Education Week - January 22, 2014 - (Page 16)
WAR ON POVERTY: Progress & Persistent Inequity
Still Segregated After 50 Years:
A Visit to Cincinnati's West End
Two schools illustrate benefits, pitfalls of anti-poverty efforts
By Sarah D. Sparks
Sitting on a stretch of the Ohio River that divides
the North from the South, this city historically
has been one of the nation's most racially
and economically segregated metropolises, both
at the time President Lyndon B. Johnson declared
his 1964 War on Poverty and today.
More than half the children here live in pov-
erty, according to the most recent data from the
U.S. Census Bureau, but the poverty rates for
black children are more than double those for
white children, 46.4 percent versus 23 percent
in 2012. The Mixed Metro Project, which tracks
neighborhood segregation, ranks Cincinnati as
one of the 10 most segregated cities in the country.
And, within this city, the West End neighborhood
is historically one of the poorest and most
This sort of persistent and isolated poverty
is exactly what policymakers intended to
eradicate with the range of education, housing,
and social-services programs introduced
during the War on Poverty (See story, Page 1.)
The experiences of two public schools rooted
in the West End illustrate both the potential
and the limitations of school efforts to break
decades of intergenerational poverty in communities
"When you call a school impoverished, expectations
are really low," said Julie Doppler,
the Cincinnati school district's coordinator of
community learning centers, "and for socialservice
agencies called in to 'fix it,' one of the
really 'aha' moments was understanding that
there were a lot of phenomenal things already
going on in the community."
Magnet for Achievement
On Poplar Street at the north end of the
neighborhood, just on the outskirts of downtown
Cincinnati, sits the historic George F.
Sands School, surrounded by public housing
and derelict buildings. The 1912 building, with
its terra cotta adornments and marble steps,
is now an abandoned monument to turn-ofthe-20th-century
In the 1950s, construction of an expressway
which became Interstate 75 slashed through
what had been a vibrant, middle-class black
community and it became an enclave of
mostly poor black families migrating from the
South. In 1964, filmmakers from the federal
office of economic opportunity portrayed the
school as a "ray of hope" amidst deep poverty,
with Sands 3rd grade teacher Sandra Lewis
pressing her students to be civically engaged.
"We do live in a slum, but everything is not
slop in our neighborhood," wrote one student,
Willie Grimes, in an essay Ms. Lewis read in
the public-service film, "Poverty." "It is not bad
to be poor, but it is bad not to try. ... Everybody
in the West End is not a slum person."
In response to school desegregation lawsuits
in the late 1960s and 1970s, the district combined
three Montessori schools into the Sands
Montessori magnet program at the Poplar
Street building in 1975.
"I remember it being a very popular school;
lots of people were interested in Montessori
and trying to get their children into the
school," recalled Amber C. Simpson, now an
assistant principal at the Rees E. Price Academy
in East Price Hill on the other side of In-
terstate 75, who attended Sands Montessori
as a magnet student in the 1980s.
Sands' reputation and program drew fami-
lies from higher-income neighborhoods that
otherwise would not have considered sending
their children to school in the West End.
Sarah Fullen, a Sands Montessori teacher
and the historian of the school, said it also enrolled
neighborhood students, though former
1990s-era Principal Rita Swegman noted that,
while the population was about 50-50 black
and white, most of the black students did not
come from the West End.
The other neighborhood public school, on
Cutter Street, is the bright, modern HaysPorter
Elementary School, the last K-8 district
school in a neighborhood once packed
Though its population has shrunk in recent
years-down to 280 from more than 430 in
2007-Hays-Porter is one of the successes of
Cincinnati Superintendent Mary Ronan's "elementary
initiative" to turn around chronically
struggling, high-poverty schools.
In the past five years, the school has finally
moved out of "academic emergency," the lowest
state designation, to "effective," with aboveexpected
achievement growth for its students,
most of whom are poor and black.
Principal Nedria N. McClain credits the
recent turnaround in part to the district's
academic initiatives-90-minute reading and
mathematics blocks, student "data folders"
used to track students' work and academic
growth, and extra tutoring, among them-and
in part to Hays-Porter's engagement with its
community. It partners with local community
groups to provide health and social services,
adult education and career support for parents,
college planning, and field trips.
