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The Seattle School District's new school assignment plan, put into action two years ago and intended to cut costs and alleviate confusion, appears to be working - meaning Seattle-area schools are starting to better reflect the demographics of where they're found. Predictably, this development means some schools have become whiter, just like the neighborhoods they call home.
mikebaird via Creative Commons
According to the Times:
The analysis indicated a substantial loss of diversity at Alki, Arbor Heights (in Southwest Seattle), Sacajawea (Maple Leaf), Gatewood (West Seattle) and Greenwood elementaries and McClure Middle School (Queen Anne). Each saw a spike in white students.
Racial balance rose at Leschi, North Beach (Northwest Seattle) and McGilvra (Madison Park) elementaries. Two of those saw a jump in students of color while Leschi was already heavily minority and got closer to average by getting more white students.
Parents at schools in each category said they have noticed the shifts.
Seattle's old plan allowed students to apply to any school in the district, with decisions on who would go where made based on factors like whether a sibling already attended the desired school and the student's proximity. The new neighborhood method, unanimously approved by the School Board in 2009, assigns students to the school they live near (with a few loopholes), and has so far been phased in, with only a school's incoming grades affected.
Predictably, Seattle School District officials call the plan a success in the Times' story, "pointing to skyrocketing enrollment and some $1.4 million in transportation-cost reductions, with more savings expected," as noted by staff reporters Brian M. Rosenthal and Justin Mayo.
Of course, there was a vision behind the old plan's madness - a vision acknowledging the value of diversity in Seattle's schools. This, after all, is a district that was at the forefront of big city busing in the 1970s, and a district that went all the way to the Supreme Court to defend its school assignment "racial tiebreaker," a diversity-driven mandate eventually ruled unconstitutional in 2007.
These days, however, the District's talking points have shifted away from mentions of diversity and integration, and toward the overall quality of education provided. This, School Board President Michael DeBell tells the Times, is what parents are really concerned with.
"I believe that parents and taxpayers want us to have consistent academic achievement, much more than they're seeking diversity," DeBell is quoted as saying.
More from the Times:
District officials also acknowledge they have changed their thinking on the contentious topic of integrating schools, saying it's not because they no longer value diversity but that busing became an expense the district can no longer afford.
They say they are focusing instead on educating students where they live, trying to boost the quality of schools in poorer parts of town so they are just as good as the ones in wealthier neighborhoods.
Of course, if that was a simple feat one assumes the District, and similar school districts across the country, would have tackled it by now.