Oh how cute: a blog war with an anonymous Facebook page.

Several of the people in the ICCSD political arena have decided that the best way for them to influence policy is by running anonymous Facebook pages.  The first was the long-running “North Corridor Parents,” which has always claimed to be simply an information-disseminating page, but has a pretty distinct editorial slant, and which has even taken to endorsing candidates.  I’m not sure how that works with their stated mission, or why anyone should care about the endorsement of someone(s) who won’t actually reveal who they are, but hey, its a thing I guess.

The latest entry into this sweepstakes of fail is The ICCSD Monitor: Keeping an Eye on SES Integration In the Iowa City Community School District While Holding Down A Job As A Private Wrestling Tutor For Families Who Can Afford Private Athletics Lessons.  Actually, that’s not the name of it, or at least the last part of the name isn’t accurate.  You probably guessed that though.

I made the mistake of commenting on a thread on that page, mainly because I’m frustrated with a seriously inaccurate revisionist history that’s been floating around.  There are 3 main parts to this history: (1) that there are multiple, easy opportunities for economically desegregating the school district on the elementary level, (2) the people who have been advocating for the 2015 secondary boundaries either have not made any efforts to change those boundaries or have actively worked against them being changed, so (C) therefore they don’t actually care about socioeconomic integration, they are just trying to keep poor people and minorities out of City High.

Now, I can’t speak for every person who ever advocated for that 2015 plan, but I know that (1) is categorically untrue, and that (2) is at least very largely untrue, especially the second half, and that (3) is a spurious attack that would carry little weight even if (2) were true.  Its an attempt to discredit valid arguments about the benefits of SES desegregation of schools by casting doubt on the motivations of the people making those arguments.

So, this is pretty frustrating, especially when shadows of it come out in supposedly respectable venues, such as when Director Chris Liebig characterizes that plan as a plan to remove poor people and minorities from City High, ignoring the fact that the motions and adjustments that he and Directors Roetlin, Hemingway, and (then-Director) Yates made effectively removed a large number of poor people and minorities from Liberty High.* The latter effect, notably has no visible advocates in the ICCSD political circus, though I suspect that a small portion of the advocacy that invokes the transportation burdens of families at Kirkwood and Alexander (burdens not relieved under either plan, as I discussed here) is actually intended to achieve this end.  But that’s just a suspicion.  And, importantly, the fact that this is an unspoken aim of some of those advocates shouldn’t be taken as establishing anything about the character and intentions of the people sincerely advocating out of concern for some of the poorest families in the district. I would hope that it makes them re-think the effects that their advocacy might have on those families, but that’s all.

So, being frustrated with all of this, I posted a comment on a thread calling this out.  The anonymous admin commented back.  I answered him (he’s a him) and posted a link to an entry on my other blog, which I use just to keep track of links to online articles and sources of information. Since then, he’s replied multiple times, attempting to address some of the points made in the articles on my other blog.  I’m not taking the bait.  I’m not going to engage in a dialog with an anonymous FB page.  But, I may pick that dialog up here.  Because of this, I wanted a reference post for those replies, and that’s largely what this is.

*Regarding the title of Director Liebig’s editorial there, yes it should, at least as much as it listens to others.  But, low income families across the district don’t speak in a uniform, homogenized voice, and the voices that he is responding to don’t even necessarily speak for the bulk of the low income families at the two schools in question.

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Non-Solutions: The May 10 Boundary Adjustments don’t solve the problems that Claussen, Liebig, Hemingway, and Roetlin claim they do.

One of the questions at the heart of the special school board election is the question of secondary boundaries that the current 6-member board is deadlocked on. Paul Roesler and Janice Weiner favor the boundaries adopted last year after lengthy community input.  These boundaries create something close to a demographic balance by class, and a less-dramatic balance by race, between all three comprehensive high schools in the district.
Candidate JP Claussen favors the adjustments made mid-meeting on a 4-3 vote on May 10th of this year. (It was after this vote that Director Tom Yates, whose campaign Claussen had managed, suddenly left the board, forcing the district to undertake a costly special election.)  Those boundaries would have Liberty High opening as an overwhelmingly white and affluent school, in comparison to the other two schools.

