What’s new (since my book was published)

Posted on December 2, 2009. Filed under: Kalamazoo Promise, socioeconomic school integration, What's new (since my book was published) | Tags: , |

In the nine months since the text of my book was “put to bed” in time for the publication process, a number of important developments have occurred in Kalamazoo.  One of these was the redistricting of the Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) middle- and high-school attendance boundaries.  What happened and why is it significant?

At the time the Kalamazoo Promise (KP) was introduced, KPS middle schools were already at capacity, a situation that had resulted in some 6th graders attending a middle school and others remaining at their elementary schools. With the expected enrollment growth from the KP, it was clear that a new middle school would need to be built. In May 2006, KPS voters approved a millage request that paid for the construction of two new school buildings, the district’s first since 1971.

Linden Grove middle school opened in Fall 2009. During the 2008-09 school year, a task force worked on redrawing middle- and high-school boundaries in order to identify the students who would attend the new school. The high-school redistricting was optional, but it made sense to restructure those boundaries in light of the new middle-school boundaries. In both cases, the task force proposed — and the school board approved — boundaries that sought to spread the district’s low-income population more evenly across the four middle and two high schools.

Prior to the redistricting, the low-income enrollment figures ranged from 52% at Hillside Middle School to 84% at Milwood Middle School. Not surprisingly, the perception of the schools varied, with middle-class parents far more enthusiastic about sending their children to Hillside. There was also a gap (albeit a smaller one) between the high schools, with low-income enrollment of 64% at Loy Norrix and 53% at Central. The redistricting plan will shift the low-income enrollment over time as follows (the results will not be immediate, as students currently enrolled were allowed to stay at their schools; parents also have the right to send their child to another school in the district if they provide their own transportation). But theoretically, the plan was designed to achieve the following shift:

 
2008-09
Redistricting
Committee
Projection
Middle Schools
   
– Hillside
52%
65%
– Maple St.
72%
68%
– Milwood
84%
71%
– Linden Grove
n.a.
72%
High Schools
   
– Central
53%
58%
– Norrix
64%
60%

Why does this matter? One answer is that there is a great deal of evidence about the benefits of integrating schools by socioeconomic status (see my book, pages 88-90, for a summary of this argument). This research, however, focuses on elementary schools where students mix more readily than in the higher grades. I have not seen any research on the impact of socioeconomic integration at the middle- or high-school level (but would be interested in knowing if there is some). The real reason it matters is that if KPS is serious about attracting and retaining middle-income families and high-achieving students at all socioeconomic levels, it cannot afford to have only one mixed-income middle or high school that is perceived as most desirable. As middle-income students and their families are dispersed throughout the district, it can be expected that both the reality and the perception of all the middle and high schools will improve.

The much harder part of the task lies ahead. The district’s elementary schools are deeply unbalanced in terms of their low-income population — with 29% at Indian Prairie at the low end, compared to 97% at Edison and Washington Writers Academy at the high end — and redistricting is desperately needed here. Such efforts tend to be deeply unpopular, with families angered when their children are uprooted from their existing schools or asked to attend a school further away from home. And in a year when KPS once again needs to turn to the voters for a millage, no immediate action on elementary school redistricting is expected. Hopefully, the administration, board, and community will summon the courage down the road to undertake this critical step in strengthening the district in the interest of all children.

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