My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More districts use income, not race, as basis for busing

Note: Several friends have now sent this to me, and it seems very topical in light of our redistricting discussions, so I'm posting it even though it isn't about Amherst specifically.

November 1, 2009
By Jordan Schrader

Struggling to improve schools that have large populations of poor and minority students and under legal pressure to avoid racial busing, a small but growing group of school districts are integrating schools by income.

More than 60 school systems now use socioeconomic status as a factor in school assignments, says Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, which studies income inequality. Students in Champaign, Ill.; Kalamazoo, Mich.; and Louisville have returned this year to income-based assignments.

"To the extent we can eliminate the highest concentrations of poverty or spread more thinly those concentrations of poverty, I think we make the environment a little less challenging for students and staff to be successful," says Kalamazoo Public Schools Superintendent Michael Rice.

School leaders, though, can encounter backlash from parents of children whose school assignments take them out of their neighborhoods.

Supporters of economic diversity policies hold up the school system in Wake County, N.C., as a national example, but voters who came out for a recent school board election turned against it.

The district's goal is for none of its 159 schools in Raleigh and its suburbs to have more than 40% of its student body eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

That's a goal a third of schools haven't reached in recent years, but Wake County schools still are more economically integrated than others in the state and nation, Kahlenberg says. Magnet schools pull some suburban children into the city; others' reassignments are mandatory.

But opponents of mandatory busing gained a majority on the Wake County school board in the Oct. 6 election.

Parents such as Joe Ciulla, who works for a technology company and lives in suburban Cary, say long bus rides harm children, and distance keeps parents from involvement at school. Low-income families are hit especially hard, he says.

"They take these poor kids who are struggling and do their very best to spread them around and create the appearance of healthy schools," says Ciulla, whose group, the Wake Schools Community Alliance, helped elect four candidates pushing for neighborhood schools.

Wake County bused students for decades based on race but switched in 2000 to considering income, one of the first in the nation to do so.

If the policy were ended, teacher Paulette Jones Leaven – who as a black child in the 1960s attended segregated schools until sixth grade – says she knows what would happen.

"We would return to segregated schools," says the in-school suspension coordinator at Carroll Middle School.

Jones Leaven notes statistics that show 96% of students go to school less than 10 miles from home as the crow flies.

Studies show low-income students do better in middle-class schools, Kahlenberg says. He says that's borne out in Wake County, where both poor and middle-class students have mostly outperformed their peers in other urban North Carolina districts – though scores have slipped lately.

He hopes Wake County will find a middle ground, perhaps like Cambridge, Mass., whose diversity plan offers a greater degree of choice for parents.

Assignment schemes in other communities vary. Champaign assigns children to elementary schools using individual factors such as parents' incomes and education levels, Assistant Superintendent Beth Shepperd says.

Prodded by a 2007 Supreme Court decision that limited how districts could use race, Kentucky's Jefferson County Public Schools moved to assignments that consider a neighborhood's economic status, minority population and adult education levels, says Sheldon Berman, its superintendent.

Either way, Kahlenberg predicts the Wake County election won't be a preview of backlash across the USA. Most areas don't have the explosive growth in student population that has made school reassignments in the county so common, he says.

Schrader reports for the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times.


Anonymous said...

According to the letter in the Bulletin, clusters are not illegal and you are quoted as saying that you knew that all along. Now that the legal opinion has been made public, why shouldn't we feel that we have been consistently lied to? And to what end? Was everyone on the Committee aware that the "it's illegal" argument was false? What a mess!

Anonymous said...

I believe that the letter from Ken Pransky in the Bulletin this morning said that if the clusters were for ELL students to help them better learn English then the clustering was not illegal. The first thought I had when reading the letter was what percentage of children we are currently clustering are ELL students and what percentage have a good grasp of the English language and do not need ELL services? In other words, what percentage of kids who are given free bus service to either Fort River or Crocker Farm to be part of each schools particular clustering are only for keeping that child in the cluster because of their ethnicity and not because they need ELL services? Are we bussing Cambodian children to Fort River who speak perfect English? Are we bussing Hispanic children to Crocker Farm who speak perfect English?

