Please Stop Equating Low-Income With Low Achievement. And Pretending That Sitting Next To Middle-Class Kids Fixes Both.

Everyone from Beatrice Kaufman to Fanny Brice to Sophie Tucker to Mae West to Cher has been quoted as saying, “I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich. Rich is better.”

Few would disagree with them.

Just like few would disagree that New York City schools with wealthier families post higher test scores due, in no small part, to the fact that wealthier parents have the resources to get their children privately tutored outside of school, thus begging the question of just how much value-add actually comes from the highly regarded institution itself.

Last week, The Center For New York City Affairs released this calculator, where you can enter the name of a traditional public or charter school. Nearly every time test scores map to income and race.

Also last week, Chalkbeat published a post entitled How to Integrate Manhattan Middle Schools? This Parent Says Make Them Enroll a Mix Of Low and High Achievers.

One quote asserts:

When the superintendent in neighboring District 3 floated a plan to integrate Upper West Side middle schools by reserving some seats for low-income students, some parents rebelled and the idea was shelved. An outcry also ensued at Medgar Evers College Preparatory School in Brooklyn when the education department changed admissions there. Parents at the elite school worried academics there would “deteriorate.

Here is where I start to disagree. (You’ve read me before, you knew this was coming, didn’t you?)

The post’s title refers to low-achieving kids. But the quote uses the term low-income. As if they were one and the same. (Also, for the tiny minority that is not aware of this, “low-achieving” and “low-income” is code for Black and Hispanic.)

And then it goes on to use Medgar Evers College Prep as an example of privileged (presumably white) parents trying to keep low-income children of color from sharing the resources of their high-performing school. Except, oops, as I wrote back in November, Medgar Evers “has a 95 percent four-year graduation rate, a 67 percent college readiness rate… and a 71 percent Free Lunch rate.” It is also 88% Black which, according to the Department of Education’s bizarre yet official definition, makes Medgar Evers “diverse.”

So you mean it’s possible for a school to be “low-income,” “diverse” AND “high-achieving?”

A quick look at the Specialized High Schools — Stuyvesant is 48% Free Lunch, Brooklyn Tech is 60%, as is Queens High-School for the Sciences, while Brooklyn Latin is 56% Free Lunch — would suggest the possibility exists. Of course, those schools are all majority Asian which, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio actually does not make them “diverse”. (By the way, for those who also don’t know, “high pressure” and “overly competitive” is code for “too many Asians.”)

But some prospective students who aspire to attend these Specialized schools, which require top scores on the SHSAT test, typically spend literally years in private test prep to learn everything their local public school is not teaching them.

So let’s focus on the early grades. Is it possible to be “low-income,” “diverse” and “high-achieving” in Kindergarten through 8th grade?

In another article last week, The New York Times’ In School Together But Not Learning At the Same Rate, parsed the results of The Center for NYC Affairs’ study and came to the conclusion that no, it’s not, in fact, possible. And shockingly, merely sitting low-achievers next to high-achievers is not the magic bullet it’s been touted to be, either. (Review my long-term opposition to that pervasive, quick-fix suggestion here, here, and here.)

Except if you keep reading the New York Times piece all the way down to the third paragraph from the bottom, you’ll learn there are schools that counter that depressing deduction. Success Academy Cobble Hill is one example. Concourse Village Elementary in the South Bronx is another.

In September I profiled NYC’s Top 10 Elementary Schools By Test Scores. I noted that while being selective and catering to affluent families didn’t hurt, there wasn’t a single commonality to explain all of the schools’ successes.

Instead of just throwing our collective hands up in the air and sighing, “Low achievement is the same as low-income, so obviously there is nothing we can do to fix low achievement until low income is fixed first, but let’s move some deck chairs around on the Titanic and force some kids to commute longer distances for the privilege, so that at least it looks like we’re doing something,” shouldn’t we be looking at what different things the schools that manage to avoid the correlation are doing right?  And shouldn’t we do more of that, instead of lobbying for cosmetic changes that ultimately do nothing to tangibly affect the status quo?

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