Tuesday, April 13, 2010

School Board Talk: Segregation

Context: Two weeks ago, CMS staff announced that they were reorganizing the system's "Learning Communities," the subdivisions of the countywide system. Previously, these communities had been organized geographically – North, South, East, etc. – with the exception of a handful of schools, including Shamrock Gardens, which were placed in an "Achievement Zone" that provided extra attention and resources.

Under the proposed reorganization, all of CMS's 44 Title I elementary schools would be placed in a single, elementary-focused "Central Zone" and all of its Title I middle and high schools would be placed in a middle/high school "Central Zone." Non-Title I schools would remain in geographic zones that include elementary, middle and high schools.

I'm here to ask the board and staff to rethink the proposed new Central Zones, zones which locate Shamrock Gardens and many other schools not in a neighborhood, not in a part of our county, but in the placeless, rootless state of poverty.

Being in the Achievement Zone was sort of embarrassing, but it had real benefits because it brought significant resources. It's not an accident that Shamrock was the best-funded school per-pupil in the system. It's also not an accident that our students logged a lot of growth. I'll say it yet again: Money does matter if it's spent right.

But in a time when budget cuts are falling most heavily on low-income students and high-poverty schools, it appears the schools in the proposed central zones won't benefit from those kinds of targeted resources. At this point, it's just segregation.

Architects of segregation have historically argued that it is a good thing for all involved. "They're not really like us." "Better for everyone, if you put like with like." "If they're all in the same place, their problems can be dealt with more efficiently."

You see this in some comments that applaud the proposed new zones. "Remove from good districts schools that pull them down." "The real plus to the zone change is now each area can have that "laser" focus for results" – meaning that high-poverty schools can focus on bringing up the bottom while other schools focus on their high achievers.

Schools with many low-income students do need additional resources, because they cannot draw on the same parental and community resources that wealthier schools enjoy. But schools like ours are about far more than poverty and low performance.

Of Shamrock's low-income students, last year 12 percent were well above grade level, 52 percent at grade level, 24 percent below grade level and 12 percent well below grade level. It's a broad range. Just like wealthier schools, our school faces the task of working both with struggling students and with high flyers.

We have high expectations at Shamrock Gardens. We don't aspire to be the best high-poverty school we can be. We aspire to be the best school we can be. And to be honest, I think that we could probably learn more from non-Title-I school Endhaven, where last year 22 percent of low-income students scored well above grade average – 10 points higher than our mark – than from fellow Title I school Ashley Park, where 2 percent scored at that level.

In economically mixed zones, when principals from different kinds of schools meet to share ideas and strategies, it is less likely that kids will get overlooked at schools where they're in the minority. Mixed zones also provide more scope for creativity, because schools approach these common challenges from different perspectives. As well as being more fruitful, such exchanges would help emphasize the things that our schools and students have in common, rather than what divides them. That's one reason our family loves Shamrock Gardens so much, because of the commonalities that we are part of.

Our schools and our community are already far too divided. Do not make it worse.