Friday, May 9, 2014

The needless, drastic rezoning of Coralville Central

It’s become clear that the district intends to comply with its diversity policy almost entirely through redistricting, not through incentives or “voluntary movement,” and primarily by moving kids from low-income families to schools that are significantly farther from their homes, and without regard to what those particular families might want or what the larger community wants. I don’t feel much sympathy with that project. I hope to find time to comment on it at more length sometime soon.

In the meantime, one aspect of the proposed maps seems indefensible, no matter how you feel about the larger project. Coralville Central is a school with an free and reduced-cost lunch (FRL) rate of 42% -- just a few points above the district average and easily in compliance with the diversity goals. Yet the latest proposed map would take 80% of its kids and move them to different schools, bringing in kids from other schools to fill those seats. What possible logic could drive that proposal?

I’m guessing that it’s because the diversity policy requires attendance zones to be contiguous and prohibits “islands.” The most direct way to lessen the FRL imbalance on the west side would be to trade students between Lincoln (4% FRL) and Kirkwood (74% FRL). But it’s difficult or impossible to connect any part of Lincoln to the Kirkwood zone, so the plan uses Coralville Central as a kind of middleman. If that’s the rationale, it’s a bad one. Contiguity isn’t important enough to justify enormous changes to the attendance zone of a school that could otherwise simply be left alone.

I have a lot of doubts about moving kids from Kirkwood to Lincoln, but at least I can understand the logic. Major changes to the Coralville Central zone make no sense at all.

UPDATE:Here’s a counterargument: Many of the families who are currently bused to Coralville Central from the neighborhoods north of Route 80 are within two miles of Kirkwood, and thus would no longer qualify for a bus. So the proposed map would enable the district to discontinue those buses. Much of that cost, however, wouldn’t be saved, but shifted. Putting those Coralville Central kids into Kirkwood would then mean that a roughly equal number of Kirkwood kids would have to move out, and the new plan would put them into Lincoln, reducing the FRL disparity between Lincoln and Kirkwood.  Some would go to Lincoln, and some would go to Coralville Central, bumping Coralville Central kids into Lincoln, with the ultimate effect of reducing the FRL disparity between Lincoln and Kirkwood.  Some of the transferees to Lincoln would automatically qualify for a bus, and the rest might be given busing anyway because of the difficulty of walking from Coralville to Lincoln.

So the proposed map means that fewer kids from relatively well-off families are taking the bus to school and more kids from low-income families are, for the sake of bringing down FRL disparities. Whether that’s a good idea is debatable, but at least it has a rationale.

Either way, the result is enormous, all-at-once changes to current attendance zones. Whether the larger community supports that kind of “start-from-scratch” approach to boundaries is a question that the district does not seem eager to ask. At all of the community redistricting meetings, the district has instructed people not to question whether the diversity goals are a good policy, but just to discuss how to meet the goals. Many people at the meetings have been understandably resistant to this kind of paternalistic “engagement.” The district has demonstrated no interest in wanting to know what the public thinks about the most central question raised by the maps: whether the cost of meeting the diversity goals outweighs the benefits. Why?


Chris said...

And the school slated for the biggest guidance counselor cut is . . . Coralville Central.

Anonymous said...

"Some of them would automatically qualify for a bus to Lincoln, and the rest might be given busing anyway because of the difficulty of walking from Coralville to Lincoln."

Section I and J appear to be within two miles of Lincoln. Which ones do you think would automatically qualify for bussing? It would be nice to know if any of these students will be offered bussing.

Chris said...

Anonymous -- According to Google Maps, a portion of section I is more than two miles from Lincoln. That's not a lot of kids, though. The kids who are within two miles of Lincoln could still get buses if the district chooses to give them, which it might do, given that the walk to Lincoln would involve some pretty busy roads. I doubt the district will make any commitment to do that before the maps are adopted, though.

I had to make a slight correction in the wording of the update, to accurately describe the domino effect set into motion by moving section G into Coralville Central.

Jennifer B. said...

The more sensible redistricting should have been with the highest FRL and the lowest FRL in this cluster - Kirkwood and Wickham. But Wickham attendance area is a highly wealth segregated area that does not want their kids moved anywhere let alone to Kirkwood and I would bet they hate the idea of any kids from Kirkwood in their school. This is why the most underprivileged students in this cluster are being shuffled around like pawns between to two "poor" Coralville schools.... because the privileged have had their hands in this and they want their wealth segregation to continue. But the reason we have this policy in the first place is because those same segregated neighborhoods refused to send any of their children to City HS. Then the privileged from the east side decided to retaliate by writing this policy. The underprivileged are just pawns. And it isn't surprising at all that Coralville Central will not have it's needed counselors for the transition. But I would bet money that Wickham will have everyone they need staffed full time.

Anonymous said...

"The district has demonstrated no interest in wanting to know what the public thinks about the most central question raised by the maps: whether the cost of meeting the diversity goals outweighs the benefits. Why?"

Don't be silly Chris! Considerable research shows that noting outweighs the benefits.

But seriously, I think your question is a great one. They owe it to us to address this.

Anonymous said...

"Considerable research shows ..." that made me laugh.
Chris you asked an extremely important and relevant question: "whether the cost of meeting the diversity goals outweighs the benefits. Why?" If one is not an extremist, that is, not a racist/elitist, or a diversity terrorist, one can tell that this DP is not what it claims to be. Jennifer B said it: it was written in the first place as a retaliation by the privileged east siders. And its implementation is a mess, and everyone is avoiding the ugly but plain truth, that the poor are pawns.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer B -

So, there were district-wide meetings that asked folks to rank their priorities around redistricting.

Then there were meetings where everyone could work together to tackle the maps using the guidelines the community valued.

Then using the computer programs we purchased and the FRL info, administration put together a draft.

More meetings and input – back to the computer– new draft.

More community input – more maps.

Finally 4 iterations down with input from community and administration at each step and you don’t like the maps because they don’t “get” Wickham?

How does that relate to educational outcomes, exactly? Sounds more like a vendetta.

Chris said...

Anonymous (2:42) – The redistricting community meetings made it clear that people were not being asked whether they thought the benefits of meeting the diversity goals outweighed the costs, or whether they favored the diversity policy at all. They asked only for input on how to meet the predetermined goals. Moreover, at least at the session I attended, neither “walkability” nor “distance to school” were listed as values you could prioritize, even though they’re some of people’s main objections to the proposals.

If the district wants to say that there is community support for its proposals, it has to ask the community about the central issues, not just the second-order ones, and it has to stop trying so hard to manage the responses.