"5 Myths About Homeless Schools" Reinforces Real Myths; Ignores Evidence, Studies
The progressive website Change.org - a great site that lifts up important issues - went way off course this week when they published an article entitled "5 Myths About Homeless Schools" that defended separate schools for students experiencing homelessness.
Writer Natalie Wendt says in the piece that she speaks on "behalf of teachers in low-income public schools everywhere." But that isn't true. The National Education Association has opposed separate schools. That position is shared by the NAACP, the National Coalition for the Homeless, and the National Association for the Education of Homeless Youth and Children.In her article, Ms. Wendt ignores the facts, the studies and civil rights law related to education in her piece. I assume based on her postings that Ms. Wendt is a good person with a big heart. But she clearly doesn't have a grasp on good practices in education or public policy as it relates to this area.
Why are separate schools bad? The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty has noted:
"These “schools" are usually located in shelters or churches, and resemble the one-room schoolhouse of early rural America. They typically fail to provide the same curricular and extra-curricular activities as regular public schools; they may not be staffed by certified teachers; they often group children together in multi-age, multi-grade classrooms; they usually fail to provide the same services and resources as regular public schools; and they may violate health and safety codes. Because most separate schools cannot provide the same educational services as are provided in regular public schools, homeless children risk falling behind their peers academically. When these children return to regular public schools, they may not receive credit for their work in a separate school, thus forcing them to repeat a grade or take additional classes in order to graduate."Barbara Duffield, the policy director of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Youth and Children, has said:
"No separate school is a model for homeless children. In fact, federal law strictly prohibits school segregation by housing status because separate schools are considered a harmful educational practice. Segregation deprives children of the resources, structure, and stability of a mainstream school environment. Furthermore, we have learned over the years that model homeless education programs are those that keep children stable in their schools of origin, remove barriers to enrollment, attendance, and success, and afford homeless children and youth every opportunity to participate in school activities. We also have learned from those communities who had separate programs and then transitioned to an integrated model; these communities report being able to provide more comprehensive services to more children in an integrated setting."Educators, civil rights organizations and advocates for children experiencing homelessness have all come to the conclusion that separate schools are ineffective based on study after study that show that children in separate schools suffer and don't, well, learn. The most recent studies, conducted on the well-known homeless-only Pappas School in Phoenix, AZ, compared test scores among students there with students who were homeless that had been mainstreamed into Phoenix's public schools. At every grade level and in every subject the students at the Pappas School scored substantially lower than homeless kids in public schools. In her article, Ms. Wendt seems to minimize the importance of a formal education for children experiencing homelessness. But as President Obama has noted, a solid education is one of the best anti-poverty tools we have.
We have one of these separate schools right here in Portland - the Community Transitional School. Multnomah County, ignoring the wisdom of federal law, helps fund the program but the school, since it is private, is not required to meet state standards and Multnomah County, tragically, does not hold the school accountable for how well students are educated. (Unless there have been recent radical changes in their contract with Multnomah County) there are no real measurable goals the school is required to meet. In effect, there is no real accountability for how public dollars are being spent on this program.
These separate schools could play a valuable role if instead of trying to provide the primary education for children - a goal they clearly cannot meet - they instead used their passion, energy and good intentions to provide after school programs and other supportive services that supplement the work being done by public schools.
In the end, Change.org has done a great disservice by promoting the old failed idea that separate is equal in education. We've known since before Brown vs. Education that such an argument is morally flawed.