Monday, September 18, 2006

The Other Districting Problem

Because this story in the washington Post over the weekend has a personal connection (in that my family is considering a move to Urbana), I thought it was interesting.

In many posts in this space, I have railed against the mechanisms by which political districts are drawn, decrying everything from majority-minority districts, to various efforts at redistricting reform and how the Voting Rights Act plays the role of an obstacle. But in reality, the way in which school district lines are drawn can have massive reprecussions for many students. Now the difference in the quality between Urbana Elementary and Centerville Elementary schools are probably more rooted in facility age than in anything else, that may not always be the case in school districting issues.

Given that the movement of a school district line from one side of a street to another can mean a great deal in some cases, the fact that parents get all riled up is not surprising. a district line that puts your child in a poorer quality school is likely to a cause for moving as getting a new job. All of which creates a death spiral as far as school quality, no matter how it is defined, goes. Kids with parents who can, leave the school's district for greener pastures. The school gets neglected because those who reamin lack the political efficacy of the motivated parents who move. Teach quality declines, teh facility deteriorates and the school slides further down the quality ranknigs.

Of course, some measures can be taken to arrest the slide. But a wholesale change in schooling would probably do more as schools that are more responsive to market forces (yes that is a euphamism for school choice, would be able to retain students no matter where the district lines are drawn. As Sara Mead noted:
Call me naive, or maybe one-note, but I have to wonder if these situations wouldn't be a bit easier if schools let parents choose their schools and differentiated the educational programs to balance demand. Of course, I realize this approach would have complications of its own.
Perhaps it does have complications, but I am willing to accept those complications.

No comments: