Sunday, July 23, 2006

Low Income and Low Enrollment

This brave and honest comment from Gigi helps highlight real issues faced by schools with high concentrations of low-income children.

"When I was first looking at schools, my friend, who is a social worker, showed me the Seattle Times School Guide. She showed me how to find schools geographically and how to look up and compare test scores. Then she showed me the “subsidized lunch” statistic and she told me that when she and her husband were looking to buy their first home outside of Seattle (not because of the school district, but because the rising cost of housing makes it difficult for two social workers with two children to buy a home within city limits) they did not look at any homes where the school had more than 45% of students qualifying for subsidized lunch.

Children living close to the poverty line have more (and different) needs than children who don’t. No one is in disagreement that additional resources should be allocated to them (well, maybe someone is, but I’m not), but many parents fear that their own students in the same school may then lose out on resources.Many, many parents in Seattle look at this figure as a deciding factor for school choice. That’s why the Seattle Times publishes the statistic. You can call the parents who do “racist” or “classist” but that doesn’t mean they are going to stop. And that’s why schools that have a higher number of students living close to the poverty line will often have lower enrollment numbers than schools that don’t.

When I was looking at schools, I could go 2 miles to the north to Viewlands which has a building with maintenance problems and 39% of students qualifying for subsidized lunch or I could go 2 miles to the south to West Woodland which is in a beautiful new building and has a PTA that raises truly amazing funds year after year. Do I think that West Woodland should close instead of Viewlands? Absolutely not. However, I believe it is naïve or disingenuous to ask why Viewlands has lower enrollment numbers than other schools in the area. If we are looking to enrollment numbers as a deciding factor to close schools, a school that serves populations with high-needs (which Viewlands does both with its income level and with the Autism inclusion program) will always have a disadvantage. Consequently, those students who most need a stable school environment will be the hardest hit."

Gigi highlights very important issues around income and the economic (as well as racial) segregation that exists in Seattle Public Schools.

1 comment:

Charlie Mas said...

This raises a legitimate question.

All students have specific needs. As Gigi wrote, "Children living close to the poverty line have more (and different) needs than children who don’t." We have certainly heard about the different needs of minority students.

Let's say that you are considering a school for your child. The school has a large number of students with a certain set of needs that your child does not have. At the same time, the school does not appear to have very many students that have the same set of needs as your child.

You could ask the principal and staff of that school "How will you meet my child's needs?" We would all hope that they are ready with an answer. That answer, however, may be "We aren't set up to meet your child's needs but we will make every practical effort to accomodate your child."

Is that the kind of answer that would make you choose that school for your child?

When Seattle Public Schools introduced the idea of School Transformation, each school was invited to create their own identity, to specialize, and to serve their own niche. Students who did not fit that niche were free to find another school that was a better fit.

Should we undo school transformations? Should we go back to every school trying to meet the needs of every student? Will we not have to undo this process if the district reduces school choice?