A few things about segregation

I can’t even keep up with all the discussion, critiques, and calls for desegregating our public schools — and that’s a good thing.

Errol Louis calls out limousine NYC liberals on MLK Day:

Today’s festival of liberal self-congratulation, in which members of New York’s establishment pat one another on the back, actually isn’t very King-like. To truly follow in the great man’s footsteps would mean summoning the courage to tackle the same issue he fought and died for — unraveling our city’s web of segregated housing and schools.

Honoring King would mean finally pressing for passage of a City Council bill, bottled up and ignored in past years, that would require boards of the city’s 300,000 cooperative apartments to abide by the fair-housing laws and provide applicants with the reason they were accepted or rejected.

A citywide housing lottery that gave equal preference to people based on need rather than zip code would begin to break down the city’s segregated patterns. A lawsuit has been filed by the Anti-Discrimination Center, a civil rights organization, but the progressive de Blasio administration is fighting the case tooth and nail.

Our pro-segregation progressives, Errol Lous / The Daily News

Even if you develop affordable housing in a currently exclusive neighborhood, it you don’t address the social processes that lead people to sort themselves into those neighborhoods, it’s pointless. You have to address those social sorting processes as well.

DOES SEGREGATION BEGET SEGREGATION?, Dwyer Gunn / Pacific Standard

These uncomfortable facts are often lost in school desegregation thinking. Too often, integration activists propose feel-good solutions to segregated schools that run aground on the sturdy self-interest of privileged white families. If we hinge a desegregation effort on white families’ good intentions, altruism, or willingness to change their minds … we can pretty much guarantee that it won’t work.

Some Practical — If Uncomfortable — Solutions to the Stubborn School Segregation Mapped Out by Vox, Conor Williams / the74

The NY Times editorial board calls for NYC Mayor De Blasio to fight the segregation of the city’s schools.

Some Bright Hopes for New York City Schools, NY Times

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The Tale of Two Schools Revisited

Back in 2014, NY Times Magazine published a piece called “The Tale of Two Schools,” recounting a program to bring together students from Fieldston—an elite private high school in Riverdale—and University Heights HS—a public school in the South Bronx.

I remember this piece because it was one of the texts we used in a unit of study on segregation in NYC.

The latest “This American Life” podcast returns to this program, exploring it from the perspective of students involved in the program from both schools, asking the question, “What impact did this program actually have on the perspectives of the students many years later?”

It’s a powerful and thought-provoking episode. Give it a listen here.

Two things to read

I’ve realized that part of the reason I don’t post much anymore is that whenever I do think of something to write about (which is all the time), it just feels too big to dig into with the limited time I’ve got.

So I’m just going to start posting tidbits, whenever I can.

Here’s two awesome articles today that excited me because they are both about topics I  care deeply about.

  1. We can draw school zones to make classrooms less segregated. This is how well your district does., Alvin Chang / Vox

Some amazing work with the interactives on this one. It tailors to the data of your own school district.

2. Public school buildings are falling apart, and students are suffering for it, Rachel Cohen / Washington Post

We need to keep banging the drum on this one. The greatest overlooked area of education reform.

The problem with special education

Learning Disability | Learning Disability Stock Photo When u… | Flickr

There’s a problem with special education in the US. Marc Tucker tries to get down to the bottom of things

“The most likely explanation is that the very act of formally designating a student as a special education student lowers the expectations for that student’s performance held by everyone whose expectations count: teachers, parents, the student and their peers.”

I think Tucker’s hypothesis bears some truth. From my own experience as a special education teacher, I’ve seen how the label introduces its own set of psychological burdens. And we have a lot of kids being labeled who are simply struggling with academics, but not with any overt “disability” that can be clearly discerned.

“Far from suggesting that the top performers should learn a thing or two from us about helping special education students, we should be learning from the top performers how to keep students who do not truly need it out of special education by doing what they are doing to enable them to reach high standards in the first place.”

So how do other countries keep students out of special education?

“The top performers provide far more support than the U.S. does to families with young children—everything from cash awards to nutritional assistance to pregnant women to very long and well-supported family leave for fathers and mothers to universal, high-quality child care and early childhood education. But it does not stop there. It also includes a higher ratio of teachers to students in schools serving low-income, minority students; extra funds for schools serving large numbers of vulnerable students; coordinated social services; strong incentives for their best teachers and principals to serve in schools with large proportions of vulnerable students; more time for students who need extra time to reach high standards; close monitoring of student progress to make sure that students who start to fall behind get the help they need to catch up quickly and more time for teachers to work one-on-one and in small groups with students who need extra help.”

