Consultant Michael Alves presents new (yet old) plan for school assignments:
Massachusetts education consultant Michael Alves is rolling out the idea of a "controlled choice" plan for student assignment before a Wake County school board committee.
Alves has gotten mostly positive reaction from the six school board members and other community members at the meeting at the school administration building on Wake Forest Road. Since a school board majority discarded Wake County's former diversity-based assignment plan in March, the board and the student assignment committee meeting today have been looking at possibilities for a replacement.
I've spent the last few hours trying to see how other communities who've put this in place have fared, and it seems to be a relatively successful formula. Here's a little history of this (and other) desegregation initiatives:
Controlled choice divided the city of Boston into three zones, each with an evenly distributed racial makeup. The zones were drawn up with the purpose of keeping traditional neighborhoods together as much as possible. "Each of these three zones was supposed to replicate the proportional distribution of people by race in the school district," explains Willie.
Students could attend any school within their zone, and their school assignments were based on criteria including the student's preference, sibling attendance, the school's proximity to the student's home, and the racial makeup of the student body. "We had what we called racial fairness guidelines," says Willie. "Whatever the racial populations are in each of those zones is what the racial population should be in each school within the zone. If the proportion goes up one year, then each school enrolls a larger proportion of that particular group. If the proportion goes down for a group the next year, then each school enrolls a smaller proportion of that particular student population.
But if you're thinking about checking with the folks in Boston to see what they think now, it's too late:
But in 1999, a group calling themselves "Boston's Children First" filed a suit charging that white students were unfairly denied their rightful places in neighborhood public schools, and the Boston School Committee voted to eliminate race as a consideration in school assignments. The new policy went into effect in 2000.
The part of this program that's supposed to "drive improvement" is a market-based evaluation; the "under-chosen" schools should try to emulate the "over-chosen" schools, in some sort of parental (consumer) feedback system.
But here are some questions: If (or when) the under-chosen schools identify needs that would bring them up in the eyes of "consumers", will the money be made available? Will the Wake School Board put all of the system/formula into place, or only parts of it, resulting in a fair-sounding system which is (in reality) unfair? Along those lines, when dealing with the over-chosen schools, will they rely heavily on "distance traveled" when deciding who gets to atttend and who doesn't?
Here's more from Michael Alves on possible ramifications of poorly applying this program:
"What's most important is that the zones are diverse and that they have equal quality of education," Alves said, later adding. "You have to have some criteria to get started. If not, you're going to be all over the map."