Tuesday, March 2, 2010

NPR: School Economic Diversity Program May End in in Raleigh, N.C.

This NPR story about a school district in North Carolina seemed relevant to SF parents and educators:
The school district in Raleigh, N.C., may vote Tuesday to end what is hailed as a national educational model. Administrators use socioeconomic status when assigning students to schools, but that has angered some parents.
Listen to the story here.


  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/us/28raleigh.html


  2. Fyi -- blog sign in no longer required. Hooray!

    Being anonymous is important for many of us during this stressful. This is a place to vent.

    Will keep our comments above ground this time.

  3. My sister is a guidance counselor at a popular elementary school in Raleigh. She is very disappointed in these new developments with the assignment process and feels it will result in major resegregation of schools. (Which is definitely what has happened in Charlotte - a total mess).

    But then again, her kids had an automatic in at her school because she works there, and it put them on an enviable academic track for middle and high school - so she didn't have to worry about getting a poor performing school an hour away by bus. We have had many heated discussions about the topic.

  4. School “choice” has taken on many different faces over the years. In an era of dwindling resources and consent decree expirations, many districts are returning to neighborhood schools due to economics and political pressures. Are neighborhood schools and integration mutually exclusive? I don't think so. But choice advocates need to understand that when balancing the need for children to stay close to home with the need for others to seek out better schools, those with the greater need ought to get first preference. And students who face the prospect of failing schools ought to get that preference.

    So how do you offer SES students first preference and have neighborhood school as well. It is possible. Within the current system we have alternative schools that have drawn students from all over the district – more so than the non-alternative schools. Preferences to these schools must go to low SES students first while the neighborhood schools maintain first preference for neighborhood children.

    It is essential that the district not gerrymander zones to create diversity. Diversity should be gained through choice, not through decree. Forced busing was done through decree and unacceptable. Redrawing the map is a cheaper way to rule by decree, but decree nonetheless.

    If SFUSD wants low SES kids to have choice as they say they do, they should be tackling the problem that Rachel commented on - a busing cost that is 4 to 5 times the national average. No busing - no choice. Without it any CTIP1 preferences in policy are just a lot of hot air.

  5. All very true points, Don. I do agree that lower SES kids should be able to opt out of low performing schools. Of course this still leaves those of us who live near a not-so-attractive school but also in a higher performing census tract at the end of the line. Literally and figuratively. I guess one just can't please all the people all the time. And yes, without busing for those who really need it, it's all moot, moot, moot.

  6. Most people don't follow these complex SAS discussions and just want their kids to go to a good school close to home, if possible. From a strictly common sense perspective people understand that diversity alone does not drive achievement. Everyone (practically) know intrinsically that integration has to be linked with more important factors.

    Diversity is good unto itself, but not a criterion for achievement. As the Superintendent of Seattle said, “achievement trumps diversity.” Parents point to the lack of effort by districts to promote a student achievement ethic, to increase school hours for study groups and tutoring or to work to explore ways to retain high quality teachers in low performing schools - all of which seem to have been lost in the discussion about the assignment system. Rachel has pointed this out in her blog.

    Here is what Rachel said:

    “If our search to find a fairer and more effective student assignment system has taught me anything, it’s that in the end, the student assignment mechanism is a relatively small part of the puzzle.  A much bigger part of the task ahead is to make sure that we are offering students in every school a high-quality educational opportunity. Dr. Darling-Hammond said it herself tonight: if you can put together high-quality programming,  strong principal leadership, and a cohesive, experienced and motivated group of teachers, you can establish a quality school.”

    But look at the our superintendent's rationale for integration in his SAS proposal:

    If the district does(XYZ),

    “then the SFUSD can:
    • reverse the trend of racial isolation and the concentration of underserved students in the same
    • provide equitable access to the range of opportunities offered to students;
    • provide transparency at every stage of the assignment process;
    and this will dramatically accelerate the achievement of those who are currently less academically
    successful, and increase the achievement of already high performing students."
    The Superintendent claims that if you just do the three bullet items the achievement of low SES students will grow. Who says so? Is there any documentation to back this up since he is basing an entire SAS on it? After all, we have been guided by integration policies for decades and the achievement gap has grown worse.

    When will they focus on what really matters and make that the public discussion?

  7. Consider this:

    In reference to a major study about school choice in San Diego, David W. Lyon, President and CEO
    of the Public Policy Institute of California said:

    “...there is now a solid set of findings on one of the most dramatic school
    choice experiences in the United States, and the watchword should be:“Proceed with caution.”

