Thursday, September 2, 2010

On Neighborhood Schools

Long bus rides by young students are detested by all. All things being equal, nearly all would prefer a school close to home.

Further, people like to have choices. I grew up in a rural area with only one school (public or private)--no choice. I never even thought about the fact that I didn’t have a choice. But, if given the opportunity, nearly everyone would prefer to be able to choose among alternatives rather than the choice being made for them.

Accommodating these two (practically universal inclinations) is difficult. Schools are not like rubber balloons that can inflate and deflate with ease. Schools have a maximum capacity and a minimum usage (below which it is not efficient to keep them open). School boards already struggle with changing demographics and populations (think Oldham county in recent years). In practical terms, there could be no guarantee that a child could attend the school of his or her choice (what if everyone choose the same school?) Even a guarantee that a child could attend the school closest to its place of residence would not allow the flexibility necessary for economic efficiency.

The real problem though is economic segregation. Neighborhoods are economic monoliths. We, as a society, have still not solved the problem of income diversity within a small geographic region. The “problem” being the lack of economic diversity. Comparing the wealthiest and the poorest zip codes in the metro area gives you an idea of the problem neighborhood schools would create.

There are, however, ways of dealing with all of the problems while being sensitive to the inclinations outlined above. The current solution, while commendable on many fronts, has been met with opposition from those who would like more choice and/or would like shorter bus rides for the students.

What if we allowed students residing in the poorest neighborhoods to have first choice as to what school they wish to attend. After the poorest neighborhood has chosen, move to the next poorest neighborhood, so on and so forth. When a school fills, then enrollment would be closed at that school. The idea being that the more affluent have more options due to their affluence (private schools, alternate forms of transportation, etc.) and therefore are more capable of dealing with the inconvenience of more limited public funded options.

Such a system might result in de facto neighborhood schools (if everyone always chose the remaining open school closest to them). But if so, then it would be dictated as such by those most likely to suffer from such a system. Further, if a student from a poor neighborhood preferred a school in a distant affluent neighborhood, then that would be their choice, allowing them the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of such a decision. Students from more affluent neighborhoods would have more limited choices amongst public offerings but due to their relative affluence would be better equipped to deal with such limitations.

There are, however, educational objectives that are best met by creating diverse student bodies. If the above system, created less diverse student bodies. Our children's educations would suffer. If so, would the cost be worth the ability to choose and the convenience of short bus rides?

1 comment:

Crutch said...

Ingenious and very fair. Needs to be put on the school board's table.