Reading this list, it just seems so common-sense, doesn’t it? Yet the tragedy is that there is little political will nor ideological support for these kinds of investments in the US. You start saying this kind of stuff too often, you get labeled as some kind of socialist or union shill. The reality is that when it comes to things like public education and social services, the people in the US who have the money and/or power to make things happen are most interested in things that sparkle and that offer the promise of a quick fix.

Yet Tucker also provides an interesting point in his conclusion, when he brings up the outlier in special education labeling, Finland, which labels upward of 38 percent of their kids:

“In Finland, they solved the problem by simply saying that many kinds of students need special help. Some may be gifted and some might have a hearing or vision problem. Some might need one-time-only help and others might need continuous help. In Finland, most students get “special education” help at least once in their school career. Because that is true, there is no stigma. Every school has a “special education” teacher trained to provide a wide range of special help to the students in that school who need it. This is an idea worth conjuring with.”

This definitely bears promise. In fact, this is how the special education team at my former middle school began approaching services. We recognized just how much of a stigma being labeled “special ed” had on kids, so we set about rebranding our work. We called ourselves Student Support services–because at some point, every student needs some kind of support.

Sounds a lot more positive, doesn’t it? Maybe special education as a system needs to be rebranded in this way.

Have We Got Special Education All Wrong?, Marc Tucker on Huff Post

Smorgasbord: Charlottesville, College, and Academic Discussions

By United States Census Bureau

Use #CharlottesvilleCurriculum for suggestions on what to start your school year discussions off with

Queens teacher Vivett Dukes writes:

“We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. If anything, not talking about racism in the classroom further perpetuates racist ideologies that are, at their root, born out of ignorance. Education’s goal is to dispel ignorance and replace it with truth.”

I agree. I’ve written before about the need to have tough–and nuanced–conversations with kids about race. You can find some useful classroom materials for doing this using the #ChartlottesvilleCurriculum hashtag.

Here’s a particularly great one from Facing History on the Reconstruction Era. Because everything that is happening right now in VA can be traced directly back to it.

A Queens teacher on Charlottesville: ‘It can’t just be teachers of color’ offering lessons on race, Chalkbeat First Person

Betty Rosa and MaryEllen Elia call for integration

“We committed to, as a department and as a Board of Regents, [the] notion of naming it,” Rosa said, referring to the state’s draft integration statement, which referred to New York schools as the most segregated in the country. “You’ve got to name it.”

Elia chimed in too, tying integration to the recent events in Charlottesville.

“I would say the last six days have pointed out to all of us that, clearly, this is something that must be on the agenda,” Elia said.

It’s nice to see them taking a strong stand on this issue, and making definitive statements. This is the most positive direction I can point to from our state ed leaders.

On other issues, however, I’ve really been struggling to understand what the vision from NY state ed leaders is for moving forward on education. The Board of Regents seems very clear about its intent to dismantle prior efforts at ed reform, but not very clear about what sort of system they would wish to put in its place. It’s easy to lambast what’s wrong; it’s much harder to put in place something better.

State ed officials rip into ‘insulting’ SUNY charter proposal and ‘outrageous’ Success Academy chair, Chalkbeat

Understanding data on English language learners

Janie Tankard Carnock at New America has a useful compilation of points to bear in mind when looking at data on ELs.

Here’s a good example of one: ELs at different stages progress at different rates.

“This growth principle is an important one to keep in mind when evaluating current EL progress to make claims about a school’s performance. For example, it will be easier for an average kindergarten EL to move from level 1 to 2 on the ELP exam than a sixth grade EL to move from level 4 to 5. This reality suggests the need for differentiated growth goals, ones that are more ambitious earlier on and more conservative in older years and/or at higher ELP levels.”

And another key one: Poverty affects most ELs and, as a result, their educational outcomes.

“…the school and district context as it intersects with poverty is another significant factor for ELs. Around 70 percent of ELs nationwide attend schools with disproportionately greater numbers of low-income students and other ELs. Such schools are typically under-resourced and have higher dropout rates, higher student mobility, more difficulty hiring and retaining effective teachers, and poorer quality curricular resources.”

