Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Chicago: Gentrification Comes to the Neighborhood School by Daniel Hertz

[ You may remember Daniel Hertz from his mind-blowing analysis of growing public safety inequality in Chicago. He’s back with another one, this time a look at how gentrification is affecting the performance of Chicago’s neighborhood schools. It’s probably relevant to any city that’s experiencing gentrification. This one comes from a newish web site called Chicago Bureau, which focuses on youth issues – Aaron. ]

To be on track for college, an elementary student needs to “exceed standards” on the ISAT, according to the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. In 2001, there were only three neighborhood elementary schools in the entire city with a quarter or more students doing that well.

As a result, for a certain kind of parent, there were only two options for educating a child: getting him into one of the city’s flagship magnets, or moving to the suburbs. That put a lot of pressure on magnets and other test-in schools: like the Daley Sr.-era condo towers that still line North Lake Shore Drive, they had to rise above the rest of the city and offer the people who could afford to move to Evanston or DuPage County some reason not to.

But just like there’s only so much lakefront, there were only so many seats in those magnet schools. And over the last 10 years, as downtown and North Side neighborhoods gentrified, the number of parents trying to seat their children in one of those schools has turned what was always a competitive process into a frenzy. Last year, about half the freshmen admitted to Whitney Young, Northside College Prep and Walter Payton had near-perfect test scores and straight-A report cards. And the crunch is too big to be solved by expansions like the one Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced for Payton and Coonley Elementary.

Just as the magnet system began to overcrowd, though, neighborhood elementary schools suddenly began making a turnaround. Some of them, anyway. By 2013, those three “high-achieving” schools had become 15. That’s a 400 percent increase over 12 years — and lots of other neighborhood elementary schools were on track to get there soon.

Gentrification ISAT 2001 2013

Unsurprisingly, though, CPS’s new high-scoring schools weren’t distributed all over the city. Instead, progress was contained to the same neighborhoods that had seen the greatest gentrification over the previous 10 or 20 years, or which were already solidly middle-class. As a result, the average high-performing school’s student body in 2013 was only 20 percent low-income, compared to 85 percent for CPS as a whole.

In some cases, the new high-achieving schools had had large middle-class populations from the start and their scores just gradually ticked up. But about half of them saw dramatic demographic transformations. Lakeview’s Blaine Elementary, for example, saw its low-income population fall by 29 percent since 2010. At the same time, the proportion of its students exceeding ISAT standards has jumped by 25 percent. At Audubon Elementary, less than a mile to the west, the number of low-income students dropped 28 percent while ISAT exceed scores have jumped 53 percent over the same four years.

Another eight schools that don’t yet meet the “high-achieving” threshold are also rapidly gentrifying, losing an average of 20 percent of their low-income population over the last four years and doubling their exceed scores.

At the elementary level, then, professional-class families in some parts of Chicago have solved the magnet problem. They don’t have to decamp to the suburbs: they can bring suburban demographics to the city just by sending their kids to their neighborhood CPS school.

Gentrification ISAT grades change

And despite all the fuss over teacher accountability, charter schools and innovative curricula, the fact remains that in America, economic background is the single best predictor of a child’s academic success.

Which leaves the city…where? After decades of losing thousands upon thousands of middle-class families thanks to a struggling educational system, it must be good news for that process to be finally reversing itself. A city without a middle class isn’t going anywhere good; the tax receipts alone are cause for celebration, given the state of Chicago’s budget.

A school system without a middle class is also in big trouble, of course. So it’s heartening to see the beginnings, perhaps, of a decline in the kind of economic segregation that led to 87% of CPS students being low-income in the first place.

But if the number of low-income kids in our newly high-achieving schools keeps plummeting, not many of them will be in a position to benefit from the very transformation that’s pushing them out. After all, how many low-income families can afford a decent place to live within the attendance boundaries of neighborhood schools in Lincoln Park or Lakeview?

For a long time, the egalitarian promise of public education was frustrated by families with wealth fleeing the city for suburban school districts, leaving CPS with a heavy burden of poverty in all but a few elite test-in schools.

