First come the middle-classers, then come the researchers. Jennifer Burns Stillman is a PhD research analyst employed by the NYC DOE in its "Office of Innovation," a term that sounds like a bit of an Orwellian oxymoron. Why not "Bureau of New Ideas" or "Department of Interdepartmental Innovation Diagnostics and Achievement Coordination?" (I mean, does anyone ever actually think about how these things sound to the outside world? At my job, once a month I have to log in to the federal governments Payment Management System, using it's acronym. Once a month. Unbelievable...)
Back to the PhD in question.
Ever wonder what the eggheads are saying about the process of gentrification in schools? Stillman wrote "Gentrification and Schools: The Process of Integration When Whites Reverse Flight." I'm linking to her book on Amazon so I'll feel better about reprinting the piece she offered up to GothamSchools.org. By all means, buy the book! But, if you're as lazy as I am, what you'll get from the below, if I may paraphrase, is basically the same reasoning that any yuppie-esque (not quite yuppie, but not quite not) parent looking at public schools in Brooklyn can pretty much recognize without the advanced degree. Still, it's helpful to have the ideas laid out by someone who's put time into the analysis. Along with Lance Freeman's book "There Goes the Hood," which she name checks, it's nice to see a rational assessment of the plusses and pitfalls of neighborhood integration. I'm sure there are those who see only the positive or only the negative, but there are rational cases to be made for a more nuanced view. Here's Dr. Stillman's:
I researched the process of school integration in gentrifying
neighborhoods because I think school integration remains an important
societal goal, despite the dismantling of racial integration programs
across the nation. Gentrifying neighborhoods seem full of potential.
I wanted to figure out how a school without any white, middle-class
families goes through the process of integration. What does it take to
attract the first white families to a school in a gentrifying
neighborhood? And the next wave? And the next? Why do these families
stay or go? Is there a point at which we can say the school has
successfully integrated? My research question was one of process, not
outcomes, relying on existing literature that links integration with
positive effects. I am a “gentry parent” myself (which I define as white, middle and
upper-middle class, highly educated parents who are gentrifying a
neighborhood with their presence and wealth), and I understand why
neighborhood gentrification is controversial.
Long-time neighborhood residents might be displaced as rents increase,
and the neighborhood might lose whatever was considered its authentic
character. But I think there is a lot of possibility wrapped up in the
demographic mixing happening in these neighborhoods, if only the people
living in these neighborhoods could figure out how to engage in some
sort of meaningful social mixing. My hope is that if the schools in
gentrifying neighborhoods integrate along with the neighborhood, some
common ground can be found between the opponents and proponents of
How did you conduct your research?
I decided to allow the racial aspects of gentrification guide my
research, even though gentrification is primarily an issue of class.
Lance Freeman, author of “There Goes the Hood,” argues that while
middle-class black and Hispanic families can be — and usually are — part
of the gentrification process, it is the entrance of white families
into a neighborhood that overtly signals a neighborhood’s
gentrification, and causes the non-gentry residents to take note and
react. I decided the same reasoning would apply to schools.
I interviewed more than 50 white, middle-class “gentry parents” in
three different New York City gentrifying neighborhoods about their
elementary school choice process — those who were utilizing their
neighborhood school, those who were sending their children elsewhere,
and those who had tried their neighborhood school and left. Because
these families typically have the ability to choose something other than
their zone school, I hypothesized that school integration in a
gentrifying neighborhood must happen through the collective choices of
the more privileged group.
What were your major discoveries?
School integration in gentrifying neighborhoods does happen, but
rarely. It happens through a chain of actions and reactions of different
types of gentry parents, each with a different threshold for tolerating
their own minority status, each with a different idea about whether
they can and should try to change a school to better match their
The first gentry parents who enroll their children in a segregated
school usually find some sort of enclave program where they can
concentrate their presence, like a Gifted and Talented, Dual Language,
or preschool program. If this first group of gentry parents feels welcomed by the principal, and if
the principal can successfully bridge the “gentry/non-gentry culture
gap” that exists between the new type of parents who are coming in and
the existing parent community, this first wave of gentry parents will
keep their children enrolled in the school, and they will work to
attract the next wave of gentry families with a flurry of activity and
outreach, primarily through staging impressive school tours, all of
which will give the school the label “changing” in the gentry
“Changing” schools are difficult to move to the final stage of
integration. Many gentry parents enter a “changing” school because it
appears to have already changed enough to match their most important
school preferences — diversity and progressive pedagogy. Often, however,
they discover it actually hasn’t changed enough for them to
feel comfortable. The school feels too traditional, too authoritarian in
tone, and these less tolerant gentry parents take their children out,
looking for a school that can give them what they want. If this
skeptical group does stay, the final wave of gentry families will soon
arrive, and the school successfully tips and becomes integrated, or
“diverse,” as the gentry would say.
