Monday, June 02, 2008

Follow-Up Times' Article on Diversity In SPS

Actually, this article is more about one woman's determination to make more families in her neighborhood aware of the neighborhood school (Muir). Kudos to Lisa Olszewski (and too bad she's moving to Australia). The article details her efforts to change thinking.

There was one point, made towards the end, that echoed the problems at Madrona K-8. Here it is:

"When Olszewski's daughter entered kindergarten last fall, white students made up 13 percent of the school's population — more than in recent memory.

When she runs into people on the street and they ask her where her daughter attends school, she says she now hears: "Oh, I've heard some great things about Muir."

The demographic changes have raised concerns and fears among at least a few of Muir's nonwhite parents that their families may be marginalized.

Scott, for example, welcomes Olszewski's efforts to improve Muir's image but worries that the school's outreach efforts are too focused on Mount Baker, leaving out areas such as Hillman City and Columbia City, where more black and Asian families live.

"All those things that drew me to the school, everybody in the school's boundaries needs to know about them," she said.

Kimbrough (until recently Muir's PTA president) says the school needs to address those tensions now, before they grow.

Muir, she said, has the opportunity to be a model for how schools can have constructive conversations about ethnic, religious and economic diversity.

Principal Thompson, who is white, is sensitive to such feelings. She says she works to make sure the message is that Mount Baker parents want to join in, not take over.

"This is a big enough school to accommodate our whole neighborhood," she said. "It's not 'Take back our school.' "

Olszewski says she doesn't want the ethnic mix of the school to change substantially either. She wants a neighborhood school with all the racial diversity in its neighborhood."

Okay, so I'll ask the tough question out loud; do parents of color fear/dislike/worry if a school that is largely minority students start getting more white students (and their parents)? Or, let's flip that; what if, say Ballard, became 40% minority and all those students' parents showed up at the PTA meeting with new ideas or focuses?

Is there such a fundamental difference in what parents want for their children academically or is it more an issue of what happens culturally at a school? Is a it power play - someone worrying about someone else "taking over" (whatever that means)? Why would having more white students at a largely minority school "marginalize" minority families?

(I'm also a little disturbed at the idea that schools are supposed to (1) be the melting pot that society isn't and (2) that schools have anything to do with religious diversity. For the former, that's a lot of pressure besides, say, educating a population of students and for the latter, religion should have little to do with the school.)


zb said...

So, it doesn't actually matter if people prefer to segregate. It's the schools' responsibility not to encourage, or enhance that tendency (if it exists). And, yes, I expect schools to be the "melting pot" that I believe America is becoming, if not actually there.

Even if we decide that actively pushing a melting pot is inappropriate, actively pushing segregation is not, either (and I'm using segregation without imputing a necessary racial motive).

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm not sure I understand your last paragraph. Do you mean by "actively pushing segregation" changing the assignment plan to neighborhood schools?

zb said...

No, I believe in neighborhood schools, with boundaries drawn to incorporate as much economic diversity as possible, given geographic constraints.

I think that choice allows the economically advantaged (relatively) avail themselves of an opportunity to avoid what economic diversity might exist in their neighborhood to go to an economically advantaged school (relative to their neighborhood). That's what my statistical analysis of central shows (again, that's statistics, and not individual people's choices).

Ultimately, then, choice serves to drive poor schools to be poorer (because the economically advantaged leave, as far as they are able) and rich schools richer (because the relatively advantaged seek them out).

A economic tiebreaker would mitigate this effect, but well, not mitigating is the reason a lot of people use choice.

(and folks always point out the private school/moving escape hatch, and of course, they are, and they are even more so for the more economically advantaged. But, those choices are out of the government's control, and are thus not government responsibility).

TechyMom said...

Neighborhood schools can be a good thing, and I'm not sure how I feel about choosing one or another traditional school. But what about the kid who needs a different sort of learning environment? I knew several kids growing up who failed to thrive in traditional elementary programs, but did will in Montessori or Waldorf. Should those sorts of options only be available to those who can afford private school?

We're considering our reference school (McGilvra), APP, TOPS, language immersion and montessori. We haven't decided yet if we'll apply to private schools, but I can tell you that if our reference school was the only option, we would be looking for all those programs at private schools. I don't think its fair for that option to be available to only those who can pay for it. I also don't want my daughter to go to school with only those who can pay for it, if it turns out that one of those programs is the best fit for her.

