Getting the Rich Kids and Poor Kids Under One Classroom


Unlike most charters in urban areas, Drew Charter is not all black or Hispanic, nor is it all poor. It is, instead, a demonstration of a novel concept in the modern education reform movement: trying to close the achievement gap between the poor and affluent by bringing them together to share their neighborhoods and their classrooms.

Drew Charter School in Atlanta, Ga. went from being the worst school in the city to the fourth best. How did they do it? For one thing: Getting rich kids and poor kids together under one classroom, and becoming an example that mixed income neighborhoods can create a healthy community.

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I went to a magnet school in Atlanta that put rich kids and poor kids (and black kids and white kids) in the same classroom. It was hands down the most useful high school education I could have gotten, despite the quirks and shortcomings of the Atlanta Public Schools. And my stories about high school are way more entertaining than those of all the suburban megaschool-attending kids I went to college with.

Harriet Welch (#127)

@Sydney Bufkin@twitter
Were you in the magnet program or in the mainstream? I am so interested in this because I went to a high school with a magnet program that put rich kids and poor kids in the same school, but certainly not the same classroom.
I was in the mainstream and most of my friends were in the magnet. Our high school experiences could not have been more different. I had to share books and lab equipment with 4-8 people, had shitty teachers and a frustratingly limited curriculum. They had multiple books for the same class that they didn’t have to share, teachers with advanced degrees that gave a shit and labs that mainstream kids didn’t have access to. It built up a LOT of resentment on behalf of the mainstream kids. The groups intermingled sometimes, but not very much. The magnet kids sort of looked out the windows at mainstream kids and judged them. Sure, they were exposed to poor kids, but not in any meaningful way. These are my friends, long after high school ended they are still my friends. They are not bad people, but they got a superior education and sort of laugh about their experiences going to the poor school and the things that they saw.They just really didn’t have the world experience to understand how completely unfair it was or how privileged they were. They have grown out of it, but in high school most of the magnet kids were very dismissive of anyone not in the program and could be quite condescending.
I think it works better in the elementary level for sure (I am studying elementary ed and substitute teaching, so I have been in all of the schools in my area), but I am interested to see if I maybe went to the only school where this happened, or if it is more prevalent and people just don’t talk about it.
Again, this is MY experience only! I am not criticizing everyone that was in a magnet or anything like that. I also recognize that I am privileged by virtue of being white, having parents that went to college, being nearly middle class etc. I didn’t have a keen awareness of this in high school either, just enough of an awareness to be uncomfortable.

@Harriet Welch I was magnet, but the two programs weren’t completely separate–everyone took the same shitty geography, world history, and biology classes (my graduating class and the ones around it produced a million lawyers–we were a communications magnet–but no medical doctors at all. Given the abysmal bio teachers we had, I don’t think this is a coincidence). I agree that completely separating magnet kids from mainstream defeats the purpose, but in my experience a well-integrated curriculum can provide enough advantages to keep the privileged kids from being sent off to private school while also offering those advantages to the less privileged kids, and provide some sense of cohesion between magnet and non-magnet. Not saying that tension wasn’t there, just that there were a lot of attempts to ease it.

ETA: to clarify, the advanced classes at m school were open to everyone–magne and non-magnet. There were specific electives that were only magnet, and a few core classes, but if a non-magnet student really wanted tone in one, that could usually be arranged.

Harriet Welch (#127)

@Sydney Bufkin@twitter

That’s a totally different system then. It’s good they had it at least semi-integrated.

Our school was an International Baccalaureate school. You had to apply to the program, but if you didn’t go to a magnet middle school, take the PSAT, score highly on the state standardized test etc you were basically not going to be admitted. Meaning you already had to have a decent education to have access to this education. I am all about merit programs, advanced classes and whatnot, I just don’t think that it made sense for it to be in the most disenfranchised school in the county. They also made zero efforts to help students move from mainstream into IB, even in the first two years where the curriculum is just AP or advanced classes. Anyone could be promoted into honors classes based on teacher’s recommendations, and technically anyone could take AP classes, but the classes were typically filled by first and second year pre-IB students. So one or two juniors or seniors from mainstream would be in classes with freshman or sophomore IB kids. It was also not really encouraged to the point of making it common. I knew people who turned down taking AP classes because they were 18 year old seniors who worked part time supporting their families and they just couldn’t deal with the idea of sitting in classes with 14 year old IB students.

I don’t have a better system, but this one is certainly cracked.

OhMarie (#299)

This is really interesting–I don’t have any kids, but I live in a small city in a mixed-income and race neighborhood. We had a recent boom in immigrants from central america, so I’d say it’s currently about 1/3rd white, black, and Hispanic.

The thing is, the white/higher income kids almost all go to private schools. It’s insane. The elementary school is literally 50/50 black and hispanic. The high school includes more affluent neighborhoods and it’s a really good school, so it’s much more balanced, but the self-segregation is shocking at the elementary level.

@OhMarie self-segregation

OhMarie (#299)

@stuffisthings Ok, that’s true. It’s more like white flight, but just in the school.

Harriet Welch (#127)

I think much of the success here lies in changing the landscape of the surrounding housing, not just busing kids from more affluent neighborhoods to magnets in lower income neighborhoods.

