Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Charter School Achievement

Mike Petrilli makes a good point about charter school studies:
[C]harters serving lots of poor or low-performing kids made a significant positive impact on math achievement, while “middle class” charter schools had a negative effect on both math and reading. You could joke that this is evidence that charters are closing the achievement gap: they are helping low-performing poor kids make gains and affluent kids lose ground.

So what’s going on? If you know a little bit about the charter school movement, these findings make a ton of sense. While the media mostly pay attention to inner-city charter schools—think KIPP, Achievement First, Harlem Success, etc.—several of the early-adopter states (like Minnesota, California, and Colorado) are also home to suburban charter schools. And many of those schools were created by progressive educators or parents as an alternative to the traditional public schools nearby. Schools like Minnesota New Country School, whose mission is to “explore the world through project-based learning.”

As far as I can tell, lots of these uber-progressive schools are quite good, and achieve excellent results in terms of student success in college and beyond. There’s a strong argument to be made—and Education Evolving makes it here—that there should be room within public education for these kinds of schools and their innovative approaches. But these institutions sure aren’t focused on getting kids ready to pass the state standardized test. So, compared to their traditional school counterparts, their test scores suffer.
This is why Diane Ravitch's view of charter schools is so utterly incoherent -- she manages to criticize NCLB for making schools focus too much on test scores even while criticizing charters and vouchers for failing to produce high enough test scores. And it turns out that charter schools (on average) aren't producing high enough test scores in part because some charter schools are doing exactly what Ravitch purports to favor -- offering an interesting curriculum that isn't as focused on test scores.

It's hard to square that circle.


Latest Publicity

Luther Spoehr of Brown gives the book a nice review at the History News Network.

The Atlantic Wire covers the book here.

John McWhorter pens another nice article defending the book at The Root.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

TAPPED post on the book

At TAPPED (the blog of The American Prospect), Jamelle Bouie has a post disagreeing with my book. He says:
By and large, this exchange is almost entirely anecdotal; if you set aside personal childhood memories, there simply isn't much broad empirical evidence for the claim that black students in integrated settings have a racialized antipathy toward educational achievement.
There's a lot more evidence for "acting white" than personal childhood memories. Out of the many studies on the issue, the best is Roland Fryer's empirical study of a nationally representative database in which students had been asked (among other things) to list out a certain number of friends. It turned out that after controlling for other variables that affect popularity, black students above a 3.5 GPA became significantly less popular. This was true mostly in integrated schools, and particularly in schools with internal integration:
I also find that acting white is unique to those schools where black students comprise less than 80 percent of the student population. In predominantly black schools, I find no evidence at all that getting good grades adversely affects students’ popularity. . . .

Unfortunately, internal integration only aggravates the problem. Blacks in less-integrated schools (places with fewer than expected cross-ethnic friendships) encounter less of a trade-off between popularity and achievement. In fact, the effect of acting white on popularity appears to be twice as large in the more-integrated (racially mixed) schools as in the less-integrated ones.Among the highest achievers (3.5 GPA or higher), the differences are even more stark,with the effect of acting white almost five times as great in settings with more cross-ethnic friendships than expected. Black males in such schools fare the worst, penalized seven times as harshly as my estimate of the average effect of acting white on all black students!

This finding, along with the fact that I find no evidence of acting white in predominantly black schools, adds to the evidence of a “Shaker Heights” syndrome, in which racially integrated settings only reinforce pressures to toe the ethnic line.
Bouie continues:
Even Buck, whose book is the focus of the discussion, leaves room for alternative explanations. From the beginning, he concedes that the evidence for his claim isn't conclusive and that to some degree, he is relying on the "absence of evidence" against it.
This is a mistaken interpretation.

The only thing that Bouie could be referring to is a single passage of the book, wherein I offer an admittedly speculative theory that the true effect of "acting white" is probably greater than could ever be empirically measured, because young adolescents often may be unaware of (or unable or unwilling to articulate) how deeply they have been influenced by peer pressure. Indeed, we are all affected by peer pressure in ways that we don't normally think about. For example, no one wears a swimsuit to an important business meeting -- not because of express peer pressure, but because we don't even imagine doing so. We just instinctively know that to do so would upset our peers. Thus, perhaps peer pressure is the most powerful where people aren't even consciously thinking about it.

