Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Where Sociology, Criminology, and Charter Schools Converge

From his ethnographic studies in inner-city Philadelphia, sociologist Elijah Anderson identified two types of inner-city families/people, “decent” and “street.” He did not invent those terms; they are used by the residents in that community.

With the skyrocketing incarceration levels of recent decades, I believe that Anderson’s “street” population has now grown so large that it constitutes an entire class of Americans, our “incarcerated class.”* By “incarcerated class” I mean those who are either pre-, currently, or post-incarcerated (many times a never-ending cycle), AND their offspring. Read Marian Wright Edelman's Column: "The Cradle to Prison Pipeline: America's New Apartheid."

So for instance, Edelman says that “a poor Black boy born in 2001 has a one in three chance of going to prison.” However, a closer look would most likely reveal that it is something more like a 90%+ chance for a certain set of those boys, and much, much less for a different set of boys (depending if they are from a street/incarcerated class environment or from a decent one). The high-at-risk subgroup describes the incarcerated class. Parents in the community know exactly who is who.

The extreme numerical escalation of this group is what feeds the interest in charter schools. The non-I.C. parents who live in areas where members of this class are numerous are desperate to separate their kids from the offspring of the incarcerated class. For instance, read this recent, emotional pro-charter opinion piece in the New York Post and some of the response comments. One said, “A good kid going to school with kids that were not raised in a good household is like putting a kitten in the middle of a pack of wolves.” Now we're getting to the meat of things.

Over the past few decades, the number of these kids has been increasing and thus their enrollment in the public schools has been climbing higher and higher. Because of the sheer numbers, their presence at some point became overwhelming, thus all the “bad” urban public schools.

David Berliner’s recently issued report, “Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success,” describes the effect of family relations and stress on schooling, pages 24 to 29. It says:

Children from families that suffer from violence, from whatever income group and race, often display social and emotional problems that manifest themselves in the schools they attend. Too often these children show higher rates of aggressive behavior, depression, anxiety, decreased social competence, and diminished academic performance.

He continues:

“…such families [the above described] are overrepresented among the poor and in the African American community, increasing the difficulty of the instructional and counseling missions of schools that serve those populations…the effects these troubled children exert on others in the classroom is strong.”

More details, with citations, are given. (Intelligent people will read this sort of information and absorb it, and then fashion a response that is appropriate and relates. The supposedly brilliant venture philanthropists like Eli Broad and Bill Gates, I'm afraid, are not in this group and will never do the same.)

This large set of kids is tremendously difficult to manage and they make the school life miserable for everyone else. The teachers in the schools who aren't getting driven away are at risk for getting totally worn down -- thus the apathy which is sometimes described.

My first guess is that our ongoing inability to acknowledge that this is occurring, reasonable legal arguments and important civil rights concerns have all restrained public schools from developing the strategies that would be necessary for dealing with large numbers of kids from this group. Unlike special education or English learning, there is no extra-funding offered to schools that must manage large numbers of them. I believe this is something that could be considered as a disability of a social nature – the behaviors and the symptoms are very extreme.

My second guess is that charter schools don’t deal with too many of these kids. The parents in this social class are extremely alienated from any mainstream and aren’t as inclined to seek charters. If they happen to enter the charter school world (because a relative did, for instance), their children will be more likely to get kicked out for bad behavior and non-compliance.

Bad school climates are what drive parents away. Public schools will need a great deal of help to manage their increasing numbers of this most-difficult-to-educate population.

How does this theory sound? I invite you to poke away.

* To my knowledge, the term "incarcerated class" was first used on March 31, 2009, by Tony Waters in his comments on ”Bridging Differences.” He is a faculty member of the Sociology Department at
California State University, Chico.


Unknown said...

My first response to reading this was "duh". Those of us who teach, or who have offspring, in public school have known this for a long, long time.

I am glad you have written it down. I plan on linking to it, or stealing it outright (with citation!).

Tom Hoffman said...

This is basically right. It doesn't require any active "creaming" for charters to end up without the most difficult students. Any school that simply requires an active request to attend has advantages over a school in which kids are simply placed.

Anyhow, it fits my subjective experience teaching in a variety of Providence public high schools, from the Alternative program on up.

The Perimeter Primate said...

Yes tft, we do know things that others don't.

I attend my Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council meetings nearly every month (for Oakland's police beat 22Y). At our last meeting a gentleman named Frank Davis spoke. He works for an organization which helps parolees find employment; it is called America Works. They have a performance-based contract with Oakland which is paid for by our Measure Y (violence prevention act) funding.

Davis reported that 50 to 80 parolees return from state prison to Oakland every week. That is EVERY WEEK. These numbers do not include parolees from the city jail or youth detention centers.

Oakland's parolees have a 70% recidivism rate. Ninety percent are male; 10% are female.

Most of these parolees are 18 to 35 years old. (I note to myself that this is the prime parenting age range for this subgroup.)

Davis said that most of the parolees are ninth grade dropouts. Many are homeless because they are estranged from family members and other relationships. Of course they have no idea how to present themselves for employment.

And on and on...

Just a few details from the Oakland end.

tauna said...

I think the charter/kipp "recipe" can be characterized as creaming and sifting.

