Friday, March 25, 2011

Assignment Processes Which Are Inherently Unfair Prove That We Have Disparity Among Our Schools

I read this guest post over at Rachael Norton's blog, and had to respond. I'm parking my response here as it's awaiting moderation, and I don't know it will be published. Time will tell.

This question goes direct to the very troubling concern that we, even though it has been an ambition for a great long while, have proof and ongoing longitudinal evidence that there is a serious difference between an equal opportunity for an education, and an equal opportunity for an EQUAL education.

I used to say that the good thing about the SFUSD assignment process was that, although it was arbitrary and unfair, at least it was arbitrary and unfair to every one. With this post and comments, I may have been off. Gaming the system is a natural side effect of the whole process - as parents we are notorious for at least trying to look out for our own children and doing what it takes to get them the education they need. But my experience - having received none of my top choices in either of the two iterations of the assignments process, and having had to badger the counselors at the SFUSD with weekly in person visits until about mid-to late August before getting in to our neighborhood school - if it's reflective of the process it takes to get your kid into the closest school, the process is most certainly broken.

I'm not certain that PTA sharing or partnering will work the way this post suggests as I know that many PTAs are just struggling trying to get any kind of involvement out of it's membership and just focusing on your own school's operation is a giant time and money sink as it sits. If I was pushed to partner with another school, I'm not certain I would have the energy for it, nor would I know the community well enough to determine the best way to engage them (just ask leaders of the Second District how hard it is to get system wide participation in any of their events). Parental/Guardian energy is a limited resource, and if you are a single parent, raising two/three kids, where do you find the time to pump into offsetting the poor investments of the SFUSD, particularly if you have to work two jobs just to put food on the table? You are lucky if you have some kind of energy to invest in the PTA functions of your own schools.

What we need is a complete mind-shift of the entire population that looks at schools not as babysitting functional units for our society, but as investment vehicles for our future. This would require an overhaul of how we finance the whole operation, and a doubling and tripling down on the investments, and a individual, customizable approach to improving all the schools in the entire system and spreading out the wealth unequally - yes, I said unequally - as we known that there is nothing more inherently unfair than the equal treatment of unequals. This means that those schools that are already well off and hitting all the performance measure would get the least amount of resources, and the under performing schools would get all the money and energy that would bring them up. Those high performing schools have a culture of parental involvement that would off set the diminished resources, and the would be better spent as investments in the lower performing schools.

Moreover, we have to break the shackles of standardization so that we unleash the creativity so that people can experiment within the schools to bring the curriculum in to the new century. The schools today are operating as if it were still 1982, it seems. And in this new Millennium, our children will demand it. When do we see the promise of charter schools realized as it was the original intent for experimentation to happen in them, and then the best practices replicated in the mainstream operation, no? It seems as if the charter school operations get all the resources for inventiveness, but there is no reciprocity where they sink energy into improving the mainline schools at all.

There are no easy, cheap answers, but Idealistic Mama is right on one point in particular, among many, that the fundamental flaw with the assignment system is that all schools are not equal, and we have a long way to go to make it right. Until every neighborhood school is desirable and parents in the hood fight to attend, we won't see this arbitrary and unfair system shift.

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