    Some of the conclusions:

    '1.The findings are striking. Black students were twice as likely as others to
    apply for an alternative school under one of four programs. And test
    scores were not the primary factor in influencing the decision to try an
    alternative school. Overall, the choice programs in San Diego are
    increasing the integration of whites and nonwhites, and decreasing very
    mildly the integration of students with low and high test scores.
    The second major conclusion is that on the whole there was no
    systemic improvement or deterioration in test scores from participating
    in a choice program. There were some exceptions to this, but it is clear
    that school choice did not improve student performance in quite the way
    its proponents had hoped.

    Turning to the analysis of test scores, what do the generally
    insignificant effects of choice on achievement imply for state and
    national policy?

    Our second main question, and in many people’s minds the most
    important policy question in school choice, is whether school choice
    alters applicants’ math and reading achievement...”

    There are some good reasons for people to question whether integration will work as a means to increase student achievement. Not the least of which is the fact that in integrated schools Asians and whites are separated from blacks and Latinos by tracking. end quote

    San Diego is not San Francisco, that is for sure, but choice is not necessarily the panacea that it is made out to be, at least from the standpoint of student achievement.

  8. correction - the "end quote" should be one paragraph higher.

  9. There are essentially two parallel forms of "school choice," so we need to be clear which one we're talking about. It's used to refer to a system like SFUSD's in which parents can choose from among the district-run schools, and also to a system that offers a set of charter schools as an option to district-run schools.

    Those are two very different setups. I'm assuming that San Diego's is the latter, as it has been a very welcoming district to charters. (Our district does have a few charter options, but still not the same setup, where the choice is between your neighborhood school and one of the charters.)

  10. Caroline,

    This is a fascinating report entitled Does School Choice Work. I'm not sure if they included charters in it.I plan to read it through again in the next couple of days. I'm somewhat baffled as to why it had played no part in SFUSD decisionmaking.

    These are the four choice programs in SDUSD (excerpt):

    The district has implemented four main types of public school
    • The Voluntary Ethnic Enrollment Program (VEEP) is a
    voluntary busing program that has roots in a 1970s court order
    to desegregate the district, and it survives to this day.
    • The district’s magnet program also originates from court orders
    to desegregate schools. It gives students across the district a
    chance to attend a magnet school that has a specific academic
    focus or program, such as bilingual programs and performing
    • The Choice program is a state-mandated open-enrollment
    program (referred to in this report as “open-enrollment,”
    “Choice,” or sometimes both). Unlike VEEP and magnet
    programs, the Choice program does not provide busing to
    • Finally, SDUSD hosts a growing number of charter schools.
    These schools are open to all students and are allowed to operate
    in a relatively autonomous way from the district administration.

  11. Caroline,

    Here's the link:


    It is easy reading (no insult intended and that's why I read it).

    All four choice programs are analyzed in the study. I highly reacommend reading it if you haven't already.

  12. "Who says so? Is there any documentation to back this up since he is basing an entire SAS on it?"

    Don, there's a fair bit of research on the concentration of low-SES students and academic achievement. That was the theoretical basis of the Wake Forest system, which had a theoretical target of a max 40% low-SES in any one school (which appears to be the inflection point for student achievement), but as Wake Forest had 50-55% low-SES, it wouldn't have been able to meet those targets. So there's some research behind Garcia's arguments. But in the end, assignment is about equity (poorer kids not getting the shaft).

  13. Anonymous,
    55% of the district is free and reduced lunch (low SES) so how can a cap of 40% be achieved?

    The problems with this whole assignment process dialogue is that there is little mention of the factors that really affect student achievement. The results of the Public Policy Institute of California's study I referenced here were lukewarm in regard to the benefits of choice as a means towards integration and achievement. SFUSD seems to think the two are synonomous as in - if you do ABC to integrate than achievement will increase. How about this:

    A. Increase school hours and days
    B. Provide study hall and tutoring
    C. Retain higher quality staff at low performing schools.

    Now I understand that making these things happen would require extraordinary concessions from the unions as well as more funding to pay for them. But if we are going to get serious about tackling the achievement gap we need instructional improvement, not just a change to the SAS. Besides, this new SAS is all smoke and mirrors anyway. You can provide a preference to 5th quintile kids,but without transportation it is pretty meaningless. I doubt many will take the preference if it means a long commute.