In this case, the property taxes of the surrounding neighborhoods helps the school. In the case of busing, the property taxes that the parents pay remains in their children’s school of zone. Which means fewer children in better neighborhood’s schools and more kids and less money in the worse neighborhoods (money does come in from the magnets, but it doesn’t really trickle down to the rest of the school).
This is a great way to generate real change.

nerd alert (#436)

as someone who works on these issues, and is very close to one of the projects mentioned in the article, i will say that i am personally troubled by this approach due to the fact that it often means massive transfers of wealth from the public sector to the private sector, and the populations that are targeted for help often are such a small percentage of the neighborhood that was targeted for redevelopment that i personally think it’s disgusting. in this article they mentioned that 3/4ths of the families displaced by this redevelopment were not allowed to come back- and policy makers rarely track where displaced populations go and what happens to them. and redeveloping housing alone will not answer this questions- using private market solutions to address problems that often are rooted in the private market is just silly. especially since most of the problems with public housing developments and urban education systems were literally engineered in the policy sphere and built to fail. landscape urbanism is white people bullshit. ugh.

highjump (#39)

@nerd alert Agreed. Charter schools are massively problematic.

Harriet Welch (#127)

@highjump Huh, in my county there aren’t the charter schools run by companies. They are usually run by educators that are sick of public schools. They all focus on something specific. I interned at one that focused on health and they did yoga every morning, PE and recess every day, they ate healthy snacks and food from their garden. There are many more that are great. We only really have one that is a sucking leech of awfulness.
Sad.
Also, I somehow missed the part where they displaced people from their homes. We have a place nearby that used defunct new construction and did something similar with the housing (with no association with the school). I don’t know how I missed that. Displacing people is not ok. Sorry

nerd alert (#436)

@Harriet Welch my reference to displaced populations isn’t just in regards to the school- it’s in regards to the dismantling of public housing, which often happens right before the new schools conveniently come in to help the new population, the vast majority of which rent out the market rate housing that replaced the subsidized housing. though, to be fair, all housing is subsidized housing, since the properties that are redeveloped are often done so using massive grants from the government- so the subsidy is just transferred to the developer, who then profits off of the upgrading.

highjump (#39)

@Harriet Welch Yeah, everything Nerd Alert is saying. I live in DC and see this every day. Check out what’s happening in Philly: http://articles.philly.com/2012-07-25/news/32828937_1_charter-school-planet-abacus-ad-prima I’m not sure where you’re from Harriet, but what you’re talking about is usually called a magnet school in the US. Though some charters can have a particular focus.

Harriet Welch (#127)

@nerd alert
Blah. Is there a better way? I mean gentrification sucks, displacement sucks, segregation sucks…

highjump (#39)

@Harriet Welch Stop funding education through local property taxes, fund it all at the state and national levels. End expensive high-stake testing which is frequently meaningless. If that’s not enough money raise taxes high enough so we can provide a quality education for 100% of kids. Part of that will go to pay teachers (who should receive substantive training) a fair wage so they stay in the profession. And as long as I’m living in a dream world let’s pass the Employee Free Choice Act and end Right To Work For Less so all teachers and school professionals can have due process at work which will protect kids.

Harriet Welch (#127)

@highjump I am in the U.S.
In our district there are magnets, which are programs within schools such as the Lyceum program, International Baccalaureate, Culinary arts etc. Most of our lower income schools get magnets, whereas it seems others get turned into charters.
The charters here are schools that are built from the ground up and are usually smaller. They are funded through state funding and grants. I know three people who have started charters here and they are far from fraudulent corporate entities. All of the charters that I am aware of here are definitely started by individuals who were failed by the system for some reason and decided to go an alternative route. Nearly all of them have some kind of alternative education thing happening, but they are responsible for the same standards and standardized testing as every other school. My experience with charters has all been pretty hippy groovy kind of thing. That clearly doesn’t preclude other charters from being nefarious miscreants.

I also live in a small, university town that is very political and very liberal. I’m certainly not saying that this couldn’t happen to us, but I just wonder if there’s some reason for it. I don’t know.

Harriet Welch (#127)

@highjump I will sign up to live in your dream world and subscribe to your newsletter.
Let it be known. I am kind of one of those awful people that gets too emotionally wrapped up in stuff when everything sucks so I tend to stick my head in the sand (which=stay in school to be a teacher and then do guided meditation and yoga with kids before tests) and do my personal best and forget about things at large. I totally get how that is bad, but I will actually not sleep or feel sick when I get overwhelmed with how bad everything is. So I stay informed locally (where I feel like I can actually make a difference) and just take a deep breath when I have to deal with the outside world.

highjump (#39)

@Harriet Welch I misread county as country in one of your comments, so I thought you were in Canada or something. Anyway. Even if you know nice people who start charters (I know some of those people too, holla TrekNorth) those schools are taking public money that could be going to public schools. Most charter schools get to pick and choose their students (not fair, school is for everyone*), hire unlicensed teachers (not fair to kids), and they have to meet a totally different set of benchmarks than public schools which is a regulation nightmare if they’re regulated at all. Charter schools are a way for government to privatize education – to get it off their plate basically. I believe education is the responsibility of government and I do not want to see happen to schools what has happened to prisons.

*Charter schools and special ed/ IEPs is a whole other rant I won’t get into right now.

@nerd alert (and @highjump) – this (the article and your comments) tie back to a seminar I had this last semester. These issues (especially neighborhood composition) are so important to quality education, and all anybody can talk about when they talk about education “reform” is testing and unions. Blergh.

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