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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Losing School Choice

I'm not sure if this will be of general interest, it relates to school choice, but it looks like our local school district is considering restricting the ability of parents to move their kids to the school of their choice. In the past you could move your kids to any school so long as it wasn't full, and most weren't, and that has led to increasing segregation by income within the district:

A step away from choice, Editorial, Register Guard: Choice and equity have been on a collision course in the Eugene School District for years. At its meeting tonight the Eugene School Board will discuss goals and principles that, if they are embraced, imply a painful but necessary move toward equity and away from choice.

Choice means allowing parents to send their children to any school in the district that can accommodate them, including a variety of alternative schools. Equity means providing a high-quality education to all students. Choice has led to a degree of self-segregation that impedes the district’s ability to fulfill its commitment to equity. ...

Achieving the goal of narrowing the range of enrollments found in Eugene elementary, middle and high schools would unavoidably mean tightening students’ ability to transfer to schools outside their attendance boundaries. Achieving the goal of ensuring that student transfers don’t leave neighborhood schools with fewer resources or disproportionate numbers of low-income or minority students also points toward restrictions on school choice.

Such restrictions will be resisted by many parents whose children have been well-served by open enrollment and school choice. These parents pay taxes, vote, volunteer, raise funds and attend meetings — they are a big part of the backbone of the public school system.

But efforts to reconcile equity and choice have not prevented Eugene schools from becoming more economically segregated than ever, with the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches ranging from 4 percent at Eastside Elementary to 75 percent at River Road Elementary. The demographic trends suggest that segregation will increase if nothing is done.

Widening disparities make it harder for the school district to fulfill its obligation of providing a good education to all students. In his report Russell quotes research by the Piton Foundation that concluded, “when more than 50 percent of students at a school qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, it becomes more difficult for low-income students to excel.” To maintain policies that concentrate low-income students in a few schools would require, at best, the acceptance of a double standard, and at worst the abandonment of a segment of the district’s student population. ...

The challenge for Russell, the board and the community will be to make these changes into a gain for all students, rather than a loss for some of them.

The schools in Eugene are excellent if you go to the right school, but there are also schools that struggle. Because of that, if choice is restricted, some parents who didn't bother to do so before will move into the more desirable districts. In the past you could move anywhere and keep your kids at the school they were at, or move them pretty much at will, so location didn't close off opportunities. Convenience mattered, and it is easier if kids live near their friends from school, but lots of people chose to send their kids to schools outside of their home district (in my area, 17% of high school students transfer). I'm guessing we will see more segregation in the long-run as these locational choices are expressed.

[What did I do? Initially, my kids went to their neighborhood school, and the elementary school was one of the lowest average income schools in Eugene. I volunteered a lot - e.g. I led science experiments in third and fourth grades - and what I saw was a learning environment was less than optimal. Test scores were awful and many of the higher income families had moved their kids elsewhere. But I believed kids should go to their neighborhood schools, partly for social reasons, so I started them in their neighborhood school. But after a couple of years we moved to a new district and things changed dramatically. You pretty much had to take a number to help in the classes, the parents in the school used fundraisers to hire extra science and music teachers to come in once a week, all sorts of things like that. The state sent the same amount per pupil to both schools by law, but because of the difference in parent involvement and differences in income, and the use of devices like external fundraising and volunteers, the disparities were pretty large. If I had to do it over, I would likely transfer my kids much sooner, i.e. from the start.]

    Posted by on Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 12:30 AM in Economics, Oregon, Policy | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (23)


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