Gentrification ISAT - low-income

That dynamic seems to be changing, so that now a greater and greater number of middle-class families are choosing to send their kids to local elementary schools. But if we’re just moving the lines that divide the children who receive a good education from those who don’t—from district boundaries to CPS attendance boundaries—it would be hard to call that significant progress.

There is, though, a difference. The city of Chicago, and the leadership at CPS, have absolutely no power over any of the wealthier districts that surround them. But they can try to shape what happens entirely within their borders. The question of how to mitigate economic segregation in the city’s schools, so that all children have a chance at a decent education—without scaring the middle class back to the suburbs and starting again at square one—will be, I think, one of the greatest challenges our school system will face for the next generation.

Gentrification ISAT - High-Achieving Schools

Gentrification ISAT - Gentrifying Schools Pull Away

This post originally appeared at Chicago Bureau on November 5, 2013.

Topics: Demographic Analysis, Education
Cities: Chicago

33 Responses to “Chicago: Gentrification Comes to the Neighborhood School by Daniel Hertz”

  1. Alon Levy says:

    So basically the issue is that neurotic parents are afraid that if their children go to school with poor people, their test scores will be dragged down.


  2. Daniel Hertz says:

    Poor/black, yeah, since I’m pretty sure the abandonment of the public schools by the white middle and working class is closely tied to the second Great Migration. The one thing that makes me not totally hopeless about this situation is that some of the gentrifying elementary schools have attracted a large number of middle-class families, and seen their test scores skyrocket, without totally displacing low-income students. It’s not uncommon, at schools that are widely considered “good,” to be 20-30%, or even 40%, low-income. My concern is that those numbers are going to continue to plummet without some concerted effort on the part of CPS to prevent resegregation.

  3. @Daniel Hertz – “My concern is that those numbers are going to continue to plummet without some concerted effort on the part of CPS to prevent resegregation.”

    Yes, that’s going to be the challenge since housing prices in neighborhoods with high achieving schools are naturally going rise disproportionately, which will push out the lower income population. We see this in the suburbs where the single biggest factor in value of a home is the quality of the school district.

    To Alon Levy’s point, behavior patterns change dramatically when you have children. Plenty of affluent people are willing to risk their own money by investing in up-and-coming neighborhoods, particularly when they’re young and/or single and/or DINKs. However, that same affluent group is generally extremely risk averse when it comes to the education of their own children. (I know this as I speak from experience as someone that loved living in Roscoe Village and Chinatown during my 20s but moved out to Naperville largely based on school system quality when it came to start a family.) You can eventually recoup a lost investment, but the thought of your children having a lost year or two in elementary school is something that can’t be reversed. As a result, the long-term prognosis of a neighborhood’s schools is largely irrelevant to families that already have school-age children: they need immediate results today because they can’t reverse the clock with their own kids. So, it has been a vicious cycle up until recently of affluent parents moving out of the city because they’re weren’t seeing such immediate results, which in turn meant that those neighborhoods schools continued to languish in terms of test scores, which in turn further discouraged affluent parents from staying, and so and so forth.

    Now, it’s a good sign that there are actually neighborhood schools improving in the way Daniel has noted since it appears that vicious cycle is breaking at least in the most affluent neighborhoods like Lincoln Park and Lakeview. That wasn’t even happening at all 10 years ago. That may carry over into other neighborhoods nearby. Whether the same income distributions within those high performing schools can be maintained, though, will be tough. As I’ve said, housing prices will naturally rise quite quickly within the boundary lines of those high performing schools (and that’s something that applies to both the city and suburbs).

  4. pete-rock says:

    I think we’re not that far from an educational Chicago paradox that’s just like the crime paradox you already wrote about, Daniel. Just as some parts of Chicago have historically low crime rates while other parts have rates that exceed that of the ’90s “crack era”, we will have areas with excellent schools and others with substandard ones.

    I guess the good news is that there is an element willing to move back to cities and almost force the transformation that’s occurring, but the challenge is expanding the breadth of the transformation so that more benefit from it.

