I’m troubled by the prospect that the new assignment policy framework is to some extent a 21st Century version of “Separate but Equal.” Can we thoughtfully discuss the ways in which that might or might not be the case?
The blindness of privilege makes this issue particularly difficult to address. If you happen to live in a neighborhood with a great school that has space for you, and has plenty of human and financial resources to devote to that school, of course the “neighborhood school” concept is fantastic. However, it may be extremely difficult for you to empathize with someone who doesn’t have the same choice.
For those of you who are in a relatively privileged position, I urge you to ask yourself if you would send your child to an underperforming school with the hope that you could successfully make it work for your child. Or perhaps your child or family has needs nearby schools can’t fulfill. Would you send your child to those schools anyway? If you think you would, try reading about the Madrona School experience and ask yourself how you would handle that situation.
In short, should families who live in neighborhoods with an underperforming or inappropriate school have to bear the brunt of making the school different or better, and if not, what specifically will District/State/Federal authorities do to help them? In today’s market, moving is simply not an option for most families, and an influx of a few more neighborhood families is just not going to be enough to improve or change a school. Much help is needed, and I see very little on the horizon that convinces me that help is coming. (For example, the Southeast Initiative is limited to high school and middle schools. What about elementaries?)
Beyond the issues of equity that I’m raising, some voices have asked that alternative schools explain and fully justify their programs, based on the notion that they supposedly carry far higher costs due to transportation and assignment complexity. I have yet to see a breakdown as to how high a dollar figure we are talking about, but shouldn’t we be also asking about the extra costs arising from a move to neighborhood schools?
For example, it seems imperative that the District find out, via survey or other means, how many middle-class families currently using the choice system will leave the District if forced to attend a school that doesn’t work for them. I think rather than capture market share, the proposed framework is going to further drive families from the district, leaving less money for everyone. This is of course exactly the opposite of what Director DeBell and others are predicting, but I think they are mistaken. The only way to settle the question is with professionally gathered data. Is that data somewhere and I’m missing it?
For the families who don’t have the means or savvy to opt out of the District, what will be the long term social and economic costs of underperforming schools? I think we can all agree that that they won’t be zero. I believe that Board and new superintendent should focus on improving schools, recreating successful schools, and on savvy program placement before we start forcing families to attend schools that just happen to be nearby.