Sorting the Students

Indianapolis writer wonders if ‘our discomfort was rooted in prejudice’ when he didn’t get his child’s first school choice

PHOTO: Robert Scheer/IndyStar
First graders work on coursework at IPS School 84, one of the Center for Inquiry campuses, Indianapolis, Wednesday, May 18, 2016. Ethnically, the Center for Inquiry School 84 is one of the least diverse in the IPS system, and enrollment priority is given to kids living near its Meridian-Kessler location.

When it comes time to choose schools for their children, many progressive families find their commitment to diversity is put to the test.

The tension between the desire to create diverse schools and the visceral fear of sending your child to an imperfect school is laid bare in a first-person piece for Indianapolis Monthly, in which writer Matthew Gonzales describes his own family’s struggle.

The school choice lottery didn’t grant his son their first pick for prekindergarten. Gonzales wanted his child to attend a highly coveted magnet program called the Center for Inquiry, which is often favored by middle-class families within Indianapolis Public Schools.

Unlike most of the urban district’s schools, enrollment at some of the CFI programs has skewed disproportionately white and wealthy, in part because the district placed those schools in higher-income neighborhoods and prioritized admission to families living nearby.

IPS has in recent years taken steps to reduce the preference given to families living near magnet schools and open more seats to other students, which officials say they hope will improve racial and socioeconomic diversity at popular and high-performing magnet programs.

But that may force middle-class families who don’t get in to decide whether they’re willing to send their children to other district schools.

Gonzales’ child got into their second choice: a Montessori school located in a poor neighborhood, attended mostly by students of color and students from low-income families. He wrote:

The more we learned about School 87, the less comfortable we were with the idea of sending our son there. And though we hated to admit it, we knew our discomfort was rooted in prejudice.

‘Prejudice’ is a harsh word, but it’s the right one: We had never visited School 87, and we had no specific reason to believe that our son would be unlikely to get a good education there. We simply saw a school with lots of poor kids in a poor neighborhood, and our parental instinct — impulsive, judgmental, illogical — kicked in.

Despite early apprehensions, Gonzales said his son loved the school and thrived. Still, the following year, the family enrolled the child at a CFI program in downtown Indianapolis after applying through the lottery again for kindergarten.

There, his son entered a classroom of mostly white students, and Gonzales wondered whether he had made the right choice after all:

Not only had I deprived him of valuable experiences with kids different from him, but in my own small way I was also helping perpetuate the racial segregation that has dogged our city, well, forever.

Read the Indy Monthly story here.

on the air

De Blasio: No decision yet on ‘Chief Integration Officer’ or other diversity recommendations

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
At a September 2018 press conference at M.S. 51 in Park Slope, Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza approved an integration plan for District 15 middle schools.

Among the concrete suggestions that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s diversity task force made when it delivered its report earlier this month was one for a new executive at the city education department.

But de Blasio hasn’t yet decided whether to hire a “Chief Integration Officer,” the mayor said Friday during his weekly appearance on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show. The radio show marked at least the third time since the School Diversity Advisory Group released its report Feb. 12 that de Blasio publicly said he planned to review the recommendations, without committing to any of them.

“Chancellor [Richard] Carranza and I are going to meet with the task force. I’m looking forward to carefully reviewing what they’ve come up with,” de Blasio said. He added, “I’m not ready to say yet what specific actions we’ll take.”

The comments echo similar ones he made last week during a weather briefing and at a press conference kicking off parent council elections.

But de Blasio signaled that he could take up at least some of the recommendations, which include setting local integration targets and adding ethnic studies courses. “Obviously, you know, I named them,” he said about the task force. “I wanted to see them do this work.”

The mayor also said again that changes could be coming to the city’s screened schools, which choose students on the basis of grades and test scores in a practice that has contributed to extreme academic and racial segregation. In September, also to Brian Lehrer, de Blasio said the city was “in the process of coming up with a series of changes around the screened schools.”

On Friday, more than five months later, he suggested that that process remained in the future. “We’re going to be reevaluating the whole approach to screened schools,” he said.

Here’s a list of five things the city could do to tackle screening. And here’s Lehrer’s entire exchange with de Blasio from Friday morning:

Lehrer: Also, on education, your school desegregation task force issued its report last week. I was going to ask you about that last Friday but then the Amazon deal broke down and that kind of took over from everything else for a few days. And your task force recommended among other things every school see if its population represents the district-wide and borough-wide population, and it recommended you name a Chief Integration Officer for the school system. Will you or Chancellor Carranza order that all schools take that inventory and will you appoint a Chief Integration Officer?

Mayor: We’re going to – Chancellor Carranza and I are going to meet with the task force. I’m looking forward to carefully reviewing what they’ve come up with. Obviously, you know, I named them. I wanted to see them do this work. I’m not ready to say yet what specific actions we’ll take until we have that meeting to have a chance to really to think about. I do think what’s important here is to recognize we are in a much stronger place today than fine years ago because we have found a variety of ways to encourage diversity, to integrate our schools better, that many of which are grassroots based and therefore I think the ones that will work the best.

Look at what happened in School District 1 in Manhattan, District 3 in the West Side of Manhattan – 1 is Lower Manhattan – District 15 Brownsville, Brooklyn, where the solutions came from the grassroots. And this is what we want to replicate. We’re working with a number of other districts to do that.

While we’re working on the big citywide issues, obviously I put forward the idea to Albany of changing admissions for the specialized high schools which I think are one of our worst examples of segregation that can be fixed straight away by better policies. And I think the proposal we put forward would do that and would end the overreliance on a single standardized test.

We’re going to be re-evaluating the whole approach to screened schools. There’s a lot going on but in terms of what the next steps will be I want to really sit down with the task force and talk it through with them.

Sorting the Students

New Memphis charter school guidelines would help decide if there are too many schools in a single neighborhood

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Children at Riverview walk home from school. (2015)

Shelby County Schools is developing guidelines that would determine if a neighborhood has too many charter schools, addressing a longtime concern of school board members.

The charter school guidelines, called the Educational Priorities Document/Rubric in a proposed district policy on charter schools, would also prioritize what the district wants charter schools to focus on, such as early literacy.

Board members would be able to systematically slow the growth of charter schools in Memphis, which has swelled to 54 since the state legislature approved their creation in 2002.

“We need to defend ourselves through policy if we’re not expanding in Frayser,” for example, said board member Kevin Woods about the neighborhood during a meeting on the proposed policy Thursday afternoon. “We shouldn’t let another day go by that it’s not addressed in policy.”

The district’s charter school office has used a prototype of the guidelines to inform board members about the number of schools in neighborhoods and how they were doing. But the information was never used to make final decisions. (See appendix here.)

The state does not require districts to determine if there are too many schools in a neighborhood when considering charter school applications. (See map of schools by type in Memphis.)

But as more students choose charter schools, district buildings are left with fewer students and more overhead costs, school board members have said. Plus, a portion of state funding follows every child that enrolls in charter schools, which are run by nonprofits. About 14 percent of Shelby County Schools students attend a charter school.

The policy comes more than a year after charter and district leaders came up with compromises on thorny issues such as charters leasing district buildings and paying for district oversight, and the process for revoking charters. Former superintendent Dorsey Hopson urged the school board to come up with a policy to address neighborhood saturation over the summer when the board approved its latest round of charters.

“No surprise, we have too many schools in Memphis,” Hopson said in August. “If you got 12 schools in a three-mile radius… and all of them are underenrolled, we’re not serving kids well.”

The proposed policy is due for the second of three readings with some changes during the school board’s March meeting, said board member Miska Clay Bibbs.