Data is complex, people. Too many folks in schools are judging their students and programs based on one state test score.

Seeing Clearly, New America

Mike Goldstein is guest blogging over at Eduwonk

On tutoring:

“Strategy matters, but execution matters more. . . . Without elite/unusual execution, it’s hard to help kids make large gains through school-based strategies.”

Old-School Personalization, Eduwonk

Uncommon Schools on why some kids weren’t making it through college

“Some of the obvious reasons included the very real fact that financial problems dogged many students, as did the difficulties of transitioning to a completely unstructured college setting with complete freedom.

But Uncommon also discovered other insightful reasons why students struggled. First, students, far too often, were “undermatching.” Capable students were enrolling in colleges beneath their academic level, which increased their odds of dropping out of school. Data collected from Uncommon Schools also revealed definitive evidence that students who received less than a 3.0 GPA in high school struggled the most to stay in college.”

All school systems should be tracking and taking action on whether their students are making it to and graduating from college. This is the real work.

Though I would suggest that tracking and taking action on whether students are entering a successful career should be another component of this as well.

King & Peiser: College Completion — Charter Schools as Laboratories, The Alumni

Dennis Walcott speaks up about Success Academy controversy

“If Success is a civil rights organization and liberates and educates students of color, then they’re going to have to grapple with this,” Walcott said.

Bloomberg schools chancellor warns Loeb remark could ‘undermine’ Success Academy, Politico

Sometimes responsiveness to parents can result in inequity

Some private and suburban schools are inflating grades, most likely due to pressure from parents. This puts urban kids at a disadvantage when applying to college.

“This is one of those things that works like a contagion,” Weissbourd said. “If you’re an independent school or a suburban school and you’re giving Bs and the school in the next community is giving A-minuses, you start to feel like those kids are going to get a leg up. So you start giving out A-minuses.”

Another example that context is everything (rather than isolated data points supposedly based upon meritocracy). Some colleges are adjusting for this, but most are not.

“A lot of people are going to do what’s best for their own kids,” Nichols said. “They’re trying to set things up to give their kids the best opportunity they can have. And that doesn’t lead to particularly good public policy.”

The newest advantage of being rich in America? Higher grades, The Hechinger Report

UK research shows 2 month progress as result of “dialogic” academic discussions

“Children in Dialogic Teaching schools made two additional months’ progress in English and science, and one additional month’s progress in maths, compared to children in control schools, on average. The three padlock security rating means we are moderately confident that this difference was due to the intervention and not to other factors.”

There was one strange little tidbit in the overview on this, though:

“The consistent results across subjects and the lack of any subject specific content in the training suggest that the approach may improve children’s overall thinking and learning skills rather than their knowledge in a given topic.” (bold added)

This seems like a problematic assertion to me. I think these results across content areas demonstrate that academic discussion holds great potential as a general strategy, which therefore means that if we make it dependent upon domain-specific knowledge, then we can see much greater advances in knowledge, rather than only “overall thinking and learning skills.”

Dialogic Teaching, Education Endowment Foundation

A really good piece from UK educator Harry Fletcher-Wood on approaching planning as a department

I strongly agree with this approach and have begun targeting departmental coherence as my focus when working with ELA teachers here in the Bronx. Fletcher-Wood provides some really concrete and useful guidance on how to do this work.

I’ll be writing more about how I approach this work with ELA teams.

Improving teaching and learning: ideas for heads of department, Improving Teaching

Smorgasbord: August looms

A chart from one of my recent sessions

Teacher evaluation is about relationships and learning, not about scores

Long ago, I co-wrote a policy paper advocating for a teacher evaluation system that acknowledges that evaluation is a conversation that requires the context of a professional learning community, with input not only from the administration, but furthermore one’s peers.

While a pre and post-conference is included in most current eval systems, the reality is that the focus is on 1) compliance (paperwork), 2) the stakes/consequences attached to that paperwork, and 3) the demands of a very subjective rubric, rather than on the practices and content that will move learning forward for students.

So it should come as no surprise that few teachers are rated poorly by their principals. These systems have become all about summative evaluation, rather than formative feedback, and thus have lost sight of the real purpose of the system in the first place — to improve teacher practice and student learning. Effective principals will use the system to have those conversations — but they won’t rate their teachers poorly on paper unless they are intent on pushing them out the building.