The previous plan created this rough balance by sending two of our highest poverty schools (Kirkwood and Alexander) and two of our lowest poverty schools (Wickham and Lincoln) to secondary feeders that are slightly more distant than their nearest school. Claussen (and current directors Liebig, Hemingway, and Roetlin) argue that we shouldn’t do this because the distance creates an undue burden on those Kirkwood and Alexander families, based on complaints from an unknown number of parents at those schools.  While I would always urge us to listen to the voices of parents at high poverty schools, like the one my child attends, I don’t think that these objections should determine the policy here, and I want to lay out some reasons why.

One thing that I want to make explicit is that the points below about the May 10th changes should be read in dialog with the premise that socioeconomic and racial integration has distinct benefits for every student in the district. There is much research supporting this. So, the arguments below aren’t just criticisms of the May 10 changers, they are arguments that the supposed benefits of those changes are poor trade-offs for the loss of such a benefit.

1. The issue of inadequate transportation to school is serious, and distance is an unfair burden on these families, but the changes made on May 10th don’t actually do anything meaningful to reduce that burden. Both schools are outside of comfortable walking distance to their closest feeders. Families in both zones would be bus-dependent under both scenarios.  Shortening their bus ride by 5 minutes won’t change that.  And in fact, since some of the families in question live within the 3-mile automatic busing radius of their closest feeders, sending them to one slightly farther away guarantees them busing to school that they might not otherwise have.

I want to stop here and do a double take, because it might be the most important of the points I want to make: while distance does create a real burden on families without reliable transportation, the supposed solution here does not actually ease that burden in a significant way, and in fact will increase it in some cases.

2. Regarding Kirkwood, specifically, the argument has been made that there’s no public transportation in North Liberty, where Liberty High is located.  This is true, but I think its significance is vastly overstated.  Taking public transportation to West from the Kirkwood area requires riding a bus to downtown Iowa City and then taking another bus from there to West High.  I suppose that, as long as its possible that this could happen, its wrong to absolutely say that it doesn’t.  But, former Northwest Junior High principal (and current West High principal) Gregg Shoutz has stated in public meetings that its not a resource that Kirkwood families draw upon with any regularity. Moreover, it seems much preferable to me that we demand that North Liberty create a public transportation system–something that would benefit its residents in many ways–instead of demanding that we compromise the educational opportunities of many students in the district.

3. Repeatedly in public statements JP Claussen and directors Liebig, Roetlin, and Hemingway have argued that they represent the interests of Kirkwood and Alexander parents as a whole, or that they represent the families that attend those schools with the least access to transportation.  The first claim is untrue, as neither school’s population is entirely unified on the question, and the second is unverifiable.  In fact, we don’t really, in the public arena, have any hard information about what percentage of the population of each school is making these complaints.  Some kind of quantification here would be helpful in determining what is or isn’t at stake in this trade off.

4. While the distances between these elementary zones and their high school destinations don’t differ much between the two plans, the distances to the Junior Highs are a concern.  This is particularly true of Kirkwood, which sits literally right next to Northwest Junior High, West’s feeder, but is a good distance from North Central, which feeds to Liberty.  Because of this, the original boundaries allowed Kirkwood students to choose which Junior High they would attend.  I think that similar modifications for Alexander, and perhaps for another feeder that would split between city and liberty, would make this set up less unique and make the entire plan more palatable, while still maintaining overall demographic balance at the high school level.

5. Advocates for the May 10 boundaries have repeatedly argued that low income students will be barred from participating in extracurricular activities under the previous boundaries.  They fail to notice that Hills is more distant from City and West than either of these schools are from their previous destinations, but has been assigned at different times to both City and West.  There have been no reports of Hills students being barred from extracurricular participation to my knowledge.

6. Advocates for the May 10 boundaries are fond of saying that it achieves demographic balance “at the expense of poor people” or asking when we will bus affluent kids to distant schools.  In doing so, they neglect the fact that Wickham and Lincoln were bused to more distant schools under the those borders, and that the May 10th changes threaten our ability to maintain that, by creating crowding at City and West and in their associated Junior Highs.

