Neighborhoods, needs growing apart across Modesto

New houses rise on Mable Ave in Modesto, Calif., on Jan. 14, 2016. The shift to new subdivisions is widening economic segregation in the area, a new Stanford study shows.
New houses rise on Mable Ave in Modesto, Calif., on Jan. 14, 2016. The shift to new subdivisions is widening economic segregation in the area, a new Stanford study shows.

The Valley trend of movin’ on up to sprawling, east-side subdivisions of larger homes, the so-called McMansions, has gained scholarly notice in a new report tracking segregation by income.

The Modesto area ranks second in the nation for loss of middle-class or mixed-income neighborhoods over the past decade, according to a study by Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis. The Continuing Increase in Income Segregation, 2007-2012, tracks the growth of economic segregation, looking at the income gap in dollars as well as where richer and poorer folks live.

Modesto ranks seventh out of the nation’s 117 largest metropolitan areas in income inequality – the dollar spread. Nationally, a graph included in the report shows, the gap between what the rich and the poor live on – money coming in – is greater now than in the Great Gatsby era of the Roaring 20s.

This area still stands roughly midrange (61st) in how stratified its neighborhoods are compared with other large cities. Where Modesto stands out, however, is in how the area is changing: The rising proportion of well-off folks moving to affluent subdivisions while those at the other end of the scale crowd into spreading poverty pockets.

The study’s authors note income segregation matters, especially for children.

“Recent evidence indicates that children’s neighborhood contexts, particularly the neighborhoods they live in when they are young, have long-term consequences for their later educational attainment, earnings, and childbearing,” notes the report.

Consider the difference in future expectations for a child attending Orville Wright Elementary in the Airport District, where every child gets a free lunch, and one going to Lakewood Elementary north of Creekside Golf Course, where only about 1 in 4 families qualify.

Caught in the transition are schools like Rose Avenue Elementary, which has seen its solidly middle class student body shift and problems of poverty become a much larger weight on its shoulders.

Modesto City Schools often speaks of its schools as neighborhood hubs. This report suggests those hubs will increasingly serve very different levels of needs.

Equal measure: The U.S. Department of Education says it will hold states to a higher standard when looking at uneven handling of discipline and isolated classes for special-education students.

Modesto City Schools were called out in 2012 for having expelled or suspended higher numbers of students with disabilities, especially students of color. It has narrowed the gap to only one group, African Americans, after remaking its disciplinary policies districtwide to focus on intervention and solving problems instead of kicking kids out of school.

Sanctions attached to the finding called for the district to spend 15 percent of its federal education funding, $855,000 a year, on prevention services to lower the numbers. Modesto City Schools are among only 2 percent of school districts facing those sanctions.

But, it turns out, the district is among a far larger number that deserve them.

In a conference call Feb. 23, Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King Jr. gave a string of examples in which African American or Latino students were identified by districts as having a particular disability at two to three times the rates of other students, or were suspended at far higher rates than other ethnic groups – yet their states saw nothing of note in the numbers.

For 22 states, not a single district was found to have skewed numbers, “but our data paints a very different picture,” said Michael Yudin, assistant secretary of the federal Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

The states are not lying, they just use a lax set of criteria to decide who misses the mark. But the gaping differences mean too many kids miss being matched with academic and behavioral help they need, Yudin said.

A change is being proposed to standardize how states report their numbers. A second proposed change would give sanctioned districts, like Modesto, greater flexibility in how they use the money required to be spent on prevention.

“The proposed Equity in IDEA rule would, for the first time, require states to implement a standard approach to compare racial and ethnic groups, with reasonable thresholds for determining when disparities have become significant. That determination is critical to ensuring students get the supports they need and deserve,” notes a department email.

“We can’t begin this hard work unless we’re honest and open about these issues,” Yudin said.