Public schools and investing in all our children

Everyone who cares about education should read this Indianapolis Star guest column by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis professor Edward Curtis IV.

Headlined “Why we love our D-rated school,” it explains why Curtis sends his two elementary-age children to their neighborhood public school, regardless of test scores and school grades. The decision, he says, reflects his family’s deepest hopes for all children, not just their own.

“My choice is based not only on our family’s ethics, but also on calculated self-interest,” he writes. “We act out of our deepest values while also providing our kids with great opportunities by sending them to a multiracial, multireligious, multilanguage, working-class school.”

Curtis describes the joy that he sees when he visits the school’s classrooms and attends after-school activities. He celebrates that his children are learning by experience to live in a world that includes poor people, people of color, refugees and families that are learning to speak English.

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Good news from Raleigh

The big education-related story in this month’s elections came from Ohio, where voters repealed a law that limited collective bargaining rights for public-sector employees, including teachers.

But for this blog, the most significant election news was Kevin Hill’s victory in a run-off election for a school board seat in in Wake County, N.C. The outcome gave Democrats a sweep of this year’s board races and a 5-4 edge on the school board in Raleigh.

And it ousted the Republican majority that had dismantled Wake County’s brave and innovative socio-economic diversity policy.

It’s not yet clear whether the new board majority will bring back the old policy, which assigned students to schools in a way that avoided concentrating large numbers of poor children in the same buildings. Wake County school administrators are moving ahead with a neighborhood and “choice-based” student assignment plan adopted by the former Republican majority. Democrats say they’ll review the plan.

However that plays out, this is an outcome worth noting.

In an era when education “reform” is based on the idea that competition must drive improvement – that parents are out to get the best possible education for their own kids, whether through charter schools, magnet schools or vouchers, and never mind everyone else – the Wake County results can be interpreted as endorsing education as a community responsibility.

Fifty-seven years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional. But as UCLA’s Gary Orfield and his Civil Rights Project colleagues have shown, schools have become more segregated in the past generation, by race and especially by social class.

It may be that poverty will always be with us. But socio-economic segregation of schools is a result of choices – decisions by people of means to abandon the cities and public education, sure, but also political decisions about student-assignment plans and the boundaries of school districts and attendance areas. (Example: Bloomington, Ind., where one elementary school has 90 percent of its students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches, while an elementary school with an adjacent attendance area has fewer than 20 percent of its students qualifying for lunch subsidies).

The voters of Raleigh have shown it’s possible to choose a different path.

Meanwhile, in Denver

Emily Sirota lost her race for a seat on the Denver school board – badly. She had attracted national media attention for her challenge to a “pro-reform” candidate backed by Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children.