If the majority of the clustered children speak English then I think offering free bussing to them to keep them in their cluster is illegal. If the bussing is indeed to keep Hispanic ELLs or Cambodian ELLs together then that appeart to be legal based on what Ken Pransky wrote. Can anyone give us a clarification?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 9:14 - as I've said all along, on this blog and elsewhere, you can bus ELL kids while they are ELL kids ... but (a) you can't bus them when they are NOT ELL kids (and we are currently busing non-ELL kids), and (b) you are not required to bus ELL kids to a particular school and cluster them in that way (and it is the state recommendation not to do so). However, it is not the decision of the SC to bus or not bus kids based on ELL -- that is a district decision.

Anonymous 9:28 - You are exactly right -- English speaking kids are being bused now to out of district schools (that is the illegal part). The district (NOT the SC but the district) could make a decision to continue to bus ELL kids to different schools. However, as soon as those kids reached a certain level of proficiency, they would have to move back to their "home school" -- which then seems like a bad idea. In addition, the state recommends that kids NOT be grouped by language in a given school. Given that the state recommends NOT busing kids by language, and legally we would have to return those kids to their "home school" after some period of time (removing them from their friends/teachers), it doesn't seem like that would be the right way to go. And it is also more expensive!

Anonymous said...

As someone else mentioned on this blog a while ago, many of those who are speaking out in defense of the clusters are current ELL teachers who might be worried about losing their jobs (or at least their current school) if the clusters do end. I can't blame them, but don't like that they continue to try to stir things up by talking about how horrible it will be for the clustered kids to "lose their community." ALL our kids next year are going to be losing their community. Could the School Committee please engage these teachers/paras/etc. directly about this issue (potential layoffs) so that the situation might be diffused?

I agree that kids who don't speak English should get support in their own language to learn English, but I don't think that needs to extend to multiple years of essentially bilingual instruction and concentration on celebrating a particular culture.

My children go to Fort River and their experience of the Cambodian cluster has largely been negative. They have Cambodian friends; the kids themselves are in no way negative, but the cluster and subsequent focus of the entire school's culture around the culture of Cambodia has been negative for them. They celebrate Cambodian New Year every year and spend classroom time studying Cambodia and Cambodian culture, often to the exclusion of learning about their own culture--AMERICAN. I don't think this is right. When they have been in the classroom with "all the Cambodian kids" (because that is how they do it at Fort River; they are not just clustered within one school but then clustered within one class for each grade), they found the presence of a "second teacher" to be disruptive. In those years, they spent even less time on the core academics.

I think the dismantling of the clusters will be better for ALL students, whether they were formerly in the clusters or not.

If the School Committee does give in to these demands for continued clustering, I would also ask for the School Committee to then ask the community if there are any other groups which also wished to be culturally clustered. One such potential valuable cluster, for example, would be Jewish students who might enjoy a chance to go to school with other Jewish kids, have bilinguage Hebrew teachers, and celebrate Yom Kippur and other cultural holidays all together in their school. Perhaps that school could even have the holidays off!

I am clearly anonymous to protect my children.

Anonymous said...

Please define what you mean by American culture, Anonymous 10:13. Rather than saying that Cambodian culture is NOT American culture, I am interested in seeing what your definition is. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:28 here again:

Catherine Sanderson said:
"However, it is not the decision of the SC to bus or not bus kids based on ELL -- that is a district decision."

So if I understand this statement correctly, the SC did not vote to end the clusters, it was the "district" who made that decision. Can you clarify, Catherine, what it means to say that the distrcit made the decision? Does that mean the superintendent requested a legal opinion on the clusters and then the he/she decided to end the clustering?

I think there are alot of inaccuracies in the newspaper about how these decisions came about. I keep reading how the decision to close MM was the reason why the redistricting is being done, as though if MM was not closing we would not be redistricting. In like fashion, the paper tells us that the reason the clustering is ending is because of redistricting.