  5. Rob B says:

    @FranktheTank – Alon Levy didn’t have a point. He was just taking a cheap shot at any parent who cares enough about their child’s education not to send them into a school that resembles a prison riot.

    Alon – maybe you should disclose the % low income at the school your children attend. We’d love to hear your tale of sacrifice.

  6. Daniel Hertz says:

    @ pete-rock, I’d say that is exactly what this shows. The more privileged parts of the city are expanding their advantages into areas that previously weren’t so great – crime, neighborhood schools – while much of the rest of the city stagnates.

  7. Alon Levy says:

    I don’t have children.

    And low-income schools are not all prison riots, even though mayors propped by the middle class tend to treat them like prisons and their students as needing discipline and not education.

  8. Neil says:

    Interesting analysis, something else I’d like to see is an analysis of how these”gentrifying” schools compare to suburban districts with similar economic composition. This topic really interests me because the final frontier of the back to the city movement is solving the education problem.

  9. As a Chicago parent who is sending his kid to a local neighborhood school, a lot of the high-poverty schools aren’t in ‘gentrifying neighborhoods,’ they’re in solidly middle-and-upper mixed neighborhoods: it’s just that all the top-earning families living in-district ship their kids elsewhere, either an SEES CPS school, a charter, or a private school.

    Some of the schools in my area (northwest side — the schools I know something about go from Jeff Park to about Lincoln Square in an east-west band) are dropping their poverty *percentages* without changing the poor-student *numbers*, by tempting more of the families that already live in-district to take a ‘risk’ on the neighborhood school. They’re not kicking out any of the kids that already go there — and live there — but instead are poaching kids from Catholic schools, etc.

    The Neighborhood Schools fair that was just held is in service of that goal: most of the schools in it do not accept applications from parents living outside their boundaries (though a lot of Chicago neighborhood nonselective schools do). They’re trying to (a) encourage already-local families to become part of the school, and (b) let househunting families know that there are good options in non-trendy neighborhoods.

    CPS’s metrics and school-performance sheets are singularly unhelpful in letting one figure out if a school is right for your family; the way they’re structured (and what metrics they display) encourage one to think there are a vanishing few Good Schools and an awful lot of prison riots, when the truth includes a lot more in the middle of schools with very high current-poverty-enrollment students but a great staff and program.

  10. Chris Barnett says:

    This discussion, especially Frank and Elliott’s comments, reminds me of a conversation Aaron and I had several years ago, when my son was about to graduate from Indianapolis Public Schools’ math-science-tech magnet HS. My point then was that there was nothing so wrong with IPS that 5,000 more middle-class families (“choice consumers” or urban pioneers) couldn’t fix.

    The Chicago situation seems to be proof of concept: start a virtuous cycle in a few schools and keep pushing.

    The concurrent issue of rising local property values driving out poorer families could be overcome in part by further breaking down the old model of strict neighborhood attendance boundaries, perhaps by “cluster” or mini-district boundaries encompassing a half-dozen or so grade schools, their middle schools, and their high school. Theoretically, by encompassing larger geographies around improved schools, lower-income families would have a chance to stay put longer.

    But one problem remains: some parents believe strongly that a diverse (racially and economically) school setting is a good way to help prepare a child for a diverse world. Others don’t. I am not sure how to change that.

  11. urbanleftbehind says:

    In the case of Jeff Park and much more so Mount Greenwood, municipal layoffs and the future reality of police and firemen getting miniscle pay increases and paying more to pensions and health insurance is causing actual overcrowding at schools like Clissold and MG elementary. In the short term the savings will be prioritized for catholic high schools (unless this high-scoring cohort goes en masse to the local public h.s. or there are “hard” attendance boundaries) or moving to exurbs or out of state.

  12. Cupcake says:

    The schools did not suddenly improve–the readiness of the students and the involvement of the parents improved. That’s why test scores went up.

    The remaining “bad” schools are not filled with “bad” teachers where kids are not being taught–instead, the “bad” schools are filled with children battling poverty, which affects their ability to do well on standardized tests regardless of how effective the teacher is.

