Wednesday morning coffee break: school integration, Chinese parenting

Good morning! I'm sure many children (and parents) across the Washington region are disappointed not to have gotten the snow day they feel they so rightly deserved. Small consolation: Here is some interesting reading that hopefully will provide some food for thought on how we raise all our children to be successful.

First, the Washington Post has a front-page story today about the Republican school board's decision in Wake County, N.C., to roll back the district's school integration policy so that children are assigned to a school in their neighborhood rather than being bused across town. The movement is backed by Tea Party conservatives, who argue that it is no longer necessary to enforce integration in the 21st century. Instead, they believe that by concentrating low-income children in a handful of schools, the district can better meet their needs and raise student achievement. Critics see their argument as "a 21st-century case for segregation."

I could just as easily refute the school board's argument by pointing out that all children, regardless of income, must be held to the same standards and be given access to the same high-quality education.  By isolating low-income children in their own schools, we are essentially saying they need a low-income education. But there is actually research that shows how wrongheaded and dangerous this approach would be.  Just a couple of months ago, we blogged about the economic benefits of school integration. A study done in Montgomery County showed that low-income children fared much better in terms of academic achievement when they attended schools in affluent areas. The study flew in the face of the prevailing wisdom that it is more effective to keep children in neighborhood schools and direct additional resources to those in low-income communities.

Here in the District, of course, we have a dual public education system of neighborhood schools as well as public charter schools which accept children from across the city. In effect, the charter system brings a degree of economic integration. But studies have shown that charter schools, on the whole, do not perform better than neighborhood public schools in terms of academic achievement. So, where does that leave us?

Well, I think it shows that nothing is simple when it comes to education reform. It also points up the need for strong reinforcement of academic achievement at home.

The other article that is burning up the Internet is an essay in the Wall Street Journal by Amy Chau, a Yale professor and mother of two girls who extols what she calls the Chinese approach to parenting -- an excerpt from her forthcoming book. That is, a parenting style that is extremely strict (no TV, no video games, no acting in the school play, even!) and grounded in negative reinforcement. She recounts in alarming detail about how she scolds her children into submission -- and academic success! The comments section is even more enlightening, with about half of the writers agreeing with Prof. Chau's no-nonsense parenting style, and the other half equally appalled.

On one hand, it is true that her argument relies on harmful ethnic stereotypes. But is it fair to say there may be some merits to what she is saying? That we need to hold our children to high standards and expectations and push them to always do better? But also, that we shouldn't verbally abuse our children and stamp out all their natural creativity -- and that kids do learn something from trying and failing as well as success? Yes, of course. But that kind of common sense wouldn't sell any books.