Today’s Seattle Times has an article by education report Emily Heffter on the increasing emphasis the Seattle School District is placing on middle-class families. Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, however, says the district is not actively trying to recruit parents away from private schools:
Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson said improving the quality and rigor at schools may draw more families back, but that’s not her focus.
“How about, let’s provide the best possible instruction for the kids who are here?” she said. “Part of the market-share issue is about parents not believing that the quality currently exists.” link
Several school board members, including both incumbents and newly elected members, do seem to be considering ways to reach out to middle-class families. In a district where around 25% of students go to private school, the financial and social-capital impact of a lack of confidence in public schools by middle- and upper-class parents is immense.
As Heffter points out, consistency and predictability are major concerns. While many parents want to send their children to public schools, they are wary of being assigned to a school they find less than optimal, or of being assigned to a decent school but a sub-par teacher. Many opt for private schools that offer a higher level of consistency and predictability, even if they lack certificated teachers or special programs such as sports.
The district’s forthcoming student assignment plan may address the predictability issues, because it will increase the chance that students will get into a short list of neighborhood schools. Middle- and upper-class parents are generally in favor of an assignment plan that guarantees admission to a neighborhood school, because this enables them to choose which neighborhood to live in based on the (perceived) quality of the local schools.
The current assignment plan provides transportation to schools in other neighborhoods in order to increase access for students from disadvantaged populations. Since residential segregation is a reality in nearly every major city, allowing students to leave their neighborhood to attend school is a common way districts address issues of uneven school quality and inequity.
However, busing students is unpopular because it’s expensive and time-consuming. Students may have to ride 40 minutes or an hour each way on school bus routes that, in the aggregate, cost millions of dollars a year to operate. Since busing is ultimately a workaround and is a tacit admission that some schools are sub-par, the district is directly addressing the underlying issue: the need for every school to be an excellent school.
New district leadership, both on the board and in the Superintendent’s office, will be facing these challenges head-on in the coming months and years.