    Test scores completely correlate to family income and stability. If you say a school is “good” based on the percentage of kids who pass a test, you are fooling yourself that teacher quality has anything to do with it.

    TFA, Pearson, Common Core–all depend on the truth they know but don’t share (poor kids = low test scores) to get your money out of your wallet and into theirs.

    You can move low-income kids into the “good” schools and they will still perform less well than their more affluent peers. And then TFA, Pearson, Common Core will start railing against the “achievement gap” –especially if they can use race.

    The gap is economic and teachers cannot do anything about it. In order to be considered a “good” teacher, a teacher’s best bet is to only teach middle class (or higher) kids. Otherwise, she will be declared a failure. I guess allll cops in high-crime areas are failures, too. I guess allll doctors who treat terminal patients are “bad” doctors.

  13. Cupcake says:

    @ Neil: ” because the final frontier of the back to the city movement is solving the education problem.”

    The great news is that there isn’t an “education problem.” Tests are designed to create a false “need” for the expensive interventions being sold by TFA, charters and standardized test companies. It’s like cholesterol meds–they keep lowering the cholesterol numbers considered safe so that, eventually, everyone will “need” statins.

    White flight wasn’t a flight away from “bad” teachers; white flight was a flight away from the constant upheaval of urban schools, their sudden switch to a social-engineering agenda and, yes, the fact that back then lots of white parents didn’t want their kids around poor minority kids.

    If safety and discipline are enforced at a school, 99% of neighborhood schools are good places where kids are learning and growing. Don’t let TFA and Common Core scare you.

  14. croka says:

    Let’s not forget also that the decisions made by the Chgo BoE are the work of a select few people with financial interests and a SHORT timeline. Gentriphiers further west and south of the gentry strip that currently exists may find in five years or so that there is no more neighborhood public school. Parents are probably too quick to judge the false metrics of test scores – there are plenty of suburban public schools that did not make AYP. However, in the suburbs the process of school district decision-making is more transparent. The challenge for gentriphiers now is investing time and energy in to integrating their neighborhood PS while at the same time taking a HUGE leap of faith that the district won’t derail their efforts with a closed-meeting decision. As a parent of a two year old and a CPS graduate, it’s not so much test scores that scare me away from the district as the chaotic and wasteful management that comes with mayoral control.

  15. Rod Stevens says:

    There’s a fatal flaw in this article, encapsulated in this statement: “we’re just moving the lines that divide the children who receive a good education from those who don’t.”
    Don’t confuse higher test scores with better education. Those higher test scores are likely coming from learning that has gone on in the home.

    Gentrification brings demanding parents, and the higher standards they ask for may ripple to other schools. Without these demanding consumers, increased spending will not necessarily improve schools.

  16. Gloria M says:

    Rod Stevens: Good point; the higher test scores represent students who are better positioned for school success, not schools that are better at teaching them. But I’m doubtful about a ripple effect. Ideally, we would have integrated schools in which the middle-class parents who have the time and social capital to be more demanding for their own children (I hope that they demand a literature-rich curriculum with arts and languages, science and social studies, field trips, recess and play time) are also influencing education for the children of working-class and poor parents, who attend the same schools as their own kids. If our schools are not integrated by race and class, we may wind up with a stratified system in which the middle-class kids at the “good” schools get progressive, activity-based learning, and the poor kids at the “bad” schools are more likely to get worksheets and test prep, because at schools that are labeled failing, the focus necessarily shifts to the scores rather than the students. The kids at the “good” schools will perceive that they enjoy school and are good at it, so they will want to extend their schooling by going to college, while the kids at the “bad” schools will perceive that school is boring and difficult, and they will be eager to be done with it as soon as possible. But whether our children are in integrated schools or segregated schools, as parents, one of the best things we could do would be to insist that all children in all schools get the same opportunities we want for our own. John Dewey said it best: “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other aim for our schools is narrow and unlovely — acted upon, it destroys our democracy.”

