In this snippet, host and veteran education journalist Chana Joffe-Walt shares audio from the infamous public school tour, an almost ritualistic process for parents. Listen as Chana speaks directly to the principal of Brooklyn's School of International Studies, where the series unfolds.
Publish Date: Feb 15, 2021
In this snippet, host and veteran education journalist Chana Joffe-Walt shares audio from the infamous public school tour, an almost ritualistic process for parents. Listen as Chana speaks directly to the principal of Brooklyn's School of International Studies, where the series unfolds. It is 2015 and the SIS middle school is about to receive an influx of white students from wealthy households--a shift from its majority population of Latino, Black, and Middle Eastern students.
I started reporting this story at the very same moment as I was trying to figure out my own relationship to the subject of this story. White parents in New York City public schools. I was about to be one of them. When my kid was old enough, I started learning about my options. Add many. There was ours owned public school in Brooklyn, or I could apply to a handful of specialty programs. Ah, gifted program or a magnet school or a language program. So I started to look around. This was five years ago now, but I vividly remember these tours. I'd show up in the lobby of a school at the time listed on the website, look around and noticed that all or almost all of the other parents who'd shown up for the 11 a.m. middle of the workday early in the shopping season school tour were other white parents. As a group, we'd walk the halls following a school administrator, almost always a man or woman of color. Through a school full of black and brown kids. We'd peer in the classroom windows, watch the kids sit in a circle on the rug, ask questions about the lunch menu, homework policy, discipline. Some of us would take notes and the administrators would sell. The whole thing was essentially a pitch. We offer stem. We have a partnership with Lincoln Center. We have a dance studio. They were pleading with us to please take part in this public school. I don't think I've ever felt my own consumer power more viscerally than I did shopping for a public school. As a white parent, we were entering schools that people like us had ignored for decades. They were not our places, but we were being invaded to make them hours. The whole thing was made so much more awkward by the fact that nobody on those tours ever acknowledged the obvious racial difference that roughly 100% of the parents in this group did not match, say, 90% of the kids in this building. I remember one time being guided into a classroom and being told that this was the class for gifted kids and noticing, Oh, here's where all the white kids are. Everyone on our tour saw this all of us parents, but nobody said anything, including me. We walked out into the hallway, Mom raised her hand and said, I do have one question I've been meaning to ask and the group got quiet. I was thinking, Okay, here comes But then she said, Do the kids here play outside every day? E knew the schools were segregated. I shouldn't have been surprised by the time I was touring schools as a parent, it's been a fair amount of time in schools. As a reporter, I've done stories on the stark inequality in public education, and I looked at some of the many programs and reforms we've tried to fix our schools. So many ideas. We've tried standardized tests and charter schools. We've tried smaller classes, longer school days, stricter discipline, looser discipline, tracking differentiation. We've decided the problem is teachers. The problem is parents. What is true about almost all of these reforms is that when we look for what's broken for how our schools are failing, we focus on who they're failing. Poor kids, black kids and brown kids way ask, why aren't they performing better? Why aren't they achieving more? Those are not the right questions. There is a powerful force that is shaping our public schools, arguably the most powerful force. It's there even when we pretend not to notice it, like on that school tour. If you want to understand why our schools aren't better, that's where you have to look. You have to look at white parents from cereal productions and Chana Joffe. Walt, this is nice white parents. A syriza about the 60 year relationship between white parents and the public school down the block. No, really, I'm going to take you inside a public school building and utterly ordinary squat, three story New York City Public School building not far from where I live. This isn't one of the schools I toured. And my own kids don't go here there too little. This is a middle and high school called the School for International Studies S I s The story you want to tell you spans decades in this one school building, but I'm going to begin when I first encountered S s in the spring of 2015, right before everything changed in 2015. The students that s I s were black, Latino and Middle Eastern kids, mostly from working class and poor families that year, like the year before and the year before that the school was shrinking. The principal, Gillian Juman, was worried. Yeah. So, um, last two years we had 30 students in our sixth grade class. And so we really have room for 100 eso numbers I think are hard. Miss Truman started to reach out to families from the neighborhood, inviting them to please come take a look. Parent started showing up for tours of S s, mostly groups of white parents. Mrs. Truman was thrilled and relieved. She walked parents through the building saying, Stop me anytime. If anyone has any questions, really anything, I want you to feel comfortable. And this German says they did have questions, mostly about the poor test scores. That was fair. Miss Truman expected those questions. She did not expect The other set of questions she got a lot from parents is their weapons. Is there you? Are you scanning? Are you a scanning school? Because kids are dangerous. And there we have weapons. I've heard that they're standing like metal detectors. Right? I heard there's fights and you know those kinds of things I don't I don't know what school you're talking about. I have never heard of that incident ever happening ever. So the fears of what this building is and what this building has represented has kind of transcended itself. We only week There's a different story of international studies outside this building. How much of that do you think is racism? I think our entire society is fearful of the unknown. Excellent. Principal answer. Principal German is black, by the way. She needed these parents. Schools get money per student. A shrinking school means a shrinking budget. Mr. Hammond was worried. If this continued, the middle school could be in danger of being shut down by the city. S s is in Kabul Hill, Brooklyn, Leafy streets, brownstones. It's a wealthy white neighborhood that's gotten wealthier and waiter in the last decade. But wait, families were not sending their kids to S s. Miss Jarman told these parents choose s I s We're turning things around. We're in the process of bringing in a new prestigious international baccalaureate curriculum renovating the library. Here's the new gorgeous yard. It's an excellent school. The parents seemed interested, but I believe that might have had Justus much to do with what was happening outside of the school as what they were seeing