized goal of U.S. education policy. It has now been 60 years since the Supreme Court declared “separate but equal” schools unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. We experienced two decades of school desegregation, coupled with a “war on poverty,” that substantially narrowed race-based gaps during the 1970s and 1980s. However, subsequent shifts in policies that led to increased segregation and inequality have resulted in ballooning income-based gaps and a virtual halt to progress on closing race-based gaps.

With income inequality at record levels (Mishel et al. 2012), the interactions between poverty and race remain strong and troubling and continue to impede educational progress for many students. One result of such interactions is ongoing segregation—at both the neighborhood and school levels. Yet most education “reforms” focus on a narrow set of policy fixes that minimize the roles of poverty and of race and overlook the impact of segregation. As scholars document the connections between neighborhood- and school-level segregation, it is important that we better understand how both affect schools and students in order to more productively guide both future research and policymaking.

This paper uses data from a recent representative cohort of U.S. students entering kindergarten—the National Center for Education Statistics’ Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010-11 (ECLS-K:2011)—to begin to do that. We first describe how segregated schools are by both race and income, by comparing the racial and socioeconomic status (SES) composition of those kindergarten classes with what they would look like if they represented the characteristics of the U.S. student body overall. We then explore the differences in students’ other characteristics based on the racial makeup of their own classes. Finally, we analyze how their academic performance changes over that first year (as measured by their place on the score distribution in math, reading, and approaches to learning at entry in the fall and again in the spring) by level of segregation in the school.

The findings, though just descriptive, are often surprising and raise both serious concerns and many new questions:
  • The vast majority of white students, even poor ones, are in classrooms with other students who are not poor. In contrast, most students of color, both black and Hispanic, go to school with many other students who are living in poverty.
  • While the family characteristics of white children vary relatively little depending on the type of classroom they are in (unless that classroom is very heavily minority), family characteristics of black and Hispanic children vary substantially from heavily white to heavily minority schools.
  • Academic performance varies greatly, depending on the school’s level of segregation across all races of students; the more heavily minority the school, the less prepared students are on average in the fall, and the smaller their relative gains by spring.
  • Finally, the data appear to support more sophisticated analyses’ suggestions that income segregation underlies many apparent negative consequences of racial segregation.
The bottom line is that, while race is not the real “culprit” in education, racial status is so strongly determinative of a minority child’s peers’ other characteristics—especially parental and family background—that integrating schools appears key to improving odds of children’s success and increase equality among groups...

Sixty years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared “separate but equal” unconstitutional in its seminal Brown vs. Board of Education decision, separate and unequal remains the reality for many black, brown, and white children in the United States. In other words, not only has Brown failed to fulfill its promise of integration, as Rothstein writes, but it was followed by decades of policy decisions at all levels of government that have solidified systems of segregation and severe inequality. These systems expand opportunity gaps between minority and white children and challenge the ideal of a socially cohesive nation...


Richard Innes said...

It’s been a long time, but as I recall, though KERA certainly did come with promises to deal with achievement gaps for all, the public didn’t even see score breakdowns by race until the late 1990s when a new law (floated by a Kentucky African-American legislator) – not any policy from the Kentucky Board of Education or requirement in KERA – took effect.

Furthermore, there was no accountability for disaggregated scores until No Child Left Behind came along. The state’s own accountability programs didn’t include accountability for disaggregated scores until Unbridled Learning started in 2011-12.

For sure, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows Kentucky isn’t doing well with the white to African-American (which NAEP lists as “blacks”) achievement gaps. Between 1992 and 2013, the fourth grade NAEP reading achievement gap GREW in Kentucky from a spread of 16 to 24 percentage points. In 2013 Kentucky’s black fourth grade reading proficiency rate was a dismal 15 percent.

For eighth grade NAEP math, the growth between 1990 and 2013 in Kentucky’s white minus black achievement gap was much worse, soaring from a 9 point differential in 1990 to 22 points in 2013. As of 2013, Kentucky’s black proficiency rate in Grade 8 NAEP Math was only 11 percent. That is terrible.

By the way, for those who claim the NAEP proficiency rate cut scores are simply set too high, it turns out the NAEP proficiency rates reported for Kentucky in Grade 8 Math and Grade 8 Reading in recent years agree very closely with the percentage of students in the state who score at or above the college-aligned EXPLORE test Benchmark Scores that show students are on track for college (and, if you read some of the ACT technical stuff, maybe living wage careers, as well). The NAEP scores are probably going to align fairly well to eventual scoring under Common Core related testing (right now, KPREP scoring is somewhat easier than NAEP, but much closer than what we got from the KCCT under CATS). So, folks better get used to this level of required rigor. It looks like NAEP got it right and Kentucky’s CATS KCCT and KIRIS tests didn’t.

In any event, after the better part of a quarter of a century of KERA, it is easy to understand why many in Kentucky’s African-American community view both promises and progress very harshly. I think you would have a hard time selling them the notion that:

“It was not until 1992 or so...that it could truly be said that public school policy demanded the elimination of academic disparities between whites and students of color.”

Kentucky’s accountability program at that time clearly sent a very different message about the state’s real policy.

Richard Day said...

Yes…you’re (mostly) right. You are recalling Gerald Neal’s SB 168.

And without being inside the system one might not have been aware of the amount of pressure brought to bear on school principals to produce equitable outcomes, even in advance of that. Early on I suppose it was more internal accountability. Formal accountability was pretty much as you describe it…except that it existed well before 2011…by about a decade.