Principals Are Loath to Give Teachers Bad Ratings, Ed Week

Research shows: Elect Democrats to fight segregated schools

Partisan tensions between individualism/choice and systems/regulation in action.

Want to reduce racial segregation? Elect a Democrat to school board, study says, Chalkbeat NY

Andy Rotherham argues against safe spaces

“. . . challenging people to become bigger than themselves is at its core an act of respect and love. Shielding them from challenge, especially in their most formative years, is fundamentally deeply disrespectful to them and their education.”

He’s talking about higher ed. But this also applies–arguably, even more importantly–in K-12.

Challenge Students, Don’t Shield Them,” US News

John King and Arne Duncan plead for sanity in regulations to protect students

“Protecting students and taxpayers shouldn’t be a partisan political issue.”

It shouldn’t. Unfortunately, however–in our country, in these times–it is.

Trump administration is putting profits over students, The Hill

The Problem with Robot Teachers

“I . . . worry that we’re slowly evolving toward a system where the affluent get that kind of education and the poor get automated schooling.”

Are The Robots Coming? Is The K-12 Sector Allergic To Accountability? Cheating In DC, College Access, David Harris Goes TEDx, Claudio Sanchez On ESSA, Jeff Walker On Systems Entrepreneurs, Curbing Eliteness, Cow Horse, More!, Eduwonk

A middle school in the South Bronx harnesses the power of testing & practice

This Bronx school is applying what we know from decades of research: repeated quizzing and practice of key skills and concepts, spaced out over time, transfers learning into long-term memory.

Kudos to MS 343. When you think about just how much of an outlier this approach is, it’s pretty disturbing. Most schools do not have a coherent and systematic approach to what they teach, nor consider how they are reinforcing what is most essential to learn across grades and classrooms.

Why this Bronx middle school believes in second — and third — chances, Chalkbeat NY

Speaking of practice, here’s 10 teaching techniques worth practicing

This is a useful list of a few pedagogical methods worth spending time mastering from UK educator Tom Sherrington, which are based on Deans for Impact’s advice for deliberate practice.

Ten teaching techniques to practise – deliberately., Teacherhead.com

NYCDOE is pressing ATRs into schools

Dan Weisberg writes an op-ed in The 74 against the move, claiming that “Principals would go back to hiding vacancies and would justifiably argue that they can’t be held accountable for student learning if they don’t get to pick their teams.”

His claim appears to be justified, as a recent Chalkbeat article reports:

“I’m going to make sure my school doesn’t have a vacancy,” said one Bronx principal who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the topic. “I’m not going to post a vacancy if someone will place an ATR there. I’ll be as strategic as I can and figure out another way.”

I think Weisberg’s suggestion makes much more sense: set a time limit on how long someone can be in the ATR pool.

Weisberg: Paying Teachers Not to Teach Is Absurd — but Reviving NYC’s ‘Dance of the Lemons’ Hurts Kids, The 74

New York City principals balk at plan to place teachers in their schools; some vow to get around it, Chalkbeat NY

Randi Weingarten calls Devos’s brand of choice what it is — but what is her union doing to fight segregation?

I think Weingarten is pointing out an inconvenient truth by calling vouchers a “polite form of segregation,” given their history and the folks that most typically foam at the mouth over them.

But I do wonder what exactly she and her union are doing to fight segregated schools. Public schools are doing plenty on their own to contribute to segregation without any consideration of charters nor vouchers.

TEACHERS UNION CHIEF: SCHOOL CHOICE ROOTED IN SEGREGATION, AP News

Scaffolding & Success Criteria

What is a scaffold, anyway?

While working on a series of workshops about scaffolding, I came to a revelation about what the term really means. It’s one of those words, like “differentiation,” so ubiquitous in the field it seems to mean almost anything. But such generality can easily lead to some big misconceptions in actual application. I’m going to share my learning here in the case it may be useful and help others to avoid some of those missteps.

In order to truly understand scaffolding, I think you need to be able to answer this question:

Why should a scaffold used during a lesson align to the success criteria of a unit of study?

Furthermore, I think you need to understand what it takes to master a parachute landing fall at the army jump school in Fort Benning, Georgia.

