|Written by David Wegbreit|
|Monday, 01 October 2007 00:00|
What Socioeconomic Integration Means for Students and Pupil Transportation
Part 2 in a Series
Following a Supreme Court’s decision in June, as many as 1,000 school districts that consider race in their student assignment policy may need to rethink their plans. Some, including presidential candidate Sen, John Edwards, think these schools should consider the example of the 40 districts that use socioeconomic status in student assignment. For transportation departments those plans may be just as taxing as race-based assignment.
Cambridge, Mass., Public Schools considers socioeconomic status as a tiebreaker at oversubscribed schools. Superintendent Thomas Fowler-Finn said he is certain his transportation spending exceeds that of comparable school districts across the country. But for Fowler-Finn, considering wealth and providing free transportation are part of his mission to educate all students.
“If we can’t provide the transportation, it’s not truly an option,” he added.
In 2001, anticipating a decision like the Supreme Court’s recent decision, Cambridge Public Schools abandoned a program that considered race. The district had used a “controlled choice” program that allowed parents to rank their child’s school but used controls to ensure that the percentages of students within certain racial groups was within 10 percent of district averages.
For the last six years, the district has replaced a consideration of race with socioeconomic status. Now, the district attempts to ensure that all schools are within 15 percent of the district average for free and reduced lunch. The district still allows consideration of a student’s race and ethnicity, but the district says it hasn’t had to in the last four years and would only use the category as a last resort.
While exact transportation budget figures were not available and the transportation director declined to comment, Fowler-Finn said transportation costs were no different now than they were before the switch.
The school has always provided free transportation and open choice has always meant students were bused throughout the district, Fowler-Finn noted.
The success of the Cambridge program has been difficult to judge. Most students get into a school of choice, and last year only two of the district’s 13 schools failed to meet the socioeconomic guidelines. But the first students to be assigned by socioeconomic status are now only in the fifth grade and there isn’t enough testing information to determine whether the changes have made an impact.
The schools may also be less racially diverse. According to the Boston Globe, 60 percent of schools were imbalanced last year. That compares with just 40 percent before the district made the switch.
While some organizations have opposed socioeconomic integration as a proxy for race, a challenge to Wake County Public Schools in Raleigh, N.C., was denied by the U.S. Department of Education. Like Cambridge, Wake County decided in 2000 to switch from a race-based assignment policy to a socioeconomic policy in anticipation of a court ruling.
The current system tries to ensure that no more than 40 percent of students are on free and reduced lunch, by distributing assigning entire neighborhoods to particular schools based on the percentage of children on free and reduced lunch.
Sen. Edwards has called Wake County a “national model” and has proposed to set aside $100 million to help schools implement similar economic integration plans.Proponents of Wake County’s plan say resulting academic achievement there in is a testament to the success of economic integration. The county boasts a 77 percent on-time graduation rate, and average SAT scores are 60 points higher than the state average.
Additionally, proponents say the new plan has maintained much of the racial integration under the old plan.
But the distribution of students on free and reduced lunches at Wake schools can also stray far from the district’s guideline. In the more affluent schools near Raleigh’s universities, as little as 4 percent of students are on the subsidy, while in the region’s poorer areas rates may be as high as 65 percent.
School officials stress that these disparities are largely due to geography and the growing pains of adding 8,000 students this year and 13,000 students over the last two years.
While wealthier schools tend to outperform their poorer counterparts, test scores at even the worst schools in the district are some of the best in the state, school officials say.
Eddie Adams, the district’s transportation director, has been with the district 35 years and says the size and growth of the district has affected his budget — not the switch in assignment plans —. While most students attend schools within five miles of their home, the expanse of the district can mean long bus rides.
To accommodate all the new students, the school has converted 46 of its 154 schools to a year-round schedule, meaning more year round work for Adams.
Adams still hears complaints about assignments and long bus rides, but, like his budget, he says that fundamentally he has little to do with the switch.
“Every year there are people who feel like they’re an exception to the rule. As your program changes, their concerns change,” Adams said.
Transportation systems may not change significantly from a switch to socioeconomic integration, but Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and leading proponent of the plans, says they are an essential element in providing educational equality.
“Low-income kids of all races do better in a middle class environment,” Kahlenberg said. “Our economically segregated neighborhoods demand transportation systems to achieve integration.”
|Last Updated on Monday, 21 December 2009 17:06|