Surely there's some middle ground here?

seattle citizen said...

Middle ground: neighborhood clusters with a few k-5s, a couple middle schools, a couple high schools. Spread around the cluster "equal" (or similar) programs/opportunities. Mandate performance indicators be met.

We can't be a private school, we don't have the rsources (but remember that some private schools are, in fact, no better and smetimes worse than a public...)

But students need diverse options that are easily accessible, and these options should be spread evenly around the clusters (this is almost an argument for breaking up the district into littler pieces, but I wouldn't go that far due to economie of scale).

The city is getting to be wealthier, and economic diversity will diminish, anyway. We will have pockets of poverty (more in the south end) which will require additional resources in the form of outreach, parent support etc.

But the days of all-district choices are numbered. It doesn't make sense on a number of levels:
Transportation (at, as someone said, $6.00 a gallon this becomes a wealth issue if one is driving the student twenty miles per day)
Flight: As it has been said, parents flee for "better" schools, continuing a cycle of craptitude where the "worse" schools get worse, due to budgets tied to enrollment.
Fairness: All students, no matter SES, race, creed etc...should have similar opportunities to succeed near to their homes. It just makes sense. Imagine going to school in, say, Twisp. You ain't gettin' to choose which high school you go to...why should we? It makes no sense.

I'd be looking at a near future where there is little choice, and district is working hard to improve all schools. This is the way it's going, and it'll need support.

TechyMom said...

So, to zb, I guess my point there was that I'm not sure those people who are choosing McGilvra over Madrona are looking to find a more economically advantaged school, so much as they are looking to find a school that has an academic program and a cultural environment with which they feel comfortable. By cultural environment, I mean things like how much freedom students have to challenge teachers, choose their own clothing, make noise in the halls, play outside, etc.

I'm not sure it's about money. It isn't for me.

zb said...


I don't think people are looking for economics (I mean, purposely choosing a richer school for that reason), either. I actually think highly of my fellow, and I think everyone is trying to do the best for their child. I think that's the criterion that's driving people's decision making, and not "I don't want my kid to be around poor people, or . . . ."

But, I think that economics are so strongly correlated with the other variables, that the effect of that individual decision making is to enhance and exacerbate the economics in the SPS.

I do think there's a place for public alternative programs (and I consider APP, language immersion (if it's real immersion), and hardcore montessori & waldorf to potentially fit those criterion). I don't know enough about it, but what I'm hearing about Madrona makes me feel that it's an "alternative" program (uniforms!). I want those alternatives to be real alternatives, though, based on educational choices and environment, and not a means of pulling out people who, say, can drive their child to school every day.

anonymous said...

Well ZB if your going to look at alternatives you will have a lot of looking.

Did you know we have "traditional" reference schools that have gender specific classrooms? That's right boys and girls are separated. Yet this is a neighborhood school.

Did you know we have several "traditional" reference schools that require uniforms? Yup, they do.

How about schools that require silence in the halls and require children to walk through the halls "with their finger on their lip and hand on their hip" due to behavioral problems? It's really true - check it out.

Did you know that we have some reference schools that offer Spectrum and ALO's while others don't?

Do you know we have an aviation focus elementary school (Greenwood), where the right of passage for 5th graders is flying a small aircraft?

Do you know you can choose a school that has an African American focus (AAA), or a native American focus (Pathfinder)?

Did you know schools come in many different configurations - some are k-5's, some are k-8's, and one is a k-12. Some offer pre-school some don't. Some offer full day kindergarten and some don't. Some offer after school care programs that are helpful to working families - others don't.

Did you know that we have many very diverse progressive ed alternative schools? And how about all of the other unique programs like Montessori, immersion, etc

Did you know that some middle schools offer foreign language and others don't? And, some offer full year science while others don't?

Did you know some high schools offer trade academies, biotech programs, drama programs, competetive music programs, while others do not? Some offer a wide range of AP classes while others don't. Two offer specialized IB programs while the rest do not.

Did you know that some high schools offer online courses, some offer special teen parents programs with child care, some offer evening school so kids can work?