  17. Rod Stevens says:

    Gloria M: I was dubious about that “rippling” myself as I wrote that, but demanding parents will ultimately ask for more, the schools will have to provide at least some of what they ask for, more students will want to go there, and the parents of the students who are turned away will seek some of the qualities in the good schools in the schools they have had to settle for.

  18. Rod Stevens says:

    Gloria M:

    P.S. Do you remember the Kurt Vonegut story in which they handicapped anyone who was exceptional, putting weights on the ballerinas who could leap higher, and buzzers in the brains of smart people? Sometimes we see the same in education, in which people say that we need to spread the active parents around and make sure there are exceptional kids in every classroom, essentially sacrificing the education of those kids to the “greater good”.

    When it comes to education, though, parents are exceptionally selfish, and entitled to be. A child shouldn’t be bored and unchallenged just because the schools can’t figure out how to provide differentiated instruction. The schools with higher performing students will ultimately get pressure from parents to meet the needs for their kids, who are often bored and spinning their wheels. It would be nice to have everything performing nicely, with every kid performing to their potential, but unless you have a high performance system, the schools just don’t work that way. It’s the disparities that call attention to the need for change. If no one is saying that the schools are mediocre, they will stay that way.

  19. Daniel Hertz says:

    Chris – I like the idea about larger, looser attendance boundaries, but the challenge would be doing that in a way that the wealthy people gentrifying their local schools would find acceptable. The problem is that there really is a tradeoff between the desires of the middle class to have schools with very small low-income populations–or at least the fear that any substantial low-income population will cause test scores to go down–and any sort of equity goal. My hope is that these gentrifying schools will show that you can have pretty good scores while still maintaining 20-40% low-income students, but we’ll see.

    Cupcake – I’m not as absolutist about SES determining school quality as you, partly because I’ve seen firsthand the difference that competent teachers and administrators can make with very similar student populations. That said, I think it’s just a fact at this point that the intervention with by far the best track record of improving school performance at scale is changing the SES makeup of the school.

    Rod – There certainly is a lot of truth to the idea that if you are a well-educated parent with a lot of resources, your kid will probably end up in a pretty good place, education-wise, even if you don’t send them to the best school. That said, parental involvement is just not the only thing going on here. One way to prove that is to look at the studies showing that the children of non-gentrifiers have better test scores when there is at least some substantial percentage of non-poor students in their classrooms.

  20. Rod Stevens says:

    Daniel Hertz:

    I agree that it’s not just the parents’ backgrounds. America’s greatness has come from giving poor kids the opportunity to get ahead. Just look at how many of our most amazing people came out of the New York public school system in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. The scholars room at the New York public library bred some of our greatest writers.

    That said, the more affluent and better educated parents have the higher standards that come from having had a better education themselves. You don’t want a whole class of their kids, but you want enough of them looking over the administrators’ shoulders to be asking for more. The other kids will benefit from the ride.

    I’m much more cynical about the ability to make change at the district level. This is where complacent administrators and unions stop change. Sometimes these amazing magnet schools come about as a way to “ghettoize” the criticism. The wonders of the Internet are that more and more people are learning about what goes on in them and asking for more at their own schools. The “report cards” that various states now put out on schools are also making parents into more demanding schools. The question on these standards is whether they are measuring achievement of the minimum or progress across the board, in every grade, for every quintile of achievement.

  21. Jason C says:

    These issues are playing out in many cities. Here in Denver there has been a lot of good content put out along similar lines: http://oomswithaview.org/2012/06/25/segregation-dps/and http://www.ednewscolorado.org/voices/voices-gifted-and-talented-disparities-in-dps, are two of the better articles.

    The thing is that in Denver where 72% of our students qualify for FRL there are very few schools that actually serve a representative sample of students. We have many schools with less than 20% FRL and many schools with more than 90% FRL. It seems that here in Denver this is made worse by magnet/G&T schools, but as an urbanist the age old question of how we create mixed income and race neighborhoods when people often self select into neighborhoods of like income and race and when people with the means to move will move to “better” schools and “safer” communities. In the end we circle back to the same discussions about the have and have-not neighborhoods and the city that is thriving vs. the city that is struggling to survive.