Mastering a Parachute Landing Fall

For a reading that serves as a great basis for a team discussion on rigor, assessment, or scaffolding, I urge you to read Chapter 4 pg. 69 – 71 of Make It Stick by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel. Read the whole darn book while you’re at it, of course; it’s all good. But I found this particular chapter especially relevant to scaffolding.

Since I obviously can’t reproduce the chapter for copyright reasons, I’ll give you an executive summary. At the army jump school in Georgia, mastering a parachute landing fall is a necessity. The jump school supports and drives recruits to mastery of this extremely complex and difficult skill within three weeks. How do they do this?

First, recruits initiate their practice in a gravel pit. They receive demonstrations of different falls. Then they practice falling and they receive feedback and they practice some more.

Next, recruits move to a short platform a couple feet off the ground. They practice jumping off the platform and executing the falls they had mastered in the gravel pit.

The challenge is ratched up. Recruits move to a zip line and practice falling from a higher drop that’s propelling them in different moving directions. They can control when they drop off the line.

You see where this is going. The recruits move to a platform 12 feet off the ground. They put on gear and jump down a mock chute, connected to a zip line. But this time the instructor pulls the cord and introduces the element of uncertainty and surprise. Recruits now have to be able to demonstrate a PLF according to chance, simulating the variables of an actual fall.

Finally, they move to a 34 foot tower. This is the final step of demonstrating mastery before boarding a moving airplane and engaging in a real-world application of the skill.

There’s some aspects of this narrative that illuminates effective scaffolding:

    • Each step provides practice and feedback on a component skill that requires mastery before moving on
    • Practice grows increasingly complex and difficult
    • At no point is the practice easy
    • Practice serves simultaneously as performance-based assessment

 

There’s a term that the authors of Make It Stick introduce that is useful for this progression of increasingly rigorous steps: desirable difficulty.

Desirable Difficulty, Academic Rigor, and Scaffolding

Desirable difficulty, a term coined by psychologists Elizabeth and Robert Bjork, is a way to describe short-term impediments that lead to stronger learning. At the army jump school, you can see desirable difficulty in action, and it highlights key aspects of effective scaffolding and how it connects to academic rigor.

At each successive step of training, the recruits are engaged in practice at a level of desirable difficulty required for them to master each successive component skill. Once they’ve mastered that skill or set of skills, they are then ready to move to the next level.

This is important to highlight for a few reasons. One is that it’s clear that at no level is the work and practice “easy.” A common misapplication of scaffolding is that it makes work easier for a student. This might make the teacher and student feel better about themselves, but it does long-term damage to student learning.

But a well-designed scaffold should not make a task or concept easy. Rather, it should provide the right level of impediment and challenge for the level of practice in the skills or concepts required to move forward.

This means that instructors can have extremely high expectations for students, as the army jump school has for its recruits, while providing well-structured practice and guidance that will lead to achievement that matches those expectations.

It also means instructors must be crystal clear about the component skills and practice that will build successively and sequentially to mastery.

Scaffolding as Performance-based Formative Assessment

“It’s one thing to feel confident of your knowledge; it’s something else to demonstrate mastery. Testing is not only a powerful learning strategy, it is a potent reality check on the accuracy of your own judgement of what you know how to do. When confidence is based on repeated performance, demonstrated through testing that simulates real-world conditions, you can lean into it.”

Make It Stick

There’s another aspect of scaffolding that is really interesting to consider from the jump school example: effective scaffolding is a performance-based form of formative assessment. Formative assessment, for those of you not up on the ed jargon, simply means testing that occurs during learning. This is in opposition to summative assessment which takes place at the end as an evaluative measure, and is usually accompanied with a grade. In the jump school example, the summative assessment would be executing the parachute landing fall from a plane.

A well-designed scaffold, therefore, engages a student in the practice of a skill that informs the instructor whether the student is ready to move on. This should be immediately visible and clear, enabling the instructor to provide ongoing feedback as the student engages with the scaffold.

Now let’s return to our original question and bring this back to the classroom:

Why should a scaffold used during a lesson align to the success criteria of a unit of study?

Success Criteria

Let’s break this down. What the heck are “success criteria”?

Success criteria are what you use to assess whether you’ve achieved the goals for learning in a unit of study. You’ll typically see these as a rubric or a checklist. The criteria are directly aligned to standards or expectations for learning for the subject and grade.

