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Neighborhood Schools - An Ongoing Case Study

 
 
Reply Mon 19 Oct, 2009 07:49 am
The county where I live is in the process of building a new middle school. Due to building where the land was free instead of where the population growth was, we now face a signficant redistricting effort. The current school board is mostly a "neighborhood schools" group and generally I support that principle as well. Of the three redistricting plans, two generally keep kids close to home (<5 miles where possible) and one (3B) attempts to provide more balance to the schools based on the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunches. One of the newest members who campaigned on a "neighborhood" platform has decided to come out in favor of the more integrated plan. She penned a letter explaining her position that has generated a lot of furor here. You can read it at the link. I went to a comment session at a school board meeting and the comments were amazingly well spoken and civil, but ran around 47-3 in favor of the more neighborhood friendly plan. I've included all the links so that anyone interested in seeing how these issues play out in real like can take a little time to see them in action. What are your thoughts? I'll post mine in response to this.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 3 • Views: 3,367 • Replies: 17
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engineer
 
  1  
Reply Mon 19 Oct, 2009 07:51 am
@engineer,
My letter to one of the school board members.

Quote:
Thank you for the opportunity to speak at last week’s feedback session. I spoke then about plan 3B being an experiment with our children where we know ahead of time the experiment will not be successful. I also heard more about redistricting there and have given the topic much more thought.

First, I looked up your “infamous” letter in the Star News. Unlike many parents at the meeting, I thought you made some excellent points. I agree with your statement that if you form schools with 80+% of students with free or reduced lunch, that school is likely to fail. I think the data is clear supporting that. The flip side is that putting those exact same students on school buses for an additional twenty minutes in the morning and twenty in the afternoon is not going to improve their performance unless you believe that there is also a significant difference in facilities or teaching staff at other schools. Do you believe that (honest question)? If so, we need to address those issues.

These schools might be significantly more challenging to work in due to lack of parental support or other challenges that children from poorer households bring to school with them. Do these schools have issues with teacher retention? When I was in the military, the service offered significant incentives to encourage people to move to jobs where there was a significant need. I would support a program (meaning I would pay more taxes) that offered to very qualified teachers (nationally certified, top job ratings, etc) bonuses to move to specifically designated positions in schools requiring extra help. If thirty such positions were created in the middle school system where each teacher received a $5K salary kicker plus a $20K bonus if they stayed five years in position, the cost would be around $300K/yr. That’s not cheap, I realize, but it’s an attempt to address a potential root cause of poor performance. Another idea would be to have paid after school care at designated middle schools. If you allowed designated schools to stay open until 5:30 or 6:00 with academic tutoring and athletics available, you could offer significant extra help to students who might otherwise have very few safe or healthy options after school hours. If you designated one hour of that time to supervised homework time, students could receive extra instruction at the same time. Those schools could become open enrollment so that any parent in the system could take advantage of the service. Assuming you would need 15 staffers at $50/person/day bonus pay plus some added for other expenses, you are looking at $180K/yr for each designated school. Once again, not cheap but focused on addressing a root cause.

Even in this “tea party” environment, people have repeatedly voted to raise their own taxes to support education. The plans I outlined above would cost less than $50 per household to those in our county. The plan to bus children to achieve a better balance in the schools might cost less, but it puts each child at more of a disadvantage, takes more time away from other activities and does not address a single fundamental cause of poor school performance. I believe that you will drive the average performance of the schools together while bringing the aggregate down, hardly the result any of us want to see. If some of these programs are sufficiently innovative, maybe there is federal money to offset the cost.