7. JP Claussen has argued that, rather than trying to create balanced attendance zones we should achieve demographic balance on the secondary level by  making each high school a kind of magnet, with specialized curricula, and allowing a greater degree of parental choice.  This actually deserves to be unpacked more fully, and I intend to do that, but here I want to note one of the problems with such an effort: it would require busing on a much larger and much more expensive scale than anything contemplated previously, and families without dependable transportation would be faced with much more dramatic distances to school than anything contemplated in last year’s borders.  Imagine that you’re in the Twain zone, and Liberty is a stem-focused campus and you wish to attend.  How much does it cost to make sure every kid like that has busing to the school of their choice?  What are the options for a family like that if they miss the bus?

In general, this last point underscores my worries about Claussen’s candidacy.  He has much enthusiasm for ideas that are noble and interesting, but seems unwilling to delve into the implications of specific policy proposals.  This is particularly problematic given that he would be the deciding vote on the question of secondary boundaries considered here.

Busing, Neighborhood Schools, and Quotas: Anti-Integration Rhetoric Making a Comeback in the ICCSD

As always, events continue apace with little or no consideration of whether or not I have time to right about them. I’ve been meaning to do a comprehensive post about the ICCSD School Board’s struggle with secondary boundaries, but matters pertaining to that keep coming up while that post is still under construction.

In a nutshell: last year, the Board set a secondary boundary plan in place that created a relative demographic balance of wealth, English Language Learner status, and special education status between all three comprehensive secondary schools in the district. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, (more on that later) but it was based on an extensive community input process and much board deliberation, and measures were put in place to ease the burdens of some low income students.  This May, a group of four board members approved a series of motions overturning key parts of that boundary plan, essentially creating a new set of secondary boundaries mid-meeting, while asking the superintendent for on-the-spot calculations regarding the demographic outcomes.  Unsurprisingly, this plan greatly increases the wealth and race-based disparities between the secondary schools in the district.

One of those four board members, Phil Hemingway, has a Letter to the Editor in today’s Daily Iowan.  It doesn’t specifically address the secondary boundary plan by name, but, the board is deadlocked 3-3 on this plan until next week’s Special Election, and the major point of contention in that deadlock is the question of whether two high-poverty schools (Alexander and Kirkwood) should feed into high schools slightly farther than those closest to them. Given this, its hard to see it as anything but a comment on that matter.

There’s really a lot in Phil’s letter that needs disputing, from the conflation of boundary changes for integration as busing, to the overstating of the costs of busing, to the implicit claim that sending extra resources into high poverty schools is as effective and as cost-effective as integrating them.  But what really sticks out to me on first reading is Phil’s use of language.  What’s below started out as a comment on the article itself online.  I’m adapting it here to include some references and to make it more cohesive.

Phil Hemingway’s use of words like “busing,” neighborhood schools” and “quotas is pure Nixonism.  A recent article in slate delves into how “controversies over “forced busing” [have] allowed racist school policies to persist in the north.” The term “neighborhood schools” itself was originally coined and popularized rhetorically in the fight against school integration, as a kinder, gentler way of saying “segregated schools.”  Phil’s reference to “quotas” is similarly drawn from the struggle to resist affirmative action. Iowa City liberals and progressives should have enough sense of history to do more than smile and nod when Phil says stuff like this.
 
It’s also worth noting that, per my nutshell explanation earlier, what the Board is currently at a standstill on is secondary boundaries. Its impossible for any one of the 3 high schools or 3 junior highs in the district to be a “neighborhood school” for anything but the tiniest minority of students whose families are lucky enough to own property very close to the school. Phil’s support of boundaries that increase the disparities between secondary schools has nothing to do with “neighborhood schools.”
 
The weighted resource model that Phil favors in his letter is a good partial solution. But not only does it perpetuate segregation in the long run if its used as the only solution, its simply not practical or politically sustainable in the long run. Making the class sizes small enough to do any good in high poverty schools depends on having enough available classrooms, which is not always the case. And, because we have to use state-allocated money to pay teachers, we can only make those classes so small, and in doing so, the class sizes in affluent schools will go up. As an outcome, that’s fine. But its highly unlikely to be politically sustainable, as parents in those affluent schools have more time and money to organize and advocate for their schools than parents in high poverty schools.
 