If I am not mistaken, these were all three distinct decisions that don't hinge on each other. In otherwords, the district could have decided to end clustering even if MM were not closing or if there were no redistricting. Or MM could close, the clusters could continue and the SC could redistrict the schools. And finally, MM could close and there would be no district-wide redistricting - only enough movement of children to accomodate moving the MM children to the other three schools.

I think this is an important point that somehow needs to be made clear to all. These were all three independent changes in our district that were made indendently of each other. They are just all happening at the same time. Perhpas some in town would have liked it better if the SC had re-districted this year, closed MM next year and re-districted again and then ended clustering the following year and redistricted for a third time.

The decidsions have been made. It's time to move forward and stop trying to turn the clock back. The schools may be facing 10% cuts next year. Can we start talking about how our schools will absorb those cuts and still maintain some semblance of their former selves?

Anonymous said...

A question on the ELL busing: Is it that the state recommends against this, or is it illegal? I've seen it referred to both ways. Catherine, you write: "In addition, the state recommends that kids NOT be grouped by language in a given school. Given that the state recommends NOT busing kids by language, and legally we would have to return those kids to their "home school" after some period of time (removing them from their friends/teachers), it doesn't seem like that would be the right way to go."
So is it true that LEGALLY the town has to return the kids to their home school, or is it that under state RECOMMENDATIONS the town would have to do that?
Thanks for clearing this up.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:17, I am Anon 10:13. My definition of "American" is vast but two examples that stick out in my mind are there. One is that in all the different classrooms my children have experienced in Fort River, NONE of them have said the Pledge of Allegiance. Which I consider a basic part of being an American. If not to recite it, at least to know what it is, its history, and what it stands for. Similarly, my children do not know who George Washington is (although I have told them at home) and the only thing they have been taught about Abraham Lincoln is that "he freed the slaves." Two of our most famous presidents and my children have never been taught about them, Presidents' Day is not acknowledged by the school/their teachers, etc. I am not talking about getting a day off (I realize this day is usually during February break) but some basic education about what it means for all of us (Jewish, Cambodian, white, black, boys, girls, everyone) to be American and/or living in America.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Anon 10:17,

I agree with you. This is why I moved my kids out of the school system here.

Curious said...

Can you explain more about why you took your kids out of the Amherst system? What school(s) here did they attend? Where do they go now? Are your kids having a better experience there?

Rick said...

There is good info on the ARPS site about ELL:

I think what Catherine means by “that is a district decision” (regarding whether to bus ELL kids) is that how best to teach ELL is a Superintendent level responsibility, not an SC level responsibility. Major structural things like redistricting and ending open enrollment are SC level responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:13/1:31, Bravo, well said and I agree 100%. I have felt the same way at CF for many many years. An even more recent example is Veterans Day. No explanation at school, just another day off. This is while there is a huge amount of education and celebration and raising a flag downtown for the hispanic community. There isn't any balance at all, hopefully the redistricting will create some.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 10:13 - in terms of potential lay-offs ... the schools are clearly facing major budget cuts, and I anticipate that the superintendent is going to be taking a careful look at all of our programs and staffing to make sure that we are using our limited resources wisely. Thus, I just don't know how the decision to end the clusters will impact ELL (or other types of) staffing.

Obviously the district will continue to provide ELL services to kids who don't speak English -- but the recommendation by the state is that such language does NOT (at the elementary level) need to be given in one's own language. Many ELL teachers work with kids from countries in which the teachers are not fluent in the language, and this is seen as quite effective.

My kids also attend Fort River, and thus learn primarily about the Cambodian culture. I would prefer to see all schools focusing more broadly on many cultures, and think that could bring a real richness to education across the schools.

One more thing -- the SC doesn't control the decision about maintaining cultures -- that is up to the administration!

Anonymous 9:28/10:32 - yes, you are right -- the SC did not vote to end the clusters -- we don't have that power (just like we can't decide how the district meets the needs of kids with autism or ADD or speech needs, etc.). The district received a legal opinion that we could continue the clusters for ELL needs only -- meaning that we could not bus kids who weren't ELL (which we do now) and we would have to return kids to their in-district school once they reached proficiency (which we don't do now). We also learned that clustering ELL kids (even for a limited time while they reached proficiency) was legal, but not recommended. Thus, the superintendent and his staff made a decision that we were not going to continue to provide ELL services by clustering, which I believe was the right decision.