"The strengths in this community were obvi-
ous: Generations of families were tied to this
school, and it was the heart and center of their
community," said Ms. Doppler, the learningcenters
Yet city attempts to ease concentrated poverty
repeatedly clashed with the schools' efforts
to stabilize the communities they served.
For example, in the 1993 book Race and the
City, historian Henry Louis Taylor Jr. found
that, of the more than 19,000 housing units
demolished here in the early- to mid-1960s for
highway construction and "slum clearance,"
two-thirds belonged to nonwhite families. The
majority could not afford the new housing. A
state fair-housing law passed in 1965, inspired
by the federal Civil Rights Act and resulting
housing-related litigation, allowed some
wealthier black families to leave the West
End. But it did little to encourage families of
other races to move in, leaving the neighborhood
just as racially isolated but considerably
poorer. By 1970, Mr. Taylor wrote, the West
End was the "densest ghetto" in one of the
most segregated cities in the country, 97 percent
black and almost entirely poor.
Sands Montessori kept a strong academic
reputation through the 1990s-though district
resources became scarce.
Several blocks away, the then-separate
George W. Hays Elementary and Jennie D.
Porter Junior High schools, which were starting
to implement community services, sta-
16 | EDUCATION WEEK | January 22, 2014 | www.edweek.org
bilized and began to improve academically
after years of problems. Hays even won a state
award for academic progress.
At the turn of this century, just as it had
in the early 1960s, the city used federal urban-development
grants to tear down dense
high-poverty housing. In the early 2000s, it replaced
two 1940s-era high-rise public-housing
projects-which Hays, Porter, and other neighborhood
schools had been built to serve-with
"Many of the families who had been here for
generations were dispersed," said Ms. Doppler.
"Kids were walking through construction and
seeing their homes being torn down."
In the end, some of the amenities promised
with what was dubbed the Hope VI urbanrenewal
plan in the 2000s, such as the West
End's first real supermarket, never materialized.
Some families who wanted to stay in
the community were able to buy or rent subsidized
units in the new development, but, "we
had a number of families we thought would
come back, and who wanted to come back, but
who couldn't," Ms. Doppler said.
Yet neither came a big influx of wealthier
students. Most of those moving into the new
condominiums and town houses were retired
or young professionals without children. Four
neighborhood schools were consolidated into
the Hays-Porter campus, and its attendance
zone spread to cover the entire West End.
But Principal McClain said none of the students
attending Hays-Porter today lives in the
$130,000 to $300,000 town houses and condominiums
along its adjacent streets. They
live in the older buildings behind and farther
north, close to the empty Sands building.
As Hays-Porter was condensing and digging
in, Sands Montessori, the high-achieving
magnet school intended to lure middle-income
families, was moving out.
The district decided it would be too expensive
to update the 1912 building. Instead, the district
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SWIKAR PATEL/EDUCATION WEEK
View additional photographs
from this story.
Photography by Swikar Patel/Education Week
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 22, 2014
Education Week - January 22, 2014
50 Years Later, Verdicts Are Mixed On the Nation’s War on Poverty
A K-12 Titan in Congress to Move On
Fla. Pushes Longer Day With More Reading In Struggling Schools
Personal Danger of Data Breaches Prompts Action
News in Brief
Funds to End For Little Rock Desegregation
Union, District Clash in Pittsburgh Over Teacher Evaluation
Revised GED Ushers in New Era With More Testing Competition
In Five States, Districts Bail Out on Race to the Top Grants
K-12 Publishing, Ed-Tech Markets Experiencing Rising Revenues
Blogs of the Week
Still Segregated After 50 Years: A Visit To Cincinnati’s West End
Among States, Spending Gaps Have Widened
Spending Plan Aims to Relieve Some K-12 ‘Sequester’ Pain
Calif. Transgender Law Takes Effect In Schools, Amid Efforts to Repeal It
State of the States
Wash. Governor Pledges School Aid Boost
BRUCE FULLER: Is Small Beautiful? New York’s tiny high schools lift kids, harden segregation
RUFINA HERNÁNDEZ: A Common Cause for the Common Core
JEFFREY D. WILHELM & MICHAEL W. SMITH: Don’t Underestimate the Power of Pleasure Reading
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
XU ZHAO, HELEN HASTE, & ROBERT L. SELMAN: Questionable Lessons From China’s Recent History of Education Reform
Education Week - January 22, 2014