  22. @Daniel Hertz #19 said, “I like the idea about larger, looser attendance boundaries, but the challenge would be doing that in a way that the wealthy people gentrifying their local schools would find acceptable. …”

    Something that one might only know about CPS procedures if one is actively attempting to get one’s kid into a school is the very specific (and specifically designed to encourage economic diversity) matter of the Tier System for admission to selective schools.

    To get into a selective school, you obviously need to take their entrance test and do well on it. But depending on where you live, you can get in with a much lower score than some other kids got refused for having. The entire city’s area is divided, based upon census data, into four socio-economic “Tiers”. The calculation is complex, and involves average income, homeownership, average highest level of education achieved by the adults living there, etc. In general Tier 4 areas are (on average) ‘richer’ and Tier 1 areas are ‘poorest’. It’s very timey-wimey, but importantly all the things the Tier system attempts to measure are related to student success.

    In CPS selective schools, a percentage of seats (I think it’s 30%) are reserved for the top 30% of scorers period: if an imaginary school had 200 available seats, 60 of those seats go to the highest-scoring 30 kids, period. The remaining seats are divided equally to go to the highest-scoring kids *of each Tier*. So of the remaining 140 seats (70% of the available total), 35 would go to the top-scoring Tier 4 kids (excepting, of course, those already admitted to the top 30% allotment), 35 to the highest-scoring Tier 3 kids, etc.

    It is very, very common on parenting sites to see Tier 4 or 3 parents (especially those who make a point of describing themselves as low-income for their area) complaining that this system means a Tier 1 kid can get into –Insert School Here– with a score of 85% on the test when their kid with a 92% can be turned down.

    These parents are making a fundamental error in what these selective schools are *for*. They think they’re elite academies specifically for only very-high-scoring kids, but they’re not. They’re specially designated schools for kids who are, on average, doing considerably better than most CPS students, and the system is designed to make sure (a) that economically-disadvantaged kids have some chance in hell of accessing this level of education, and (b) that the ‘good schools’ are not monolithically only for the children of the unpoor.

    It has had some success as a system, in that non-low-income families clamor and claw to get into them (keeping up the supply of non-poor students), and of course that all the lower-Tier kids who get to go to them and graduate from them do have access to the kind of education that Gold Coast parents will claw and clamor to get. It may or may not be scalable.

    There is some national-level data that a school can be up to 45% low-income with absolutely no negative effect on the test scores and performance of their non-poor students … but a lot of Chicago parents who want their kids to succeed consider that an unacceptably high percentage.

  23. Daniel Hertz says:

    Rod – I don’t know if the issue is complacency among administrators and unions; I think it’s closer to the “ghettoizing” of the poorly performing schools. The issue is that public officials feel pressure to satisfy the middle class people who will organize to vote them out of office if they’re not happy, or who will donate to their opposing campaigns, or who (and I suspect this is really the biggie) work for the large companies who want to keep their employees happy and close, and who can really make a dent in a municipal election. There is just way less pressure felt from poorer communities, I think, as evidenced by the fact that basically every large city in the country has countenanced really poorly-performing schools that serve overwhelmingly low-income children for the last two generations. And those two things aren’t unconnected: the incredible privilege of a place like Payton–or, for that matter, New Trier–is only possible by concentrating disadvantage somewhere else. So in some sense there really are winners and losers in a redistribution scheme, which is why it’s so hard to pull off, I think.

    My hope would be that once it gets out that not just magnet schools–which have always been in a class by themselves–but *neighborhood schools* are high-performing on the North Side, there will be some pressure for equalization throughout the city. But who knows. The problem, again, is doing it in a way that doesn’t scare off both the gentry families and the South Side families who, reasonably, are pretty suspicious of big CPS schemes right now.

    Elliott – Yeah, I’ve read about the tiers, and it’s an interesting system. I’m not sure how it would be carried over to elementaries; I think one of the biggest problems is just the fact of economic and racial segregation, which makes it pretty difficult to desegregate schools without busing.