In that context, I admitted that this particular argument -- that acting white could be far more powerful than we realize -- was possibly making too much of the absence of evidence. I do this sort of thing throughout the book; that is, I expressly raise and address counterarguments, while admitting the limitations of my own data and arguments. But I never suggest that the "acting white" phenomenon itself is characterized by the "absence of evidence." Far from it.


Monday, July 19, 2010

My Book on Bloggingheads.TV

John McWhorter and Richard Thompson Ford discuss my book here:


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Takeaway

I was interviewed early this morning by The Takeaway, a national morning news program jointly produced by WNYC, the New York Times, the BBC, Public Radio International, and WGBH. The host of this morning's radio show has a nice blog post about the book.

The audio is here:


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Has Desegregation Had an Overall Negative Effect?

No. That's not what the book argues. It's more like this: segregation was a cancer on American society, and desegregation was like a powerful drug that combatted the cancer. Powerful drugs can have side effects that need to be addressed, but that doesn't mean that it was better to have cancer.

Two recent blog posts (by Matthew Yglesias and Jamelle Bouie at Tapped) make the mistake of assuming that my book argues that desegregation was an overall negative. They then point to statistics from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showing that the black-white test score gap has moderately decreased since 1978. They then conclude that "the resources made available by desegregation have done a lot to improve educational outcomes among African Americans" (Bouie) and that "desegregation probably has had some ironic effects, but the main effects of African-Americans’ greater economic, social, and cultural equality have been about what you would expect" (Yglesias).

Yes, but this is missing the point. I expressly point out in the book that desegregation had lots of benefits — the fact that it arguably had one ironic side effect doesn’t imply that it had an overall negative effect. Moreover, Roland Fryer’s empirical work suggested that the “acting white” effect (that is, the popularity penalty suffered by blacks with high grades, which he found mostly in well-integrated schools) “explain[s] 11.3% of the black-white test score gap.” In other words, absent this effect, the benefits of desegregation could have been greater, and black kids would be doing even better today.


Monday, July 05, 2010

Review in Slate

Stanford's Richard Thompson Ford has a review of my book in Slate today. Even though he ultimately disagrees with my book's thesis, the review is as fair and thoughtful as an author could hope.

He ascribes the "acting white" phenomenon not to school desegregation, but to the social isolation that often occurred as an unfortunate byproduct of the civil rights movement more broadly:
Today's black underclass may not be as poor as many blacks were in the 1950s, but its isolation from the mainstream and from positive role models is actually worse. As Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson has shown, the concentration of poverty in inner cities became a crisis in the decades after the civil rights movement, as suburbanization and the decline of manufacturing hollowed out inner cities and as the most successful and talented blacks pursued newly available opportunities outside segregated ghettoes. The inadvertent result was a "brain drain" and a diversion of resources away from many black neighborhoods and black institutions. Those blacks left behind in inner cities faced anemic local economies, weakened social networks, withered institutions, and failing schools. These larger economic and demographic shifts disrupted black communities and displaced black role models, creating "super ghettos" of unprecedented isolation, joblessness, and social dysfunction.

So even if school desegregation hadn't shuttered many promising black schools, the rest of the civil rights revolution would still have undermined them. In the segregated job markets, many of the most talented blacks became school teachers and principals in black schools; after the civil rights reforms of the 1960s, they moved into more lucrative jobs in racially integrated firms and businesses. The costs of school desegregation that Buck identifies—the disruption of nurturing all-black institutions and communities, racial antagonism, mutual distrust, and black alienation in white dominated settings—are among the unintended consequences of desegregation generally. If many children growing up in these neighborhoods think of education as the exclusive domain of whites, that's because they think of almost every mainstream aspiration as the exclusive domain of whites.
This is a compelling argument. Nonetheless it still seems hard for me to see how social isolation would necessarily cause some children to think that high achievement in school is somehow "white." For that to happen, I think you need a situation where most of the teachers are white and/or where the advanced classes are mostly white. Roland Fryer and Paul Torelli's empirical work did find that the "acting white" effect (that is, the popularity penalty experienced by black students with high grades) is "non-existent" in all-black inner city schools -- which, to be sure, remain disadvantaged for many other reasons.