I am a big believer in the concept of neighborhood schools. I think schools are best as an extension of their communities. I've written pretty about why I see charterizing initiatives such as those in New Orleans as both bad educational practice and an assault on fundamental American values.
At the same time, it's important that I acknowledge the limits of the approach that I value so much, and nothing has highlighted those failings any better than this gut-wrenching story of how Pinellas County in Florida turned five thriving schools into "failure factories." I could hem and haw and hedge, but here's the brutal truth of how they did it.
They turned them into neighborhood schools.
They ended desegregation and starved the five schools of, not only the additional resources they needed to succeed, but also in some cases didn't even provide the basic level of support provided to other schools in the county.
This story, written and reported by
Though the efforts were working — black students were posting steady
gains on standardized tests — many parents bridled at the tools of
integration. They complained about the inconvenience and the high cost
of busing and special programs.
In other words, desegregation, with its magnet schools and special programs and busing, required (White) Pinellas County to spend a bunch of money educating Other People's (Black) Children. And so they stopped.
The plan to resegregate called for neighnborhood schools. Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA told the article's authors what that gets you
“It produces schools that teachers don’t want to teach in and that are
branded as failures by our state and national governments,” Orfield
said. “When you go to neighborhood schools, whites and Asians get
schools that function well and blacks and Latinos get schools that are
impoverished and fail. This isn't a secret."
I don't want to think it's that simple, and I definitely don't care for how short a step it is from that observation to the observation that non-white students and families are somehow defective. But there's no denying what happened next to the five schools.
They had been successful by both the measures that reformsters like to use and the measures that those of us in the whole child well-rounded education community like to use. But what distinguished the new plan is what the school board chose not to do.
Giving up on racially balanced schools wasn’t the School Board’s only option.
They could have integrated schools by requiring a balance of children
based on socio-economic status, as other counties were doing.
They could have carefully constructed magnet schools and special
programs to attract more white children to schools in black
Instead, they were ready to plow ahead, to scrap the most important
parts of what they had done to guarantee black children got an equal