Walkability, Integration, Misinformation

longfellow brochure

So, I’m hearing some unfortunate things flying around, based on the proposed changes to the Twain/Longfellow border here in East Iowa City. Some of it is word of mouth rumors, and some of it is printed on flyers distributed door-to-door by children in the Longfellow attendance zone. In advance of the Cluster Two meeting tomorrow night, I’d like to clear up some misinformation and provide some perspective and counter-information for any Longfellow parents who might read this, or really for anyone interested in the redistricting process underway in the ICCSD.

1. Contrary to rumors, Twain does have an ELP program, it’s quite an active one. Twain teachers also do a great job on differentiation in the classroom, providing challenging work for students that need it whether they’re in that program or not.

2. While the proposed change does mean that some families would travel farther to a new school, they distance they would travel is not greater than many families travel now to both Twain and Longfellow. If traveling that distance is in fact the hardship that the flyer claims, why is it ok for other families to make that trek now, but not for families affected by this change?

3. Similarly, the flyer greatly overstates the actual distance between Twain and Longfellow for rhetorical effect, in several places. Many homes within the proposed area are equidistant or nearly so from both schools. A small few are actually closer to Twain.

4. The flyer claims that there is no data available to support the idea that this change would increase socioeconomic diversity at Twain. This is not true. In fact, if you go to the ICCSD website and look at the proposed boundary changes map, and the FRL density map, the effect is clear.

5. The flyer claims that there are “certainly” ways that the goal of achieving economic diversity can be achieved without making this particular change. Yet, despite this certainty, no alternate plans are suggested. If this is the case, I will be happy to see people show up at the meeting on Thursday and propose their own changes, as long as those plans don’t require people less affluent than those in the affected zone to travel even farther, or change schools more than one time.

6. The suggestion in the flyer that families who currently own their homes in this area would rather sell and relocate than send their kids to Twain, thus “decimating” the UniverCity housing program, is both hyperbolic and, frankly, insulting. Please ask Twain parents about their experiences with Twain and its teachers before making such a claim.

7. The flyer claims that this change would undermine the Longfellow neighborhood, but conveniently defines “the Longfellow neighborhood” as Longfellow’s current attendance zone.

8. The flyer implicitly and in some places explicitly argues that “walkability” for those residents affected by the change, and for those lucky enough to live close to a school, is more important than socioeconomic diversity and the need to alleviate the barriers imposed by concentrations of poverty within any school. Is this really where our values lie as a community or as a neighborhood large enough that it contains both schools? Given the choice do we really value walkability for a few more than integration and opportunity for all?

Author: Eric D. Johnson

I do American Studies (PhD University of Iowa 2012) scholarship, including but not limited to: Race and Genre in American Popular Music, Critical Southern Studies, and African American Memory and History in the Ozarks. I also write about educational policy and politics, focusing on integration and desegregation and the intersection of school and housing policies.

6 thoughts on “Walkability, Integration, Misinformation”

  1. You should get your facts straight and meet with the city, I did. I’m not against the diversity policy. Based on income, census data says that the neighborhood being moved to Twain is in one of the poorest neighborhoods. Also, there are groups who are on the FRL program that are not counted in Longfellow’s data.

    Among the groups that are bussed in is Walnut Ridge, which according to census data, is one of the richest neighborhoods. I am not against diversity. I’m arguing that there are rich kids who get bussed past other schools to go to Longfellow while kids near Longfellow will be forced to leave. People who move close to schools should be able to walk to the school, not past it to go to another school.

    I have found many cities that have tried forced bussing and it has not worked-Boston, Milwaukee, St Louis, Witchia KS to name a few. I could not find any city that forced kids to be shuffled around every few years that had success.

    You obviously do not walk you kids to school. Some of us who are not as fortune enough know the hardships of not having a car. There are some in the neighborhood who do not own cars and have no option but to walk their kids to school. Those people should be allowed to stay where they are when other kids already being bussed could be sent to the alternate school instead.

  2. HI LN: RN is correct, Walnut Ridge goes to Bourlag, not Longfellow. I think you probably mean Windsor Ridge. In principle, I totally agree: the burden of any change like this should be on the more affluent families, but that doesn’t really help us in this situation, for a few reasons.

    One is that Windsor Ridge is much, much farther from Twain than it is even from Longfellow, so these kids would be bussed farther from a closer school, past Longfellow to Twain. In principle that might be ok, but its really hard to build an attendance zone that makes that make sense, since part of what the Diversity Policy does is it eliminates “islands” on one school’s attendance in the middle of another school’s zone. A bigger reason though is that Windsor Ridge is slated to go to the East Elementary when it opens, which would be a walkable school for them. So, either they’d move twice, meaning we’d have to further adjust Twain’s zone (or Wood’s or any of the other schools in the current cluster 2) when they got pulled out, or that, if they stayed, they would be bussed away from their walkable schools and past at least one and I think maybe two other elementary schools, to wind up at a third. I do think that kids are far more easily adaptable to moves than some DP opponents think, and I agree with the principle that the moves should be made by those who are most able to make them, but I also don’t think that this would be sustainable. It just goes too far in the directions that the DP critics think the whole policy goes.

    Also, the point of the policy is not to necessarily increase FRL populations at schools where its low, its to reduce them at schools where its concentrated. That will happen as a side effect of implementation, but its not a main purpose. That might be, in terms of actual policy, a weakness. It would probably engender even more opposition though, realistically. Some of this we can do in the school system, because its a serious problem and we need to make progress on it. Some of it is going to have to come through efforts towards inclusionary housing in all of the communities in the ICCSD.

    I don’t really see that the area in question, on the Twain/Longfellow border, is “one of the poorest.” Maybe in the current Longfellow zone? Its definitely not one of the poorest in the Twain or Wood zones, and the section along the West side of Summit is fairly affluent, for what that’s worth. More to the point, the kids in this section don’t have to travel as far from the North as some kids from much less affluent areas have to currently travel to Twain from the South. Kids make that Trek to Twain across Highway 6 every single day. I know, I’ve run walking school busses across Highway 6, and worked with the city to get the timing on the light adjusted so that kids had time to get across. As long as that’s true, I have a hard time taking these complaints in the Longfellow Flyer as seriously as the authors want people to.

    On a related note, I don’t think census data is the best guide here, since what you’re trying to get a handle on is the economic balance of the school population. If you take a look at the FRL heat maps on the district website, and compare the area to the North of Twain/West of Longfellow with the areas to the South of Twain, you get a better comparison of what’s going on here. The maps just show location intensity, not houses or school zones, because student confidentiality has to be protected. But you can roughly compare these two areas. And, if you look at the changes to the borders on the other map, you can also see that the current draft does reduce the distance that the least affluent students have to walk.

    I don’t know why its obvious that i don’t walk my kid to school. In fact, I’m lucky enough that I can, and lucky enough that I have a car and don’t have to if we’re running late. I understand that’s a privileged position. But like I said upstream, what’s being asked of these families here is less than what we already ask of other people in the district with less means. Like those folks, I think that these families will be up to the challenge, and I think that they’ll discover a great school in the process.

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