Unofficial creaming and sifting of course.

David Dooley said...

Dr. Elijah Anderson shares the terms "street" families and "decent" families.

I suspect that "decent" families are those where the parents engage in parenting behaviors and practices generally recognized as supporting the healthy physical, emotional, and intellectual development of children, and "street" families are those where the parents engage in parenting behaviors and practices generally recognized as disrupting the healthy physical, emotional, and intellectual development of children.

David Dooley said...

I shared the following with Dr. Anderson.

My name is David Dooley. I'm an elementary school teacher in Bakersfield, CA. I learned about your work through the Greater Good Science Center.

I'm an advocate of media-based parenting education for young people...that is young people, kids, being taught best parenting behaviors and practices in an effort to prepare them for the responsibilities of parenthood. I believe parenting education for young people could be a tremendously powerful and proactive means for preventing child abuse, substance abuse, and other forms of violence.

I feel strongly about teaching kids how to parent because preparation for adulthood is the reason we educate children, and parenting is by far the most important job they’ll have as adults. Additionally, trying to identify, round up, and change the parenting behaviors and practices of every adult who needs intervention is next to impossible for practical reasons.

I was thinking the education could take the form of both free and paid, permanent yet evolving, public service messages on radio, television, billboards, print, products, and the internet designed to teach young people how to engage in parenting behaviors and practices generally recognized as supporting the healthy physical, emotional, and intellectual development of children, and reject parenting behaviors and practices generally recognized as disrupting the healthy development of children. I can envision appealing school age spokespersons delivering these messages.

Does this idea have merit? If it does, how can I turn my dream into reality?

David Dooley

Dr. Anderson replied.

Dear Mr. Dooley:

I am in agreement with your propositions for addressing issues of
children and violence. In order to turn your dream into reality, you
might proceed by applying for funding from progressively-minded
foundations that have demonstrated a serious interest in the issue of
child welfare. Among those that come immediately to mind are: The Annie
E. Casey Foundation, the William Penn Foundation, the Pew Foundation,
and the McDonell-Clark Foundation. For a detailed understanding of their
interests and concerns, you should then further research the particular
missions of these foundations on the internet or through other sources,
and then with clear goals and approaches to success, prepare a cogent
grant application for funding consideration. Good luck in your efforts.

Thank you for your interest in my work.

Best wishes,

Elijah Anderson
William K. Lanman, Jr. Professor of Sociology
Yale University
New Haven, CT 06520

The Perimeter Primate said...

A visit from someone at charter.com:

Referring URL: http://ednotesonline.blogspot.com/2009/04/tracking-charter-school-debates.html
April 13, 2009 12:36 PM IP: (75-132-29-178.dhcp.stls.mo.charter.com) Mac OS X Mac OS X
Saint Louis, MO, United States

stls.mo.charter.com is a domain controlled by four nameservers at charter.com. Some of them are on the same IP network. charter.com, wa.charter.com, mi.charter.com, ma.charter.com, mo.charter.com and at least eleven other hosts share nameservers with this domain.

Cerebration said...

This is one of the most enlightening well-written posts I've read on the unspoken, often denied problems behind the problems being "addressed" by NCLB. I will also share this info on my school blog, with your permission and certainly a citation. In my county, DeKalb in Georgia, our high-performing high school has had to take on so many transfer students from "failing" schools that we now have 21 trailers to accommodate the influx.

I'm sure you all read the "Parade" magazine article on the prison issue.

I quote, "The United States has by far the world's highest incarceration rate. With 5% of the world's population, our country now houses nearly 25% of the world's reported prisoners. We currently incarcerate 756 inmates per 100,000 residents, a rate nearly five times the average worldwide of 158 for every 100,000. In addition, more than 5 million people who recently left jail remain under "correctional supervision," which includes parole, probation, and other community sanctions. All told, about one in every 31 adults in the United States is in prison, in jail, or on supervised release. "

If you didn't read it, you can find it here

The Perimeter Primate said...

Hello Cerebration,

Yes, please share anything I write with anyone.

It is good to connect with a person from Georgia. My daughter attends college in your neck of the woods.

I appreciated the Parade article; thanks, I hadn't seen it yet. Our country is in such a terrible mess.

I just finished watching the interview of David Simon, creator of The Wire, on last night's Bill Moyer's Journal. He discusses a variety of things such as our abandoned underclass, the institutionalized oligarchy of the US, and the high national level of apathy. In the mix, he talks about inner-city education issues and crime.

I think you'll appreciate many of the points Simon makes. Watch it if you have the time -- http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04172009/watch.html

Kathy Emery said...

In all of this discussion, I don't see any acknowledgement that no one can parent well if they don't have decent housing, health care and a living wage. I wish we could learn a bit from history, which we never seem to do. IF anyone is interested, I suggest reading Polly Greenberg's The Devil has Slippery Shoes.

David Dooley said...

I don't know whether I agree with you, Dr. Emery. I teach at an inner city school. Most of the families struggle financially, yet some of the parents engage in best parenting behaviors and practices. Do you have to be well off to be a good parent? And don't some moms and dads who are well off engage in parenting behaviors and practices generally recognized as disrupting the healthy physical, emotional, and intellectual developement of children?