Schools that have the easiest time integrating seem to have the following two characteristics: First, a school with a diverse non-gentry
composition appears to be more welcoming of gentry families, as there
is not a single, dominant culture that already exists in the school
beyond the school culture. The principal is already skilled in managing a
diverse constituency, and adding the gentry to the mix is not jarring
in the way it is when a school is primarily one ethnic/racial group.
Second, a school that is in a neighborhood much further along in the
gentrification process has a surrounding community much more accepting
of school change, which gives the principal political room to adjust the
school’s culture to better match the preferences of the gentry.
What can policy makers learn from your work?
Enclaves are an important tool for gentry parents who need to
concentrate their presence to feel comfortable in a school. But, those
enclaves that screen children, such as G&T programs, risk alienating
the existing school community and usually fail to achieve
socio-economic integration. To facilitate enclaves without screening, I
propose the creation of Urban Education Cooperatives (UECs). As
conceived, UECs would be groups of parents, formally organized by a
school district (in the case of New York City, the Community Education
Council would likely be the organizing force), who are committed to
public education, but who don’t feel comfortable with their zone school,
and are willing to enter a district school that is underutilized by
zone families if they are guaranteed two things: 1) That their children
will be in the same kindergarten classroom with other members of the
UEC, and 2) That they get to decide, as a group, which school they would
like to attend after meeting with the principals and parent leaders of
each school in the district that is identified as an option.
An alternative to UECs would be to target new charter schools in
gentrifying neighborhoods, with the intentional goal of recruiting a
diverse student body from day one. If the goal is integration, changing a
school is much more difficult than starting a new one, especially when
the new school is not restricted by zone lines and can cast a wider net
for students. In New York City, there is a nonprofit organization that
has recently been formed to achieve this goal, the Tapestry Project. It
is currently recruiting school leaders to found racially and
socio-economically diverse charter schools, and I am hopeful about its
potential to foster a new crop of diverse schools in gentrifying
I was going to leave her analysis alone to fend for itself, but I gotta point out that I'm not crazy about her use of the word gentry. As far as I'm concerned, neighborhoods like ours already HAVE gentry. It's not like no one was here before Brownstoner.com discovered the neighborhood! If "gentry" is to have any useful meaning in the non-British-coat-of-arms-nobility sort of way, I think it has to refer to leadership and commitment to the civic betterment of a neighborhood or place. And there have always been people who match that description, regardless of their background or wealth. I understand the use of the word of gentrification in all its glory, but if the word "gentry" is going to be used to describe anyone, it's the people who have held positions of stable esteem for decades, not newcomers. (Also, someone able to buy a house for $150,000 back in 1980 probably WAS wealthier than most people around them! I remember when $150,000 seemed like a fortune to me. When I was making $19,000 a year anyway, and interest rates were way higher, there's no way I could have afforded a $150,000 house! And I certainly didn't consider myself "poor" back then. Oh Einstein, with your damn relativity! Can't thou just let me be?)
Also, I continue to be amazed how supposed liberals have completely given up on the idea of subsidized or controlled rental schemes. We now just take it for granted that capitalism will do its thing, that there's nothing to be done about it, so why even bother. There was a time when people banded together to create things like rent control and stabilization and public housing and Medicaid and Medicare and folks, it wasn't that long ago. A lot of people who led those fights are still with us. Maybe some of them are the current "gentry" of our very neighborhood. Rather than fight, we're all just looking for a good cup of coffee and nice sit down restaurant. Sound harsh? It's meant to! In fact, most "liberals" I know have firm arguments in hand for dismantling unions (teachers, other City workers) and laissez faire housing strategies, like the elimination of rent stabilization. What a long strange trip it's been, indeed.
By the way, I'm not even sure where I stand myself on any of it anymore. The propaganda is so deep on all sides I can hardly think straight.
All that chatter aside, I like the fact the Skillman calls it like she sees it. She's looking at the "gentry" from their perspective, which happens to be her own, and she's describing the view very well. Now, for the other view...perhaps someone wants to take it from here? If you want to write it as a full blown essay, write me here and I'll create a separate post out of it.
The Q at Parkside
News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.