Prior to KERA student test scores, when reported, were reported by averages which masked achievement gaps. I was in a very highly rated school (Cassidy) at a time when a substantial percentage of my students weren’t doing very well. We were honored by the state annually. But since the system only looked at averages, and I had 80% of my (affluent, mostly white) kids at or above national averages, we were tops. When KERA kicked into gear and we began exploring subgroup data, (which provided a sharp contrast between the affluent (Chevy Chase) kids and their peers from Bluegrass-Aspendale (all poor, and mostly black) abracadabra… suddenly we were viewed as suspect because we had the largest achievement gap in the state.

What changed was the yardstick, and that changed the working philosophy.

Since the Kentucky Constitution gives the General Assembly the nontransferable duty to provide an equitable state-wide system of schools (“efficient…throughout the state”) and this has never been accomplished. As the Rose case taught us, the General Assembly cannot shed its constitutional duty by delegating it to others. In my opinion, charter schools are a constitutionally dicey prospect in Kentucky for that reason. But I also believe a particular exception might be successfully argued, where the state has persistently failed to serve a given population. I have no problem understanding why some African Americans with kids in persistently low-performing schools hold out hopes for charter schools.

But our current situation is not simply a failure of KERA, if that is what you are suggesting. It has always been the case…before, during and after KERA. …worse before. What do you imagine the achievement gap to have been in 1954? 64?

KERA’s failures are not the result of the system’s goals. They were the result of the General Assembly’s lack of fidelity and commitment to fully support its own program…and perhaps a few of the dumber ideas that came along with the legislation (like the Primary Program).

Don’t get me wrong. Kentucky set lofty goals, but I’m not suggesting that we have met them. (Neither has any other state so far as I can tell.) But before the new philosophy that assessment and public reporting wrought, schools didn’t even have to try to achieve equitable results.

The state’s policy is essentially this: an equitable education for each and every child that prepares them to be college- and career-ready at graduation. Assuming that goal is even reachable (which it is not) we have never supported our school to that level.

With bipartisan support, President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind federalized education policy to an elevated degree. I thought President Obama would go a different direction, but he didn’t. He doubled down, and continued Bush’s policy (first used by LBJ) of withholding funds from any state that failed to follow federal policy. That approach has now become standard practice (CCSS) for federal legislation on issues large (desegregation) and small (NCLB annual tests).

Richard Innes said...

I must admit “internal accountability” does not really impress me.

I started to attend state board meetings in that time period and I never detected much interest in the gaps. Certainly, I can recall no discussions of adding gap accountability measures into KIRIS or CATS. Such discussions didn’t start until NCLB forced them on the state board.

Given that the African-American performance remains dismally low today (I’ll have some blogs up on that later in the coming week), it was probably really bad in the 1990 to 2000 time frame. As a result, in the 1990 to 2000 time frame:
• Were any principals replaced because of that low African-American performance?
• Was there a public announcement of the reason for such removal (such action would have to have some explanation)?
• Was the pressure you obviously felt in Fayette County repeated across the state? How about in Louisville, for example?

Richard Day said...


You seem to be missing the point.

Yes, there are sizable achievement gaps today. But don’t forget - there have always been….

Slavery, Jim Crow, social sanctions against blacks, economic disparities…following 400 years of racism and oppression, it is hard to conclude anything other than that the achievement gap was deliberately created by whites who believed blacks to be genetically inferior. Before Brown v Board of Ed, it was illegal for whites and blacks to be taught together in a Kentucky classroom. If the Brown ruling had been sufficient to create equality of educational opportunity there never would have been need for Rose.

What I’m saying is that the push for policy change – the shift from “equality of educational opportunity” to “equity of student achievement outcomes” did not become a policy goal in the schools before KERA – later formalized and federalized by NCLB.

But before you get too critical of the state’s early efforts, you might want to think back. You weren’t focused on achievement gaps in 1990 either. Your initial focus was on student portfolios in KIRIS (and the test generally), as I recall. You were not calling for equity and closing achievement gaps in 1990. That came later, and was magnified when BIPPS decided to support charter schools.

Accountability for closing achievement gaps in 1990 (internal or otherwise) was brand new. Nobody was accountable prior to that time. Schools were adjusting and a lot of effort went into making sure that school administrators had their heads and hearts in the right place.

The first state effort that I can recall was in 1999. It was called the Minority Student Achievement Project - and it was a total waste of time. The state bought time, in my opinion, by claiming that we were studying the best approaches for addressing equity, while completely ignoring the work in the field.

Impressed? There is no reason for anyone to be impressed. But change was occurring. It came with the Rose case and KERA, and was formalized over the succeeding decades.

Looking back now, a quarter century later, it is tempting to claim that one’s present attitudes existed years ago, and judge harshly anyone who did not share today’s beliefs at the time. But that is neither fair nor accurate, we ought to avoid the bias that “presentism” provides. The tendency to interpret past events by today’s values leads to an inaccurate picture of the time.

Student achievement equity hit the radar screen at the school level - the only level that really matters – around 1990.

Thanks for the comments.


Anonymous said...

Would like to know at what level (percentage) that integration enhances or segregation harms student achievement and at what levels and content areas.

We talk a lot about gap but is this perception of school segregation truly to blame or is this more of a SES issue?

Also, how does the racial identity of the local community, school leadership and teachers in the classroom truly impact student achievement data?

I am just not so sure we can say that over or under representation of a minority or majority is directly responsible for student achievement gaps.

Richard Innes said...


There is a very important reason why I didn't talk about achievement gaps in the 1990s.

There was no disaggregated data available from KIRIS to inform such discussions.

It wasn't that I was not interested. State educators and managers were not interested enough to let the public have anything like consistent access to the data.

I don’t think we started to see consistent reports with disaggregated data until No Child Left Behind came along. It was the feds, not the state, who finally forced more transparency and accountability in this area. This is not a success story for KERA.