Thursday, October 8, 2009

What Does 11% Buy You?

In my school district the reversal of the past 30 years of attempting to equalize schools on grounds of socioeconomic differences. Without going into a long, lengthy diatribe about boring school policy. Or that given that I work for our local system and try to watch public negativity about my workplace, this is a disappointing defeat to have in one extremely low voter turnout election, to allow now a majority of the school board seats filled with new single-minded folks backed by a local political party's propaganda machine.

I truly can see both sides. As a parent I want my child to go to a school that has quality teachers, administration that cares about the families, and if possible be located as close to my home as possible.

When I started working in this district, enrollment was around 100,000 students. This year, it is a little over 140,000. We are now the 20th largest district in the nation and have been recognized by the Federal Supreme Court in a recent decision involving WA state schools as "a model of how to achieve student diversity" by using student socioeconomic (SES) status instead of the more controversial student assignment based on race.

Simply put, the growth in this area of the county has fueled an influx into the public schools, and to maintain this balance the system must have a method to balance schools from resegreagated themselves to the have vs have not schools.

I started my career in a have not school and can testify first hand the impact of student learning when you have a concentration of students who come to school living in dire poverty. You become part social worker while also trying to get your kids to pass the holy grail of state tests. It leads to quick burnout and I am guilty of wanting to be a better district that paid better and was closer to home when the opportunity beckoned. When I moved into the county I took a job at magnet high school that serves some of the brightest students and also students from some of the city's roughest housing projects. It was a challenging and extremely rewarding place to teach and I miss my kids dearly. To clarify, I miss ALL my kids, and learned more about teaching from the neighborhoods kids than anything I ever could in grad school.

In the early 1980s our district merged the almost all minority and under enrolled city schools with the bursting at the seems suburban county schools. As a result a competitive magnet system was put in place at the most of the inner city schools to attract families back as well as to maintain some type of balance. Also the county chose to upholding the constitutionally tested right to bus students (mainly out of the inner city into the suburban schools that has sorely been misrepresented in this election) to attempt to equalize the number of students designated by poverty level. Again, not the specifically using race using the code word of SES to stand for race has turned this into a nasty protracted fight.

What I fear more than anything is for the past 30 years of slow and steady progress to make all schools in the district more of the have schools and close the gap between kids to be dismantled by select, small group of disgruntled parent groups backed by local political party organizers.

I truly believe and have seen 1st hand that education IS the vehicle for success in life. I believe this for my own child as much as I do for the kids I teach. It saddens me that in 5-10 years we could very easily return to a pre Brown v Board Status with students in under enrolled schools, taught by long term subs/ non certified teachers in the majority of their classes, a total lack of arts/sports extra curriculum programing in some schools, a rotating circus of administrators brought to "fix things" when what is broken has little to do with the school itself but the policies that dictated how things must work in an inherently unfair system.

This is the recipe that Jonathan Kozol writes about in Savage Inequalities, a reality for many kids that will truly be left behind.


LauraC said...

I am so glad to read your thoughts on this Heather. (I haven't started Kosol yet but it is on my shelf.) I was SO disappointed with the election results and I mean come on, I got to Jon to go vote bc this impacts us! The saddest part is we will obviously benefit from this when truly we do not need more benefits.


Sandra said...

Totally off subject here, but in response to you - maybe you'll have a girl and you can use Elizabeth. That would be exciting!

Sandra said...

Totally off subject here, but in response to you - maybe you'll have a girl and you can use Elizabeth. That would be exciting!

ElizabethS said...

I loved to here your perspective on the recent election. I posted a response on mine this evening. It was going to be a comment but it started to get too long! We'll see what comes.