A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Omaha schools take a step back

Earlier, I told you (here and here)about the plan to break up the Omaha public schools into three separate districts based upon racial lines. Apparently, that plan has now been rebuffed:
The governor signed a bill Thursday repealing the planned breakup of the Omaha school district into three districts, largely along racial lines.

The new plan will partner Omaha-area districts in a "learning community," where district borders will become less important and may be crossed regularly. A new council is supposed to help enact programs to encourage integration and achievement, especially among poorer children.

Backers of the previously planned breakup, which passed last year, had said that dividing the state's largest district would have given minorities control of their own school boards. The division was put on hold after lawsuits alleged that the new, smaller districts would amount to state-endorsed segregation.

Now, through an open-enrollment plan, kids could be transported for free to other schools. Schools now filled with mostly white, affluent students could end up with more poor and minority students.

Pupils who would increase the diversity of schools they wished to attend would be given higher priority in decisions about transfers.

The bill was the product of months of negotiation. Gov. Dave Heineman said it wasn't perfect but would still improve the education of Omaha-area kids.

"I hope that today is the start of a new era of collaboration and cooperation when it comes to what matters most -- ensuring a positive future for the children of Nebraska," Heineman said.

The law also freezes school district boundaries in an attempt to resolve disputes over districts taking over adjacent districts.

The Legislature's only black senator, Ernie Chambers of Omaha, pushed last year's bill and also signed off on the new plan.

Doug Christensen, state education commissioner, said the law has the potential to force revolutionary changes in the Omaha area.

"The reality?" Christensen said. "We'll have to wait and see."

I have just never been too sure that the way to deal with segregation in a school district is to further segregate it.

Here's the deal: in my experience, segregation in schools is primarily a function of segregated housing patterns, since school districts are based upon attendance areas. Although there are a few redeveloped urban neighborhoods that have been specifically designed to have a wide range of economic levels among their residents, it's obvious that there are rich neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods everywhere-- not just in America. Frankly, socioeconomic differences are always more important than strictly racial differences when it comes to education. Deal with that fact, and you'll deal with inequity in schools. Easy, right? (Does my sardonic tone come through?)

Another concern regarding the Omaha case is that under NCLB, schools that do not perform at very high levels will be subject to loss of accreditation and state takeover. Children in impoverished homes have far higher difficulties succeeding in education. The end result of the plan that Omaha had presented would have been making the wealthier school district that would have been created much more secure under NCLB but sacrificing the two poorer school districts much more likely to fail under NCLB and therefore be taken over by the state. I wonder if that didn't play a part in the reconsideration of this plan.

There should be a wy to make sure there is minority presence on the Omaha school board without resegregating the schools there. But how do you get impoverished parents to have the time or the interest to serve on a voluntary school board on top of everything else in their lives? I think that might be the more relevant question.



At 5/26/07, 10:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Ms Cornilius

Yesterday I sent a "comment" indicating that I would like your permission to edit (shorten) and possibly publish one of your blogs in a textbook for furture teachers. The blog deals with dress code. Unfortunately, I did not leave my email address which is cruickshank.1@osu.edu.

Sorry to bother you in this way.

At 5/27/07, 4:22 AM, Blogger hema said...

another interesting article which has informed me about the American School System!
you're right, there are rich and poor neighbourhoods everywhere and it just so happens that often the neighbourhoods are racially segregated as well.
Here in the UK, there are plans to merge together schools that are racially segregated, in order to deal with the problem of hostility between different racial groups. However, I’m not sure “forcing” schools to merge is the best way to go about this, as often it means children have to ravel further and will lead to resentment as they are being forced to interact under unnatural circumstances.
I’m not saying state enforced segregation (which I guess is the opposite of the above scenario) is the way to go either. Perhaps people just need to recognise that this is a class and deprivation issue, rather than a racial one?

At 5/27/07, 9:08 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Well, the thing is, these schools were already in the same school district, and yet they were very segregated racially and socioeconomically.

Why? Beause of housing patterns.

Frankly, here in the US, we went with busing as a solution to this problem back in the 70s and 80s. It looks like Omaha is going to have to go back to the same thing.

Those minority/poor school districts that would have been created in Omaha would not have met the standards of NCLB, but it WOULD have relieved the white/more affluent schools of having to deal with the achievement of those "other" kids.

At 5/27/07, 5:58 PM, Blogger Laura(southernxyl) said...

Busing for desegregation in Memphis was an abject failure. When the MCS system became 89% black due to white flight into the suburbs and into private schools, they gave up. Let me add that my husband was a student in Memphis at that time, and from hearing his experiences, I would have mortgaged my house and everything I had to get my kid(s) out of the public schools while that was going on. Subsequently things settled down. Our daughter attended public school here for middle and high school, but it was a magnet school program (that we had to drive her across the city to attend).

One of the problems here, and I suppose in other urban systems, is the extreme mobility of the population. I spoke to an elementary school teacher at one of the inner-city schools who told me that she always has at least 30% turnover in her class from the beginning to the end of the school year. The system does the best it can to standardize curricula for all the schools but it is not a seamless transfer for those kids - it can't be. The state wants to take over some of the lower-performing schools. I wonder if they understand that they will not be taking over a discrete block of students.

I wonder if our system ought to study the education of the children of migrant farmworkers, to see what works for them.


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