As an example, let’s say I’m an ELA teacher and I wanted to assess a third grade student’s ability to determine a central idea of a text. The Common Core Standard for Reading Literature states that by the end of third grade, kids should be able to “Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details.

So an example of a few success criteria I might use to assess that student’s progress towards the standard could be:

☐ I can distinguish between the important and unimportant details in a text.
☐ I can determine the details most essential to understanding a text.
☐ I can combine key details to determine a main idea.

Let’s look one of these criteria: “I can distinguish between important and unimportant details in a text.”

Many students will struggle with this abstract skill (not least because they don’t know enough about whatever they’re reading in order to do so . . . but that’s a whole other post). So they will need some type of scaffold to assist them in getting started on this.

So what could such a scaffold be?

One possible scaffold could be to support them in first distinguishing between details that are merely interesting, such as details that an author gives to make the text more engaging to read, from details that are central to understanding the topic of the text.

We might create some type of graphic organizer or chart to support students in practicing this with a text, and of course, we’d probably model it and do it together as a whole class before having students practice it in groups or pairs, then we’d ask individual students use it on their own.

Some students may be ready to just make a T-chart in their notebooks, while other students may need some more guided practice with a handout. Some students may need manipulatives, such as cut outs of both interesting and important details, in order to get started and to feel success before they are ready to move to greater abstraction.

But notice something about my description: the scaffold is less about a graphic organizer, chart, or manipulative, and more about the practice of a specific skill component: clarifying the difference between interesting and important details.

In other words, the point of a scaffold like this isn’t really about the thing — it’s about the thinking that students are training their minds to do through the application of the scaffold.

A scaffold should therefore provide the thinking practice that a student needs to master the criteria for success.

If we just told students to distinguish between the important and unimportant details in an informational text, some might be able to do so, and some will not. The point of the scaffold, in this example, is to train students who don’t yet see it to become aware of the difference between details provided by an author that are merely interesting, versus details that are important to understanding the topic.

Eventually, those students should no longer need a scaffold. They’ll internalize the concept and be able to apply it without thinking. A few students may never need such a scaffold at all. That’s the differentiation piece. If they don’t need it, they shouldn’t be practicing it.

We may think of something like a stepladder or the scaffolding on a building when we use the word “scaffolding.” Or you might think of a bike with training wheels, or a parent holding the bike as the child learns to pedal.

The model of a bike with training wheels is probably closer to the way we should think of what a scaffold means in instruction. We want to shift our mental model of what a “scaffold” is away from it being a tool that merely makes a task easier, to a process or activity that engages a student in the practice that they can experience success with, while on the road to mastery.

What’s the difference? Some students will need to practice a whole bunch using a scaffold before they get it. A few students may not need it at all. But the expectation is that all students will be expected to achieve that mastery.

Which leads us to another realization about what function a scaffold serves. If a scaffold is directly aligned to the success criteria in a unit of study, then it serves not only as a form of practice to achieve mastery, but it furthermore serves as method of formative assessment for both students and teachers. It provides performance-based, task-based feedback on whether or not a student has achieved the success criteria.
So a scaffold does not mean making learning easy. It doesn’t mean giving kids a shortcut so they can reach something they will never be able to reach again. It’s about having rigorous expectations and demanding that students practice in a way that will enable them to achieve those expectations.

A New Definition of Scaffold

A scaffold provides opportunities for performance and practice of the component content and skills that a student requires to achieve success in a unit of study.

Characteristics of Scaffolds

  • Scaffolds are smaller components of a complex task or skill
  • Scaffolds are at the right level of “desirable difficulty” for practice.
  • Scaffolds are not “easy”
  • Scaffolds must be mastered at each step along the way. Students shouldn’t move along until they have mastered each component
  • Scaffolds serve as performance-based formative assessment

 

Fractals, Self-Organizing Principles, and Self-Segregation

Fractals are all around us

Came across this study on planting patterns, “Fractal planting patterns yield optimal harvests, without central control” that bears some closer review.

What’s fascinating about this is that it seems to present a real-world solution to a problem commonly referred to as the “tragedy of the commons,” in which the self-interest of individuals leads to the destruction and overuse of shared natural resources.