That said, I would like to compliment you on your willingness to look at data, change your mind and make bold stands based on your research. Many of the parents around me feel you ran on a “neighborhood schools” platform and you have betrayed them. I feel the purpose of a representative form of government is to elect people who can then become knowledgeable on the issues and vote intelligently. I feel you have done that although I disagree with your approach. Keep up the good work.
farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Mon 19 Oct, 2009 08:22 am
@engineer,
Not knowing the exact conditions you are working within, my only comments were that(in the very rural area) that I live, the schools have been redistricted into a single multiservice district combination. All the kids go to school on a large 300A campus that goes from K-12. NOW, has the experience been profitable? HELL NO. The energy usage is totally based on "ON PEAK" hours with no opportunities for more "green" alternatives
The schools are so dependent upon bus transportation that the daily school times go from 9 and only go till 2:30. Kids are being shortchanged their education experience. SO the test results of our system really sucks, and the college acceptance level is low. Its got a "hick Town" reputation and extra electives for gifted kids is almost non existent.
The locations and groupings of schools have many unexpected consequences , to my mind.
0 Replies
 
engineer
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Oct, 2009 06:41 am
The school board met last night. Here isthe article from the local paper. So any thoughts out there? Is this a racial issue as one speaker suggested at one meeting? How do you balance minimizing transport time with diversity goals when the population is self segregated by race and income?
FreeDuck
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Oct, 2009 06:47 am
So far I'm with you, engineer. While busing the kids around to dilute the impact of the poorer kids may improve individual school performance, I don't see how it could improve the performance of the kids themselves unless, as you say, there is a significant difference in quality of the facility and teachers. And if there is then that really needs to be addressed.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  2  
Reply Tue 20 Oct, 2009 06:50 am
@engineer,
I have a feeling I have to read a lot more to speak intelligently about this. But re: this last post... When we were trying to figure out where to live in this area I looked carefully at several school districts. There was a district that was mostly white and affluent and had very, very good test scores and lots of extras (languages, etc.). I purposely decided against this district, and chose one that had good test scores (not as good) and significantly more economic and cultural diversity. I think that is important.

In your letter, I think that you're oversimplifying the problem re: teaching and facilities. Peers are very important, too. Studies have shown (I can try to find 'em) that when there is fairly equal mix of high-achieving and lower-achieving students, the high-achieving students continue to do well (they are not significantly negatively impacted) while the lower-achieving students tend to do much better than when they were surrounded by other low-achieving students.

There is a direct peer-to-peer effect (kids helping their peers, which solidifies knowledge for the helper as well as obviously helping the helpee) and also a cultural effect (the value placed on education/ learning in general).
engineer
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Oct, 2009 07:02 am
@sozobe,
If you can find them or at least point me in the correct direction, that would be great. The ones being bandied about here all say that moving an underperforming child without addressing the causes of underperformance is not effective.
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Oct, 2009 07:17 am
@engineer,
Just read the article -- looks like the education prof is saying something similar:

Quote:
On the other hand, University of North Carolina Wilmington education professor Robert Smith told the board that low-income students have been shown to perform worse on end-of-course exams when in schools with high percentages of other low-income students. Smith urged the board to dismiss the first two maps as “unacceptable.”


So he might have something?

I'll look, though.
0 Replies
 
FreeDuck
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Oct, 2009 07:31 am
I think the best case scenario is to have the diversity AND have children who live < 5 miles or so from the school. It can be difficult to get that, though, especially in the south where there are still many highly homogeneous neighborhoods.
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Oct, 2009 07:37 am
@FreeDuck,
Yep, I agree.
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Oct, 2009 07:40 am
@sozobe,
(Haven't found anything meaty re: studies yet -- just stuff like this:

Quote:
“An affluent white student is going to be a strong student almost no matter what,” she said. “The black students, however, really benefit from attending those schools that have a more affluent population that have greater resources.”


http://ghennigan.wordpress.com/2009/06/27/change-wanted-in-iowa-city-school-boundaries/

