A nifty new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute identifies some 2,800 public schools nationally that serve virtually no poor students. That’s a small percentage of schools nationally–but in some metro areas it means that as many as 1 in 4 white public school students attend schools with virtually no poor (and often few non-white) students.
This report is a valuable counterpoint to the recent debate over rates of racial segregation in charter schools–reminding us that in many metro areas, district-run schools are highly segregated and public policy choices systematically deny poor and minority kids opportunities to attend some of the highest performing “elite” district-run public schools in these areas.
The Fordham folks also deserve kudos for drawing attention to the extent that residential, zoning, and other non-education policies support or even exacerbate socio-economic residential segregation in ways that effectively keep “good” public schools in some neighborhoods entirely devoid of poor and minority students. As I noted yesterday, education policy debates often suffer from a lack of meaningful conversation and exchange of ideas that cuts across policy areas–and the lack of education policy attention to the role of urban planning, zoning, housing, transit and other policies that have real impact on educational options for poor kids is a case in point.
That said, a couple of complaints: First, I wish they’d taken their analysis beyond the idea that it’s hypocritical for parents who send their kids to “elite” public schools to opposed vouchers and tax credits (of which I think there are valid reasons to be highly skeptical, regardless). As the authors note, there a real variations across states and metro areas in the extent to which “exclusive” public schools exist, and it would be worthwhile to know more about the policy conditions that underlie that. I’m particularly interested in the question of how the size and definition of school districts affect this—I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, say, New Jersey, with its 500+ tiny, highly localized school districts, has the highest rates of exclusive public schools. And I wish they’d given at least a nod to policies that promote socio-economic integration through public school choice–policies of which Fordham authors have expressed skepticism in the past–as well as policies that address the underlying residential segregation issues here (which should be considered as part of the pro-equity education policy agenda, because of the close linkages between residential/housing policy, school funding, and access to quality schools for poor kids).
Second, I’m not crazy about Fordham’s choice of “Private Public Schools” to describe these schools: It’s rather slanderous to the many private, particularly but not only Catholic, schools that do valuable work serving primarily poor students, as Fordham well knows. And I think it commits a similar sin to some charter and voucher opponents in oversimplifying the complex question of “what makes a public school, public?”
For instance, when I first saw the report title, I thought it was going to be about the undernoted phenomenon that many affluent public schools raise significant funds from private donations and other fundraising. Ed Writers Association’s Linda Perlstein earlier this week urged reporters to look more closely at the private funds that charters receive. But in fact, a lot of district-run schools also raise significant private funding, which often exacerbates inequities. For instance, I know that one D.C. school on Fordham’s list, Lafeyette Elementary, has an extremely active parent fundraising apparatus that, among other things, pays salaries for teachers at the school. The fact that growing numbers of affluent public schools do this–and federal tax policies give families a tax break for contributing to these organizations–undermines policy efforts to enhance equity for disadvantaged youngsters.
UPDATE: My former colleague Jenny Cohen offers some interesting analysis of this in re: Title I funding to some of the states with the highest numbers of “exclusive” public schools.
UPDATE: Full list of 2,800 schools now available on Fordham site. FWIW, no schools I attended as a child on this list.