Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Where’s the beef?

I started to write a post titled “Unanswered questions about the proposed diversity policy,” but the policy is so unclear, it’s hard even to formulate the questions. I understand the problem the proposal is designed to address; I don’t need much convincing to believe that concentrating large proportions of low-income families into a few elementary schools has a negative effect on the educational experience in those schools. What I don’t understand is what the proposed policy actually does.

On the one hand, the policy requires the superintendent to achieve specific diversity goals (bringing the percentages of kids from low-income households to within a certain narrow range in each school) by specific dates. It doesn’t explicitly rule out any particular means of doing so (except creating new non-contiguous attendance areas), though it does contain some language suggesting that “non-voluntary movement” should not be the first resort. On its face, it requires the superintendent to meet those goals no matter what it takes to do so.

(Caveat: Much of the policy is so vaguely worded that you can’t tell who is supposed to do what. The writing teacher in me can’t resist noting: I counted at least twenty-two passive voice constructions in twenty-five sentences.)

On the other hand, the most readily imaginable strategies for meeting those goals—such as setting up magnet schools or redrawing district boundaries—would require school board approval. So what’s the point of requiring the superintendent to reach the goals? If the district doesn’t meet the goals, the board can have only itself to blame, not the superintendent.

What, then, would the policy accomplish? It can’t bind future boards, or even this board. If a board someday has the votes to violate the policy, it necessarily has the votes to repeal or amend the policy. Isn’t it just lip service until the board chooses to back it up with real action? In that case, why not skip the policy and propose the real action?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to debate a real plan, rather than allowing everyone’s imaginations to run wild about a vague policy that barely enables anyone to do anything without further board approval?

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