“A Very Different Elementary School”

I have a number of longer posts brewing, but this should be short enough to dash off.  Unfortunately, it’s not very sweet.

Today at lunch, I was sitting next to some co-workers discussing househunting.  One was excited about a house they’re looking at in Coralville.  After running through a list of (mostly good) qualities of the house itself, the speaker offered this final point:

“And, best of all, this one is right around the corner from Coralville Central Elementary!  The other one was near Kirkwood.  That’s a very different elementary school.”

Kirkwood Elementary is one of the 5 high poverty elementary schools in the ICCSD.  Its the only one of these in Coralville, and the only Elementary school in Coralville with a significant racial minority population. The words “very different elementary school” were accompanied by the kind of head-slightly-downward-and-eyebrows-raised look that says “this is significant and you know why.” Every person at the table was white. The speaker was dressed professionally.  The conversation indicated they had some latitude in choosing where to live, but that money was still a consideration.

I’m not writing this to demonize the speaker in this overheard conversation.  I’m not interested in parsing whether the person making this statement “is” racist or classist.  People share  ideas and fears and worries among friends that don’t reflect their best selves, and these words were not meant for a stranger’s ears.  My interest is the words themselves, though  I don’t want to oversell their evidentiary value, since this is clearly just an anecdote.  But, if I were looking for a textbook example of the kind of decision making that leads to high poverty schools remaining so or getting worse over time, I’d certainly have found one here.

I’m noting this here on the blog not only because segregation and integration in the ICCSD are core concerns, but also because there was some discussion of the Demographic imbalances between schools in the district at the Board meeting last week.  As these discussions continue, its helpful for all involved to remember that the demographics of our school zones are not a steady-state phenomenon, and that we need an active policy approach to keep ordinary people’s ordinary decision making from making these disparities worse.

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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.

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