  24. Daniel Hertz: Tiers are also used for admission to selective elementary schools, both the Gifted centers and the Classical schools.

  25. Rod Stevens says:


    I wish I could share your view that the ballot box makes a difference on school systems. But I’m cynical that it does. I think these are largely self-run systems that change very, very slowly, and therefore whatever change comes at the grass roots and on the margin.

    Yes, we do have a problem with poor schools serving poor kids. I live in Seattle, but my test of national social policy is how it will affect the latch key kid living on the south side of Chicago. That’s the ultimate test.

    Unfortunately, there’s little systemic change that will come in that kid’s life. If we don’t want to give up on that child, though, we need to find some embers of hope for change and blow on them. The most “fuel” for change is probably in those north side schools, where the parents have the skills and time to put pressure on the schools. Maybe there is a way to more effectively transfer those efforts to the other schools. You risk diluting their effort, however.

  26. Cupcake says:

    @Daniel, I love your article and the points you make. My comments were in response to other comments that linked “good” schools with “good” test scores. Despite what the “reformers” will say, test scores are a terrible way to evaluate schools, to diagnose any problems within them or to correct any problems.

    I’m not an absolutist about SES except when it comes to standardized test results and the use of them to drive decisions about schools. The tests and their use are killing public, neighborhood schools and cities in general. Urban renewal is not possible as long as the likes of Rhee, Arne Duncan, TFA’s Wendy Kopp, the Pearson Company and Common Core infect the system like parasites and find a way to take money out of it.

    If test scores are all that matter (and they are all the reformers like Rhee who sends her own child to an expensive, exclusive private school want to matter) the best way increase test scores is to import a bunch of middle-class kids, as your data from Chicago shows.

    The reformers would ask you who you’re going to believe: you’re own “lying” eyes or them?

    Plus, it’s a no-win with test-based rankings anyway. As soon as the kids start to perform well on test A, the reformers come in and change the test by ramping it up a few grade levels. Or they increase the score needed to “pass” the test.

    The whole thing is a sham that is mostly hurting poor kids and urban renewal.

  27. Rod Stevens says:


    I don’t understand this assault on the Common Core. They are good standards and there needs to be some system of accountability. Otherwise we’ll have a bunch of Mississippi-level schools with the principal and administrators saying, “trust us, we’re going a good job”.

    The key question here, though, is not accountability, but about gentrification and whether it is good or bad for schools. This is not a discussion about housing displacement. There are questions here,however about how gentrification affects the sense of community both within the schools and that grows out of them. Is there not some way that you can take this infusion of new skills and education in the neighborhoods and use this to strengthen the “learning community” of the schools that sit at the heart of these places?

  28. Cupcake says:

    Also–regarding the point about poor kids and non-poor: poor kids perform better when surrounded by non-poor kids regardless of teacher or SES levels of parents.

    The reason? Non-poor kids tend to be less tired and less hungry and therefore less disruptive during the school day. Fewer disruptions translates to a better environment for all kids. (Yes, free bfast and lunches are offered, but they are often so bad the poor kids just skip the food).

    Tests, test prep, stack-ranking teachers (current mode all over the US bc Gates advocated it and he likes to fancy himself an education expert)–none of those things help any child and especially not low-income children. (Stack-ranking certainly didn’t help Microsoft, either, so they just abandoned it).

    To improve urban schools, incentivize middle-class families to come back. Then, flood the schools with resources to address the poverty-based behaviors that affect only about 10% of the poverty-level kids. It’s that 10% of kids that control the dynamics and the desirability of any school.

    Charter operators and TFA don’t want schools flooded with resources to address poverty-based behaviors that drive the middle class out of urban schools and perpetuate the cycle of poverty because then they would no longer profit.

  29. Cupcake says:

    @Rod Re gentrification, I don’t know about it being good or bad for schools. I do think that both poor and middle-class kids benefit from the mix, although the benefits to the poor kids will not necessarily be seen on standardized test scores.

    And if the poor kids don’t test well, that will cause an increase in test-prep-based teaching, which will in turn drive out the middle class, and the cycle will continue.