The prof seems like a good lead.
engineer
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Oct, 2009 08:30 am
@sozobe,
This is where I'm somewhat torn. The schools around here have similar resources. The more suburban schools (if you can call them that in a city the size of mine) have better parental involvement, but the differences in PTA contributions to the schools are very small in terms of dollars. In terms of time, plans that place students far away from home, especially when one child in ten miles away in one direction and another is ten in the opposite direction, seems on paper like it would hurt parental involvement. (I have children in elementary, middle and high school currently.) One place where I do feel the lower income schools are disadvantaged is access to accelerated programs, not because the schools aren't willing to offer them, but because there is not a sufficient population of students performing at a high enough level to justify having the class. That means that the few students that are performing there are not getting the opportunity.
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Oct, 2009 08:45 am
@engineer,
Does 10 miles really make that much difference? I went to an elementary school that was probably more like 15 miles away, and a middle school that was 10-15 miles away, and there was a lot of parental involvement from my parents and my fellow bused-in-students (well, most everyone took a bus, very few lived close enough to walk and parents didn't seem to do the drop off/ pick up thing back then, unless a kid missed the bus).

I see what you're saying about opposite directions, but I think it'd be easy enough to schedule things on different days? (Volunteer at school 1 on Tuesdays and at school 2 on Thursdays...)
engineer
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Oct, 2009 08:54 am
@sozobe,
In our area, the roads are pretty congested, so the difference is probably a 20 minute ride each way. We live right next to the elementary school and the "neighborhood" middle school and high school (they share land) is around three miles away and can be easily reached by bike without riding on major roads. The other middle school being considered for my area is not a poor school, but it is downtown and well out of biking distance. We know children going there and they don't have major complaints other than the principal disbanded all programs that seemed to give accelerated students advantages that the whole student body did not receive (like special field trips).
0 Replies
 
FreeDuck
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Oct, 2009 09:04 am
@sozobe,
It could potentially make a big difference, especially for working parents who try to squeeze morning volunteer time in before work. Just having kids go to two different schools can be difficult unless the buses are very good. For example, where we used to live, just up the road, we were zoned for a very nice elementary school in a very rich neighborhood that was about 10 miles away. Since we were so far away, the bus came at 6:48 in the morning. That was very hard on my Duckie. In addition to that, Ducklet was in pre-k about 4 unwalkable miles in the other direction. The result was the two of us splitting in the morning. If something happened where only one of us was available, it was a nightmare trying to get them both to school on time. And we had two cars at the time. It's reasonable to expect that there might be limited transportation options for some less affluent parents.

Unlike engineer's situation, though, we have very wide differences in PTA contributions between schools to where it definitely impacts the quality of the education. It's really quite stark.
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Oct, 2009 09:15 am
@FreeDuck,
The transportation part makes sense. I don't see a lot of volunteering in the morning before work, I believe it happens though. Most parental volunteering is either scheduled stuff during the day (1-3 is a frequent time slot) or else evening/weekend things that are maybe 5-6 times a year (as in, unlikely that they'd fall on the same day).

I definitely agree that the ideal is to have kids close to schools that already have a fair amount of diversity. I'm lucky that way. In terms of weighing various elements, though, I think the affluent parents with resources will find a way to get to their kids wherever they are. So in terms of what's best for the most kids, I think that the low-income kids are least likely to have involved parents, anyway, and would therefore benefit either way. (If they are bused to schools that have affluent parents involved, or if they stay at schools that have an influx of students with affluent parents.)
engineer
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Oct, 2009 09:17 am
@FreeDuck,
Wilmington really doesn't have very rich neighborhoods with their own schools. We have one very upscale, walled complex on the edge of town but their school district is nothing special. What we do have is a less afluent inner city surrounded by higher density middle class neighborhoods surrounded by lower density, upper middle class neighborhoods. Because of NC annexation laws, we don't really have a very depressed inner city surrounded by beautiful suburbs. New Hanover County is the geographically smallest county in the state, so the city and the county are pretty close to one.
0 Replies
 
engineer
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Oct, 2009 09:21 am
@sozobe,
My other concern is that if the school system starts moving students everywhere, the affluent students will just opt out, taking their resources with them. Some of this happened during the last middle school redistricting. We do have a super high end private school and some "charter" type private schools. That said, I don't think the school board should be making decisions based on fears of what some people might do.
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