Friday, April 25, 2014

Little kids, not goblins

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.


EDJ said...

Chris, Thanks for this simple, human statement. And thanks especially for this:

"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 admit, I've quoted the studies, but only when people won't be persuaded by the simple fact that its wrong.

Chris said...

Thanks, Eric. Sorry for Blogger's comment system -- I deleted the duplicates.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. Are they just like everyone else, or is being packed into a school with them so bad that someone would want to transfer out.

Chris said...

Anonymous – I’m sure there are people who would argue that it doesn’t make any difference whether a school is 4% FRL or 79% FRL. Up to some number, I’d agree, but I think having 79% FRL probably does make a difference, especially for the kids who are from low-income families. My guess is that most people in Iowa City would agree that 79% is too high. I don’t think that’s at all inconsistent with saying that nobody needs to be afraid of FRL kids, or of a school having a higher (but not too high) FRL rate than it currently has.

I’ve heard parents from Twain and Wood talk about what a great school it’s been for their kids and about how they have no regrets about sending their kids there. I can see how that would make people wonder what the problem is that needs fixing. But it’s very possible that a school that works well for non-FRL kids could still work better for FRL kids than it does. In any event, I don’t see anyone volunteering for a 79% FRL rate at their own schools, so why would anyone be unbothered by Twain and Wood having a rate that high?

Sara Barron said...

I am a parent of two Grant Wood children. We don't receive FRL. I love our school! My kids are academically successful. They have strong friendships with other students racially and SE-ically similar AND different from them.

I say all of this only to speak to parents and families who are *similarly* situated but who fear sending their children to a school like Wood, for whatever reason, or those who worry about changes to their school's current population.

Our experience and my efforts to share it say nothing about the learning opportunities provided to their peers. In fact, regardless of how the schools end up rebalanced, we will have plenty of continued work to do in order for impoverished students (and students of color) to be receiving the best educational experience our district can offer.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like there isn't any reason to rebalance.

Chris said...

Anonymous: Are you yourself indifferent to whether your kids' school has a 4% FRL rate or a 79% FRL rate?

Anonymous said...

Absolutely not. But I'm not saying Wood is fine, or that rebalancing isn't going to affect the schools into which the FRL students transfer.

Chris said...

Anonymous -- If you’re not indifferent to having a 79% FRL rate at your school, then how can you say that it sounds like there’s no reason to rebalance?

It seems like you’re trying to argue that it’s internally contradictory to say (as this post does) that some increase in your school’s FRL rate isn’t worth worrying about, while also saying that a 79% FRL rate is something to avoid. Again, I just don’t see how that’s contradictory, since I think kids can do fine in schools that have different FRL rates, but I do worry about a rate as high as 79% (as you do, too). (The post very clearly does not say that “Wood is fine,” since Wood has an FRL rate that I think is too high.)

But if you admit that you’re not indifferent, then why don’t you agree that some rebalancing is a worthy goal? (Or do you agree? I can’t tell.)