Sunday, March 29, 2009

An Effort to Eliminate the Hierarchy Of Rich and Poor Schools: De-stratification

Over the past five years, the Boulder Valley School District has operated a program—a program to tear down the socioeconomic lines of society. Schools in Boulder, and around the country, have become stratified—divided between minority based schools and white schools. The Stratification Task Force (STF), assigned by the BVSD, designed the program many years ago in an attempt to de-stratify local schools. However, despite a lot of time and effort being expended on the issue, little success been seen, which brings up the question, is de-stratification worth it?

Stratification is the result of wealthy students open enrolling in non-local schools, or “white flight.” In 1990, the BVSD initiated the option of open enrollment and promoted it to district parents; it was originally intended to give parents more options for their kids. Wealthy (and incidentally white) families frequently applied to have their children in seemingly well performing schools because they wanted their kids to have the best possible education and could afford the cost of higher education (transportation, class supplies, etc.). So, as a result, wealthy white students were weeded out from lesser performing schools in the district, leaving high populations of poorer minorities (Hispanics in particular) behind.

This is a problem because districts end up with privileged schools (i.e. Fairview High) that take all of the beneficial programs such as IB and Choir, and sink schools (i.e. Columbine Elementary) that have very few available resources. Not only that but stratification feeds on the stereotype that “Mexicans don’t go to college” and can’t perform in school. The Daily Camera referred to “de-stratification” as de-segregation in an April 20 article because there is very a close tie between ethnicity and wealth in Boulder Valley.

It’s true that Hispanics have a higher drop out rate than white students and typically have worse grades, but that’s not because they’re unintelligent; it’s just that the BVSD’s system for dealing with foreign (ESL) students doesn’t provide equal opportunity. Latino students have a high drop out rate in Boulder Valley because adequate measures are not being taken to help them learn. Hispanics do not feel valued in school; so, why should they value school? De-stratification was designed to resolve issues like this and close the achievement gap.

Also, sink schools are commonly not as safe as privileged schools. Low socioeconomic areas regularly become ghettoized. Poor neighborhoods are more susceptible to gang activity than wealthy neighborhoods. When parents work two jobs and don’t have the time to take care of their kids, the kids regularly join gangs. Along with gangs come attendance issues, suspensions, and violence in school. The sad truth is that Hispanics are more likely to join gangs than whites because they typically come from low socioeconomic households. When schools “sink” and become minority based, criminal activity heightens and wealthy students have even more of an incentive to switch into privileged schools. It’s a vicious cycle.

So, the STF proposed a three-phase solution to stop stratification in the BVSD: first, ESL (English for a Second Language) programs were to be expanded and open enrollment caps were to be placed on particular, wealthy schools; second, all district parents were to be educated about enrollment preferences, new bus routes were to be added, and TAG (Talented and Gifted) programs were to be initiated at all schools; and third, marketing and outreach campaigns were designed to redirect local families back into local schools. The final goal of de-stratification is to have schools that reflect the diversity of the communities that they’re in; however, evidently, not much has changed.

A lot of debate about the amount of money being spent on de-stratification has arisen lately; many administrators believe that it’s not worth trying to balance diversity in schools when that money could be funding more beneficial programs. District money is going towards new bus routes for poor students and hiring bilingual teachers instead of the basics: school renovation, equipment, and after school programs. Anti-de-stratification supporters believe that socioeconomic diversity in school is not worth the hassle and expense.

Another argument against de-stratification, besides the obvious additional costs, is that minority based schools with underprivileged students don’t necessarily perform lower than privileged schools—the only evidence of whether a school is sub-standard or not is CSAP and other standardized tests, which are undoubtedly flawed. So, why waste time making schools “proficient” when they’re not actually bad? The term “lesser performing schools” could be considered rhetoric because there is no clear way to define and/or prove that a particular school does not compete with others nearby.

"At Columbine Elementary, only 29 percent of fourth-graders scored "proficient" or "advanced" on the CSAP reading test. Worse, only 24 percent adequately passed the writing test. But a stunning 93 percent of third-graders at Columbine scored proficient or advanced in reading when they were allowed to take the test in Spanish. On the Spanish writing test, 78 percent were proficient or advanced." There are many discrepancies about whether or not minority based schools are really worse than privileged schools.

There is an old expression that says the road to hell is paved with good intentions; that expression couldn’t be truer. In 1990, when open enrollment first started, the BVSD just wanted to offer parents and students more options. “White Flight” was not expected or prepared for and now the district is paying lots of money to fix it. Stratification in the BVSD will be around for a long time—not much progress is being made because no agreement can be decided on. What it all comes down to is whether or not the district has the right to interfere with open enrollment and possibly limit the potential of wealthy white students in order to balance socioeconomic diversity in schools.

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