As a board member and a longtime school finance watchdog, Phil Hemingway should understand the mechanics and the politics of school funding well enough to see the flaws in such an approach.  As a community, we should have a deep enough sense of history to hear what’s going on in the rhetoric that he is using and reject it.  I wish I was more confident that either of these things was likely to happen.

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.

Hot Potato!

As always seems to happen, I thought I had time to develop some extended thoughts on something, and then all at once, little components of that something start sparking issues that I want to comment on.  In this case, the extended thought is about the multipronged strategy that the ICCSD BoE adopted in September to try to address Diversity Policy goals, and the new maps for the schools surrounding Archibald Alexander that are associated with that approach.

One prong of this strategy is a letter sent to the Municipalities within the ICCSD, asking each and the County to “codify policies regarding inclusionary zoning, re-invest in areas of our community where there is socio-economic isolation, and place restrictions and rental units and rental density.”  I’d like to eventually discuss the promises and pitfalls of this tactic in general, but that’ll have to wait.  The letter’s been sent, and according to this report in the Press-Citizen, was discussed at the Joint Governance Board on Monday.  And there, Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek, the most helpful member of the RGB quoted, offers a comment that’s deeply ironic in light of the Board’s approval of a map that makes almost no changes in the economic demographics in the schools in the Southernmost tip of the ICCSD:

Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek said from his city’s perspective, housing is a regional issue that requires a regional approach. But he said such a discussion will be a lengthy one, and he hopes it doesn’t distract from the importance of the district implementing the diversity policy in the meantime.

“I don’t know if our children can wait that long,” Hayek said.

So, it comes down to this.  The district says “We can’t implement the Diversity Policy until the municipalities make some changes to housing policy, so, we’ll go ahead and approve this map, which makes every school south of Kirkwood Avenue a high-poverty school for the next 5 years, and we’ll send them a letter.  And, in response, the executive from the most immediately helpful municipality says “Well, that’s great, but it will probably take us a while to do anything about it, so I sure hope you all move forward with implementing the Diversity Policy instead of waiting on us!

Really.  Its like a big game of Hot Potato! but with the education of our poorest kids in our poorest schools at stake.

ICCSD Letter to the Municipalities

There are probably simpler ways to do this, but in future columns I am going to need an online linkable reference to this letter, which the ICCSD sent to the associated municipalities that are included in it.  So I’m posting it’s text here, without comment, although I did clean up the typo.
To:
Matt Hayek, Mayor of Iowa City
Gerry Kuhl, Mayor of North Liberty
Tim Kemp, Mayor of Hills
John Lundell, Mayor of Coralville
Louise From, Mayor of University Heights
Terrence Neuzil, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors

Dear Elected Officials:

We are writing today on behalf of the Iowa City Community School District Board of Directors. At the September 9, 201 Board Meeting, the Board of Directors voted to direct the District to contact the municipalities served by the Iowa City Community School District regarding the housing patterns and city and county housing regulations that impact the District. Specifically, the Iowa City Community School District Board of Directors would respectfully ask that each municipality and the county codify policies regarding inclusionary zoning, re-invest in areas of our community where there is socio-economic isolation, and place restrictions and rental units and rental density.

We understand that the main responsibility of the school system is to educate all children living within our community. We also understand that it is our local municipal governments’ responsibility to manage residential growth. While we are cognizant of the fact that it is not within the scope of the District’s duties to instruct municipalities on housing patterns and zoning regulations, we do know that these decisions have a direct impact on our educational system. Too often, the District is left trying to navigate a contradictory set of zoning regulations in an attempt to best plan for educating the students of one district who reside in six different municipal communities.

We are reaching out in hopes we can address the zoning and housing discrepancies in our community from a collective standpoint and can work together toward a unified solution. The District believes that there is the potential for a better approach that provides greater eneit to our entire community and specifically to our students.

Change of this magnitude will not take place overnight. As a first step, the District requests that each community codify inclusionary zoning in municipal planning. The District would suggest that the municipalities then formulate a joint task force to consider the needs of the community. The District is enthusiastic about being a part of this solution. We look forward to hearing about your work in this area and appreciate your collaboration as we work to educate the students of our community.
Sincerely,

Chris Lynch
Board President

Steve F. Murley
Superintendent of Schools

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?