Spatial patterning often occurs in ecosystems as a self-organizing process caused by feedback between organisms and the physical environment. “The centuries-old Balinese rice terraces are also created by feedback between farmer’s decisions and the ecology, which triggers a transition from local to global scale control,” explains Lansing. “Our model shows for the first time that adaptation in a coupled human-natural system can trigger self-organized criticality.”

This is absolutely fascinating, and it’s interesting to consider this in relation to other ideas on a “self-organizing criticality” that we’ve explored here before, such as in brains and sand piles.

For proponents of ed reform who argue against centralized control, this seems like it could be worth digging into further.

The aspect of fractals here is also tantalizing. After chatting with a colleague about the article, he referred me to Ron Eglash, a mathematician who has studied fractals in African history and culture. Do yourself a favor and watch his TED talk, it will blow your mind.

Eglash raising an interesting point about self-organizing principles: they can be wonderful, as in Google search, or our brains. But there is also a dark side, such as in the spread of HIV or the damaging effects of capitalism. He suggests that the fractal algorithms employed in Africa could present us with “robust” “ways of doing self-organization — of doing entrepreneurship — that are gentle, that are egalitarian.”

I’d love to explore more about how the fractal design of school structures and systems could be utilized for a productive purpose. Please share if you’ve got more on this.

Another interesting angle on the Balinese rice farmers is suggested in an earlier study reported also on Phys.org, “Phase transitions of rice farmers may offer insight into managing natural resources.

Their study and modeling seems to suggest that smaller self-segregated communities within a society are desirable in the long-run.

They found that the downside of the segregation is that it increases the social disharmony throughout the society as a whole. The upside, however, is that the social disharmony within each community becomes very low. In some communities, individuals are more likely to keep cooperating with each other—using the shared resource fairly—compared to the situation without segregation. These results were very similar to what the researchers observed in the segregated society of the Balinese subak.

This seems to be a dark side unmentioned in the more recent study on how the Balinese farmers exemplify a self-organizing society in harmony with nature. Or perhaps this isn’t a dark side — it’s a suggestion that some self-segregation can be positive.

But I don’t know anything about the Balinese subak, either, so not sure how much to read into this. Certainly worth going deeper into this. If any readers have knowledge of African fractal algorithms or Balinese subaks, please share!

Segregation, Diversity, and More

psm_v85_d433_factors_in_fertilization_and_segregation_of_germ_cells

This week is the last week of this legislative session in NY. While the political hoopla is around mayoral control, don’t let the noise detract you from something that has been simmering for decades: NY’s pervasively, deeply segregated schools.

There’s been some great momentum on the issue, at long last, both from NYSED and NYC. Yet the fact remains that there is no existing legislation on the issue that has been passed.

There is a bill that can begin the first steps in addressing that deficiency: Bill S3794 in the Senate and Bill A5795 in the Assembly.

Since I wrote my last post, there’s been some promising momentum: Senator Jesse Hamilton co-sponsored the senate bill, and Assemblyman Walter Mosley co-sponsored the assembly bill.

But the bill still needs to be put on a very busy agenda and made a priority in order to make it to the floor. Please call your senator and assembly person and ask them to help move this bill forward.

Thanks in advance. On to other news related to school diversity:

NYSED drafts a stronger statement against segregation than NYC

“Last week, the mayor’s drew headlines — and criticism — for his long-awaited diversity plan. Among the concerns — the mayor chose not to use words like “integration” or “segregation” to define the problem.

The state, on the other hand, isn’t mincing words. On Monday, the Board of Regents discussed its own draft diversity statement. “More than sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education,” it states in its opening paragraph, “New York is the most segregated state in the country.”

The use of the word “segregation,” vs. the more general word “diversity,” is a flashpoint in conversations about integration. Advocates stress that the word must be used because it acknowledges the history of discriminatory policies and choices in loans, housing, zoning, and schools that have led to and perpetuated segregation. Others, such as Mayor De Blasio, view the terminology as secondary—and even a possible impediment to—in moving forward to address inequities as they exist now.

I can see both sides on this, and when I’ve advocated for increasing diversity in schools at a policy level and to the wider public, I tend to phrase it exactly like I just did: increasing diversity in schools. Why?

I think it comes down to whether we are talking about the past, or the future. When discussing the historic conditions and policies and choices that have led to pervasive segregation, we need to call it what it is.

