Saturday, May 10, 2008

Louisville's Innovative New School Plan

Taking a break from the Dayton area, with its’ myriad political dysfunctions and insoluble social and economic problems, looking at solutions being tried elsewhere.

If one surfs in here frequently one knows that Louisville is often used as a case study for solutions that could be applied to Dayton, if the political and economic situation permitted.

In this case Daytonology will look at an experiment in school integration that is about to be tried in Louisville, due to a recent Supreme Court decision that invalidated school assignments solely based on race.

Louisville’s Experience With Desegregation.

The background was that in the 1970s’ there were three systems, the Louisville City, Jefferson County (the suburban system), and Anchorage (a very small suburban system). The Louisville and Jefferson County systems were being considered for desegregation order for various reasons. While this was happening the city system went bankrupt, and was ordered to merge with the fiscally healthy county system.

Then desegregation via bussing was ordered by the courts, around the same time the Dayton schools desegregated.

Integration started in the mid 1970s amid riots and other civil disobedience (yer humble host was busted for rioting and sent to juvenile court for it). Though the violence and protest quickly subsided, racial integration continued in various forms till this year.

Interestingly, given the initial violent opposition, at first there wasn’t massive white flight from Jefferson County, as surrounding counties could not absorb big population moves, and the Catholic system refused to become a white flight haven. Countywide integration also precluded white flight from the city, and is probably why Louisville didn’t turn into a racial and socioeconomic Bantustan the way Dayton did.

In recent more and more whites began to leave the system, particularly the younger students, though it remains predominantly white today, unlike the Dayton system, which has resegregated.

What Kind of Integration?

However, with the new court decision the Jefferson County system took a new look at what “integration” means, and what it was trying to achieve.

The decision was to move toward socioeconomic integration, as opposed to strictly racial integration (which is becoming more complex as there is a growing Latino community in Louisville).

The theory is (and this is a gross simplification) that kids of a lower socioeconomic status will be lifted up by being in an academic environment predominantly made up of students average and above average socioeconomic backgrounds.

This is probably the first attempt in the US to deliberately try for socioeconomic diversity of students at a metropolitan scale (Jefferson County is still the dominant county in the metro area). Though this sounds radical, socioeconomic diversity would just mimic the kind of countywide rural systems common in Kentucky, were students of all sorts of backgrounds attend the same elementary and high school in the county seat.

How It Works

So the plan was to identify disadvantaged area (“Area A”) and then integrate the students with average or above average area (“Area B”)

Here are the two areas, by elementary school attendance district…Area B in yellow and Area A in blue:

The criteria for the two areas are:

Area A
(Must meet all three criteria)
...Below the district average for income
…Below the average education level of adults in the district
…Above the district average for the percentage of minority students who live there.

Area B
…At or above the district average for income
…Or at or above the average level of education of adults in the district
…Or below the district average for percentage of minority students who live there

Then, schools from Area A are clustered with schools from Area B, but schools must maintain a range of students from 15% to 50% from Area A (I think 50% is too high. Maybe 25% as an upper limit would be better).

There are two cluster proposals:



…and there are pros & cons of both cluster approaches, which can be read at this Courier- Journal (local newspaper) website (source of the maps).

A positive outside appraisal comes from this article from In These Times, a social-democratic journal of opinion.

In any case this is what’s possible with a countywide school system. What’s also possible is to develop magnet schools for science, arts, and other things, akin to Stivers, but drawing on the entire county for talented kids (and on the entire county for revenue to fund these enhanced programs).

In retrospect the merger of the city and county system in the 1970s was the precondition for this approach, which would not have happened if not for the bankruptcy of the city system and a subsequent court-ordered merger.

Lessons for Dayton

There are none.

It would take similar catastrophic failure of the city system and outside intervention to bring about a similar merger here, in order to permit a countywide diversity plan. The end-result would be a return to white flight, this time from Montgomery County to Warren, Greene, and Miami.