I agree that there are three distinct decisions (closing MM, redistricting, ending clusters), and it is very much too bad that these decisions are seen as the same, because they are now. You are exactly right in how you lay out all the possible options -- I wish we could have been clearer on this from the beginning (though I think part of the reluctance was because saying "we are doing something illegal right now" isn't so ideal!).

Anonymous 12:18 - the state RECOMMENDS that districts don't cluster ELL kids by language. State and federal LAW require that different services aren't given to different kids based on ethnicity/race, so as soon as kids aren't in a "special needs group" (e.g., ELL, autism, etc.), they would legally have to return to their local school. Does that clarify?

Rick - exactly. Thanks for clarifying!

Meg Rosa said...

The fact that schools do not say the Pledge of Alligence has bothered me since we moved here in August of 91 from Salem. Back then, I thought that maybe it was only the Jr/Sr High Schools not doing it, now I know it is all schools. I have been told that it is out of respect for the dozens of other cultures we have in this town. I feel as thoug it should at least be an option for children to be able to learn.

Also, at MM we really don't do anything "American" either. We did our first (and only) Thanksgiving Feast last year, which was a big hit, but was way too much work to think about doing again, for the few of us getting things done there this year.
We do have a Multicultural Night that we do in the spring, so children from a cultures can share where they come from. We do not celebrate Halloween. We do aknowledge Valentine's Day by the kids passing out cards to eachother (and candy). We have Rock and Read day for Dr. Suess, which the whole school is involved in.

I think this is just how Amherst has always been and so people feel it is right and will continue. Do the kids know what is different in Amherst and other schools? I am not sure. I knew it was different in 8th grade coming from Salem. It seems like not too much has changed since then. I think in many ways, Amherst is an International district, as opposed to an American District! Even when it comes to Home Coming at the HS! There is some lack of enthusiaism in the tradional "school spirit". I remember school ralleys in the high school were more of a way to get a free period and not be in class, than getting all the kids psyched up about the school.

Anonymous said...

Pledge of Allegiance recitation law...why does the town att'y not advise the school's on this?

Rick said...

I hear what Meg is saying and I don’t understand why the Pledge of Allegiance is not done. As pointed out by Anon in the above link, it is illegal not to do it.

Meg said: ”I have been told that it is out of respect for the dozens of other cultures we have in this town.”

Somewhere along the line perhaps people got the wrong idea. America = multicultural, and so pledging to America means pledging to multiculturalism.

I understand the “under God” part bothers some. If so, just don’t say that part of it.

Anonymous said...

As a funny side note in our household we say "Under DOG". We love dogs but aren't big god believers. Matter of fact we say OMD not OMG.

I think Rick is right in that we are risking not following the law. I also think it is a effective way of being a part of the American community to honor our country. It has nothing to do with alienating others who are visiting the US and or are new to our country as citizens. After all they have come here because they like our politics or at last our opportunities :-).

Anonymous said...

This Pledge of Allegiance issue keeps coming-up and I just want say that I am grateful this doesn't happen in our classrooms everyday. I don't want my child learning to pledge allegiance to anything but (her parents and) the development of her own discriminating faculties.

Anonymous said...

While I may understand your concern re your child "pledging" to something....
my question is why no town att'y ADVISING on the illegality of not saying the pledge...perhaps s/he not ASKED??? and why?

The lack of saying the pledge in the town school rooms appears to me to be a decision by the schools to blatantly disregard the law.

Seems that a whole lot of Amherst residents must agree with the idea that it's ok to pick and choose which laws to obey depnding upon individual choices.

So currently we pick the PC ones to obey: such as ethnic clustering not allowable ----however SC & administration not concerned re the pledge law.

If our town att'y has given the ok that laws are a smorgasboard and we can ignore the ones we don't personnally agree with, I'd like that to be captured in writing. I have some land without enough frontage to build upon but I'd like to ignore that law and build ....I'd agree to build a totally green environmentally sound off the grid house....