A lot of families are awfully anxious as they await tomorrow’s release of the Seattle School District’s new assignment plan, one which intends to assign the majority of students to their neighborhood schools, with fewer options and less flexibility than we currently enjoy.
Will many of my friends here in SE Seattle, whose children are comfortably on an academic track they thought would guarantee them a slot at Garfield, happily accept an assignment to Rainier Beach? I don’t think so. Likewise, on the even more contentious issue of middle schools, an assignment to Aki Kurose in its present form would be the equivalent of a one-way ticket out of the district.
Criticize me all you want for stating the obvious, but that’s just the way it is.
I’m on the record as a passionate proponent of neighborhood schools, but I’ve been equally vocal in criticizing the lack of equity within the district. And with schools increasingly relying on PTSA money to fund things that used to be considered part of basic education (tutors, teaching assistants, art, music, physical education, books, equipment, field trips, etc.), the disparity between the educational haves and have nots can only grow wider.
At some schools in more affluent neighborhoods, PTSA’s raise more than $1,000 per student a year to pay for services the district and state can no longer afford to provide, while some schools in poorer and working class neighborhoods have no PTSA at all. This unofficial and unspoken “PTSA Levy” amounts to a not-so-secret tuition system that only exacerbates the inherent demographic disparity.
A few years back when we toured the TOPS K-8 program in the hopes of securing our daughter a desirable academic home for middle school (she got in for 4th grade, but we ultimately declined), the PTSA representative wasn’t shy about making his expectations clear. TOPS would give our children the equivalent of a private school education we were told (and in my opinion, oversold), and those of us who could afford that type of tuition were expected to pony up accordingly. Of course, there’s no enforcement mechanism, but there are parents at some schools who routinely write four and even five figure checks, while during our seven years at Graham Hill we where happy if we raised better than $50 a student.
No doubt Seattle would be better off with a neighborhood school system that would be more convenient to parents, provide much greater continuity to students, and save the district millions of dollars in transportation and other costs. But attempting to address the assignment issue before meaningfully addressing the equity issue, virtually assures that the current level of disparity between schools will only grow worse, while the district’s seemingly inexorable march toward resegregation will continue apace.
So here’s hoping the new assignment plan is about much more than just saving money.