But when looking forward, I think it makes sense to call for increasing diversity. Because it’s not only about race and class, it’s also about making our schools into inclusive spaces, rather than exclusionary places.

Maybe that’s making the bucket too big, but the fact is that active exclusion of others who are “different”—by both children and adults—is a key issue, and that’s a problem that exists in a school of any racial composition.

State’s draft diversity statement addresses ‘segregation,’ a word the mayor’s plan avoided, Chalkbeat NY

How many white students need to attend a school before it can be declared officially desegregated?

Seems like an important thing to define. Though I also think if we end up getting caught up in talking about numbers we’re focused on the wrong thing.

What Defines a Segregated School? Debate Over Connecticut Integration Policy Heading to Court, the 74

New research from Ohio puts integration advocates who aren’t pro-choice on the spot

There’s a tension between being pro-desegregation and anti-school choice. Many advocates for integration are also opposed to school choice. A recent study out of Ohio suggests that interdistrict choice can promote improved academic outcomes (and integration).

New Research: Student Gains in Ohio’s Open Enrollment, but Top Districts Remain Closed, the 74

A rezoning effort in Baltimore reveals the difficulty in implementing integration

“Research shows that racial and socioeconomic integration benefits students of all races and backgrounds — but experience reveals the difficulty of achieving it.”

Redrawing school districts could redefine two Baltimore County communities, The Baltimore Sun

The school board ended up passing a compromise between the NIMBYists and the original rezoning plan.

Baltimore County passes compromise redistricting plan for eight schools

Two high school seniors design and publish their own curriculum to teach teachers how to talk about race with students

“Putting the project together required a huge time commitment outside school. Guo and Vulchi often met up at 4 a.m. to work on the book before classes started, and they have spent many hours traveling to schools to train teachers in how to talk about race and host class discussions on the topic.

And their work will only continue after their June 21 graduation. Vulchi has been accepted to Princeton University, and Guo plans to go to Harvard University, but they hope to defer their enrollment for a year to work on a third edition of the book. A crowdsourced fundraising effort is in the works.

“We don’t mind losing sleep for this. We feel the need. We feel the urgency,” Vulchi said.”

2 NJ High School Students Create Racial Literacy Text to Help Schools and Teens Learn to Talk About Race, the 74

Idea for increasing teacher diversity: elevate paraprofessionals

K-12 Teachers Are Disproportionately White and Monolingual. Here’s One Way That Could Change., Slate

Let’s do something about segregated schools, New York

Dear NY readers,

There has been a bill proposed that can provide a solid first step towards a statewide conversation about desegregating our schools here in New York.

The bill number is S3794 in the Senate (sponsored by Senator Bailey), and A5795 in the Assembly (sponsored by Assemblymember Sepulveda).

The bill would establish a commission to examine segregation in primary and secondary schools across the state, specifically to investigate the degree of segregation and it’s relation to funding and long-term economic impacts.

The fact is that there are no existing state-level bills on the issue. Along with the momentum that is happening in NYC (the Chancellor and Mayor announced a diversity plan on Tuesday!), we can leverage this bill to push for future legislation.

The end of the legislative session is fast approaching, and this is an opportunity to make state-level change happen. We have the next two weeks to advocate for the passage of this bill.

If your Assembly members and Senators hear more from all of us about this bill, then it is much more likely to move forward. If you aren’t sure who your assembly person or senator are, you can check here.

Here is a draft form that you can use to speak to or write to your representative:

Dear [state representative],

I am [writing/speaking] to you today to ask for your support of bill S 3794 (Bailey) / A 5795 (Sepulveda), which establishes a temporary commission to examine and review the degree of segregation in primary and secondary schools.

New York operates some of the most segregated schools and districts by race and class in our nation, according to a 2014 UCLA Civil Rights Project and 2016 EdBuild report. There is a substantial body of research that suggests there are benefits for all children from learning in socioeconomically and racially diverse classrooms. Yet there are no existing legislation to promote greater diversity in New York schools.

Therefore, I strongly support the passage of bill to begin a statewide discussion of how greater diversity can be supported in our schools and districts. This bill will help to firmly establish and clarify the relation between segregated schools and funding. Furthermore, the bill will start an examination of the long-term impact of a segregated education on students.

Establishing a commission to examine the segregation in New York schools will provide a clear direction for future policies.


Thank you for your leadership.

[Your name]