Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Board approves diversity policy

So the school board voted 4-3 to approve the second reading (of three) of the diversity policy, but only after board members emphasized that any major changes (for example, in attendance areas) would require further board approval. I think that’s a good outcome; my main concern was that the board was delegating too much policymaking power to the superintendent. There’s no harm in having the superintendent propose a plan that would then need board approval. The drafters should have made that clear in the wording of the policy.

On the other hand, that means the policy is effectively just lip service until the board approves an actual plan. The board’s not bound by the policy in any meaningful sense; future boards, or even this board, can choose to follow it or to ignore, amend, or repeal it. It’s easy to imagine “listening posts” ten years from now in which speakers say, “It’s been ten years since the board adopted its diversity policy, and we still haven’t seen any changes.”

I do think the policy’s supporters missed (another) opportunity to present a vision of how the district could implement the policy. Board members who supported the plan went out of their way to say that they did not intend to use large-scale busing of kids to meet the diversity goals. Some made statements (reported here and here) that seemed to imply that any changes in boundaries would be grandfathered—though it’s not clear how that’s consistent with the explicit deadlines contained in the policy. In any event, by only telling us what they wouldn’t do, and not what they would do, proponents of the policy unnecessarily allowed its opponents to define it.
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2 comments:

Dr. Christy Wolfe said...

Ah, the Diversity Plan. Even the name lights fires...

My take: This whole thing has been a public relations debacle. Here's what the district could have done:

"We are interested in creating some schools that are innovative and challenge the status quo. We want to develop schools that fight the notion that kids who grow up in households that struggle financially are destined to struggle academically.

We will use this moment in time to develop a K-6 magnet school near Kirkwood that combines forces with the college to offer innovative classes in the arts or in engineering or in writing. Working with college kids will reinforce the value of a college education to the K-6 students.(Hey, isn't there already a school there...Twain?) We are going to create a bi-lingual curriculum for a K-6 school not far from the university, in which students will learn English AND Spanish and they will also have the opportunity to learn Arabic, Japanese, French, Korean, and many of the dozens of languages used by people affiliated with the university just up the road. (Hey, isn't there already a school there...Mann?)

We are going to look at our schools with the highest FRL populations and pilot year-round school at one of them. We are going to develop summer remediation programs that double as enrichment programs, luring students who need help...as well as students who might be able to help."

BECAUSE...no one is going to voluntarily switch schools. There is no research in Iowa indicating that people choose a school based on an academic program. In my limited work with open enrollment applications from the mid-2000s, I found the number one reason people changed districts was CONVENIENCE--they moved their kids closer to work or closer to a family member who could step in for after school care. In my limited conversations with college students, some of them used open enrollment for athletic opportunities. So stop trying to "even out the problem" and start looking at ways to address issues on inequity that don't allow for an US/THEM mentality to take center stage. Kids aren't the problem; schools aren't the problem.

Ultimately, much like Horton in the Dr. Seuss classic, someone somewhere will hear the voices of non-profits and community workers who have been yelling for years: This is about housing and economic development, not about schools and surely not about students.

jason said...

Chris,
Hi! Like the blog.

You earlier bemoaned the tendency to assess motives rather than merits. I agree, generally.

Another possible explanation for this mind-reading and intrigue in the current debate is the fact that, as you have noted, there is no real plan. Nature abhors a vacuum, and in the absence of a plan, I think it is tempting to resort to mind-reading.

As you have noted, the board will have to vote on any plan before it is enacted. But how is that reassuring? Looking at the plan itself, how are we to know what the board will and will not approve? What are the priorities? Looking at what is in the policy, the priorities are hitting some FRL #s, achieving a particular capacity utilization, and having contiguous attendance zones. Nothing else apparently rose to the level of being mentioned. Is there any evidence that they will listen to the public? I was stunned when one of the pro-policy speakers spoke out against . . . achieving consensus. Will that attitude guide their future votes?

There would be a lot less concern about motives and who wrote what if we weren't dealing with an enigma whose interpretation and approval is dependent upon a board with a short list of priorities.

regards,
jason