    Common Core standards are fine. It’s the TESTS that come with them–kids sitting for 250 minutes in elementary school–that are the problem. These tests do not serve kids in any way at all. The results come back too late in the school year. Research shows that holding a child back for any reason (including test scores) is more likely to result in the child dropping out. The test serve no purpose except to make money for the test writers and to create a false “need” for vendors like TFA and charters.

    So how do you know a teacher is teaching in a way that promotes student achievement? It’s actually very easy to see, as any teacher will tell you. You take a portfolio approach that includes student surveys, parent surveys, principal observations, and colleague observations. You focus on whether or not a teacher promotes the process of learning vs. a one-day test score on a test no teachers get to see beforehand.

    Private schools don’t give all of these tests and no one doubts their teachers or methods.

  30. Rod Stevens says:

    Here in Washington State, we have a new mandate of “progress for all”. All of the kids have to show academic progress each year, as measured by objective standards. Our schools use the NWEA “measures of academic progress”.

    That doesn’t mean the teachers are using the numbers, though. So far, only 50% of the teachers in our district have their evaluation tied to this new standard. The others are still tied to achieving the state minimum standards. In practice, that means many teach to the bottom of the class, trying to bring those kids up, at the expense of those who already know the material. In our district, 40% of the kids in the fourth grade perform above grade level on the state standards. Those kids are not being challenged.

    The achievement scores provide a tool to challenge the school district to keep their child advancing. Last year, our child’s reading scores actually declined. Nominally, she reads six grades above her grade. Effectively, she wasn’t challenged by what the schools taught. Good tests can be an effective way of measuring advancement for all grades. Teachers will teach to the test. That doesn’t mean get rid of the test. It simply means finding a better test. I can tell you from having used the Stanford EPGY on line program that good integrated programs can provide instruction, practice and evaluation very efficiently–for the right kids far more efficiently than the way many classrooms are now run.

  31. Tone says:

    I think this is a great article, but not particularly surprising that as non-low income people send their kids to the local open enrollment neighbhorhood school, the better the results the school has. In ten years the map that Daniel created will be dark green in most of the northside and will be pushing south as well. Not sure why anyone is upset, this is what suburbs do as well. It’s expensive to live in Winnetka, so there are few poor students in the schools. Same with Blaine Elementary in Chicago. It’s expensive to live in that neighborhood. Why does the City get shit for doing this, but suburbs get a pass?

  32. Gloria M says:

    Rod Stevens: Sorry I didn’t get a chance to look back on this discussion earlier to reply to your post. Yes, I do know the Vonnegut story, but as a parent and former public school student, I don’t believe desegregating students by race and class truly hampers the social, intellectual, or emotional development of children. I am aware that there are studies showing that bright students who are in tracked classes (surrounded by other top students) score a percentile point or two higher on their standardized tests, and I know that some parents would consider it to be a sacrifice of their own child’s best interests to accept anything else. At the same time, there is more to life and learning than standardized tests, and a thoughtful, intelligent child will likely thrive anywhere she is allowed to ask her own questions, pursue her own interests, and take ownership of her own learning, in the company of competent and caring teachers. It’s interesting to consider gentrification in relationship to the schools, because clearly there were some white middle-class parents who believed their children would be fine even in a school that was minority-white and/or had test scores on the low end. Then, as their enrollment changes the demographics and the test scores, more cautious parents are willing to jump in and trust the public schools. But here’s the thing: those “pioneer” parents were right, weren’t they? Their kids have done fine. All is well. Integration did not harm their life chances. So… I guess I’d argue for the other side, that actually, it might be wrong for parents to be as cautious and selfish as they can possibly be with their children’s educations. And it might be right for them to sacrifice a point or two on the ISAT scores (really, who cares?) in exchange for an educational experience — for their own and other people’s children — that will serve them all well in a diverse and changing world.

  33. Pulse says:

    Alon Levy
    “I don’t have children.”

    Easy to guess before reading.

    It’s easy to have all the answers before even hearing the questions.

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