Not a perfect analogy, I know, but for what it’s worth: In 2009, our elementary school became a receiving school for families who chose to transfer out of “schools in need of assistance” under No Child Left Behind. About sixty or seventy new students showed up at the school. Not all of them were eligible for free-and-reduced-price lunches (“FRL,” our district’s proxy for low-income status), but enough were that the school’s FRL rate rose significantly. By 2010-11, the FRL rate was more than twice what it had been four years before.
My only point is: This was not a big deal. I can’t speak for other parents, but I had three kids at the school and so was in contact with a lot of other families and kids there. The particulars of the transition were rocky, since the influx of new students overcrowded the school and was announced just days before the school year started. But the presence of the new arrivals at the school just wasn’t a big deal. They were just a bunch of Iowa Citian little kids.
I suppose the orthodox thing to say is that the increase in racial and economic diversity enriched the experience for everyone. Maybe it did, I don’t know. All I know is that, at least in terms of my own kids’ school experience, the presence of the SINA transfers at the school was a big non-event. If we hadn’t been told it was happening (and it hadn’t caused crowding and last-minute logistical problems), I doubt I would even have noticed.
I certainly can’t speak for the families who transferred in. I don’t know whether they found it a welcoming place or whether it improved their kids’ school experience. I wasn’t crazy about the way the school administration reacted to the change. That was the year the school implemented PBIS; it felt as if the administration had decided that the arrival of the transfer kids was exactly the moment when everyone needed a more intense (and more dehumanizing) kind of behavior management. But that was a problem with the administration, not with the kids. The kids were fine.
I know people have a lot of different concerns about redistricting; I share some of them. I don’t like the process the district has used; I was against the particular diversity policy the board adopted; I think there is value to keeping the distance to elementary school short, and to minimizing disruptive changes to kids’ lives. I’m never automatically persuaded by assertions about what “research has shown.” But I don’t need an academic study to convince me that we don’t need to pack the bulk of our low-income families into three or four elementary schools, some of which have FRL rates near eighty percent. I can’t help but think that we can bring those numbers down without doing anything outlandish with the boundaries.
In any event, to the extent that fear of the unknown is playing a role in the discussion, it shouldn’t. It’s easy to imagine stuff that just isn’t real.