Today’s Bay Area page of The New York Times carries a news story on the student assignment redesign plan (full disclosure: the article is authored by Jesse McKinley, whom I knew many years ago when I worked at the newspaper, but I was not interviewed by him). It’s generally my experience that it is frustrating when the news media covers a topic in which I happen to be expert or intimately involved — so many fine points are left out or glossed over! The piece today is no exception.
Take, for one thing, the comments attributed to my friend and neighbor Michele Menegaz, the current chair of our Parent Advisory Council. She’s quoted as saying:
I’ll be honest with you; we’re really frustrated . . . We’re really concerned that what’s being put forward now doesn’t reflect the best of our research and it doesn’t reflect the needs the community expressed.
What members of the Parent Advisory Council (PAC) are concerned about is the fact that the system as proposed may place more emphasis on “local preference” — a priority for the school located in the attendance area where the applicant lives — than parent choices. In addition, the PAC has expressed frustration that most of the debate has centered on which children should attend which schools, rather than building quality schools across the city. The report they issued to the Board earlier this month is eloquent on both of these issues, and I think the Times article should have spent more time discussing why the PAC is frustrated — especially when you consider other voices represented in the article.
Specifically, Marina parent Zach Berkowitz (also an aquaintance of mine) is quoted as saying that the Board is failing to make education a central topic in the school assignment redesign. The reporter encountered Mr. Berkowitz at Wednesday’s Committee of the Whole on student assignment, when he (Mr. Berkowitz) gave public comment to the board advocating for a return to neighborhood schools. Mr. Berkowitz expressed the same frustration to me privately after the meeting, but I pointed out to him that the Board HAS spent significant time looking into educational quality at segregated schools.
All of the data we’ve examined over the past year has indicated that when the concentration of African-American, Latino and Samoan students at a school rises above 60 percent, indicators of school quality often suffer. Those indicators include teacher satisfaction and turnover, API score, and discipline issues. I have consistently said that student assignment is not the only factor, nor even the most important factor in addressing educational quality at low-performing schools, but our data has also consistently indicated that school composition IS a factor. So I am dismissive of the same old complaint that the Board is ignoring “education” and instead engaging in some irrelevant kind of “social engineering.”
Anyway, the larger point is that both Ms. Menegaz and Mr. Berkowitz are used as evidence in the article that people are discontented with the new plan, but each person’s favored alternative to the staff proposal is diametrically opposed to the other’s. In other words, if we were to make Ms. Menegaz happier, Mr. Berkowitz would be even more frustrated, and vice versa. <sarcasm>Clearly, the redesign effort has worked beautifully, since apparently no one is happy with the current proposal. </sarcasm>