Do-Nothing

This is more of a hot-take than I usually like to do here, but well, I’m pretty hot about this.  The ICCSD BoE Education Committee last night voted not to ask the full board to implement the Weighted Resource Allocation Model for the upcoming school year.  The WRAM would allocate more teachers (leading to lower class sizes) and other resources to high poverty schools.  Smaller classes are one of the few resource allocations that have been found to consistently increase achievement for poor and minority students.  In a year when class sizes are going to go up all over, because of inadequate state funding, its utterly crucial that poor students, students who don’t have the myriad advantages of those who come from middle class and affluent families not be asked to take the brunt of the impact. And its utterly cowardly to not even have the full board consider this.

For years, as some of us have struggled to integrate school attendance zones in the ICCSD and reduce the tremendous disparities in wealth between zones, the counter-reply has been “no, don’t change any boundaries, just move more resources.”  In this regard, using the WRAM to allocate more teachers to high poverty schools is critical in two regards.  One is that it provides immediate relief, giving the kids in high-poverty schools a fair shake while the deadlock over integration continues.  And, because the zero-sum game of Iowa education funding means that this would lead to larger classes in more affluent schools, it imposes a cost on the continued failure to integrate.  Not a cost on the students, as the effect of larger classes on middle class and affluent students has been found to be minimal, but a cost on the middle class parents who will be horrified at the notion that doing something about the race and class-based achievement gap in a public school system might require them to put some skin in the game. We’ve had a lot of talk about “moving resources and not students” in this district.  Lets see what the walk looks like.

So, in the last few weeks, a significant portion of this board’s membership has:

*started working to undo secondary boundaries that were set expressly to provide demographic balance between the (soon to be 3) high schools.

*Refused to work on elementary boundaries that were slated to be considered, and which would provide opportunities to redress long-standing disparities.

*Refused to let the WRAM go forward for consideration by the full board for the 2016-2017 school year.

I should acknowledge that there is some complexity behind these details, but overall this is an unconscionable failure.  Members of this board seem paralyzed in the face of any decision that might be controversial at all, arguing that it could be overturned by a future board, or that it could endanger the upcoming GO Bond vote.  I’d argue, and will later at length, that refusing to make solid plans, refusing to direct the district towards an integrated and sustainable future, and refusing to address long-standing disparities that endanger educational equity for poor and minority students is the real recipe for failure.  And that’s what we have cooking now.

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