There are so many many many variables that drive families choices. So many schools to choose from! To restrict families to the school on their corner would be a tragedy. And, to insinuate that families that take advantage of the huge array of schools that Seattle has to offer are "white flighters" or racists is absolutely absurd.

zb said...

ad hoc

I am making a statistical argument: the operation of choice in Central (that's where I've run the stats) shows that "choice" decreases the SES make up of the schools in their neighborhood.

I find things like the field trip planned for fifth graders to be an inadequate exchange for the decrease in economic diversity & the costs associated with choice.

I think the neighborhood schools should offer some degree of similarity in their offerings, so as I said in my previous post, Madrona couldn't require uniforms, a school can't have single gender classrooms, and should have some form of equitable access to "extra programs."

Emphasizing neighborhood schools does require reorganizing the system SPS has been operating under for a while, but I think it's inevitable, if only for cost reasons. If it cost something, but had public policy consequences (made the schools better, increased diversity, . . .) it might be worth the extra cost.

It was invented to promote diversity (and seems like it did, for a while, while the race tiebreaker was in effect). But since loosing that tie-breaker, I think it's had the opposite effect from that desired on public policy grounds, undermining its reason for existence.

(and I've repeatedly said that I think there's no racism involved. I do think people are "clustering" based on shared values. The net effect, though is to exacerbate differences. Supporting this clustering has no public policy benefits, and thus, shouldn't be permitted to take money from the schools).

zb said...

"To restrict families to the school on their corner would be a tragedy."

Honestly? This is extremely low on my list of tragedies. The tragedy is restricting people to a school in which their educational needs can't be met, and our job is to do the best we can to make sure all children's educational needs can be met, not just those with parents who can drive them across town.

anonymous said...

ZB the result of choice is competition - schools fighting for market share. Schools that have added attractive programs to woo their audience (families). That competition has resulted in a vast array of unique offerings in our "neighborhood" schools, many of which I listed in my post above. You don't find this in districts that do not have choice, such as Shoreline. Schools are much more homogeneous, and are all pretty much the same (with the exception of their one alt school - room 9). Choice created this imbalance in programs, and it would be hard at this point to restrict families from having access to these programs. And if you take out all of the schools that have unique offerings you take out most of our schools. There wouldn't be many neighborhood schools left for you to force families to attend anyway.

And as for Greenwood, you should check out their program. They do not simply offer a "field trip" as you said. The school has an aviation focus and theme. The kids study aviation for 6 years, through all grades, with the culminating project being a child flying their own plane. That's pretty unique! Many of those kids feed into Ingraham HS for the travel and tourism academy.

Pretty unique huh.

zb said...

"That competition has resulted in a vast array of unique offerings in our "neighborhood" schools, many of which I listed in my post above."

Yeah, I think this is a bad thing, and it's one of the things that drove me (and other people I know) away from their "neighborhood" school. It'll need to be undone, but it will be, because choice can't be justified on the basis of "aviation focus" if it actually increases economic segregation.

anonymous said...

Well ZB, there is always Shoreline for families like you that really want that homogeneous experience. For the vast majority of Seattle families though, choice is attractive, and it is what we want. The new assignment plan, as it has been presented does not limit choice any more than it is limited now. It is only going to add a level of predictability with a guarantee of getting into your reference school. You can still choose any other school in the district that has space. It sounds like you avoided your neighborhood school, so lucky for you - you will still have choice.

anonymous said...

And, BTW I wasn't slamming Shoreline schools by calling them homogeneous. I happen to think they are fantastic, and my older son attends one of their middle schools (it's actually closer to our house than our Seattle middle school and much much better).

reader said...

The whole notion of choice creating a "marketshare" for schools is absurd. Schools aren't businesses. If they were businesses, they'd all be "out of business". And they certainly never go out of business, no matter how bad. It's obviously a good thing to have predictability. Predictability in terms of which school you will be guaranteed a slot, and predictabilitity in terms of what you will get once there. Isn't that why people pick Shoreline? No, we don't need an aviation boutique. It's exactly true, choice is buying us 1 thing only, ability to segregate, and at a very high cost. Sure we could keep some bit of choice, such as some alternative options for kids who can't fit into traditional. Otherwise, it's not worth it on any front.