Who is at fault when schools fail? School reformers say “Teachers” or “Rule Bound School Districts”. The Tampa Bay Times is running a series on something much more basic. Using examples of five of the worst failing schools in Florida, the authors cite the decline of these schools since the 2007 decision to abolish the school integration plan in Pinellas County. At the time, promises were made but not kept.Pinellas is not alone in having de facto segregated schools. Once busing was eliminated, housing patterns dictated that local neighborhood schools would be much more segregated. Achievement levels began to decline. I looked up the 2007 plan in Pinellas and found a timeline of changes from the forced integration of schools in 1961 until 2007. A similar timeline is also included for Hillsborough County. Perhaps the most striking feature of the timelines is how recently the resegregation began.
The argument made by the Tampa Bay Times article is that Pinellas simply ignored the impact on these five schools that had once been integrated. The district had promised support but not delivered it. The current superintendent now has plans to turn three of the five schools into magnet programs to attract a more balanced student body. He is hiring counselors, teacher aides and family liaisons.
Will any of these measures be enough? The schools are in real trouble, and it is not all due to poverty. The Times reported that there are 184 Florida schools as poor or poorer than these five Pinellas schools. All but seven outscored them academically. Other districts have more comprehensive approaches:
- Broward has a computer system that identifies and tracks ‘at risk’ students.
- Duval is raising $50 million to attract better teachers and plans $20,000 bonuses. (Are these TFA positions?)
- Orange County has an office for minority affairs that tracks discipline, trains teachers, and oversees remediation in Algebra and reading.
- Palm Beach trains administrators to be sensitive to discrimination issues.
Many districts like Alachua County have allocated Title I funds and categorical funds to expand the school day for reading remediation. Magnet schools also have reduced segregation in some school districts. Piecemeal approaches, however, are not enough. The achievement gap narrowed after schools were integrated and widened again with resegregation. The ETS paper: The Black-White Achievement Gap: When Progress stopped is a data driven analysis of the decrease in the gap from the early 70s until the late 80s when the gap began to increase along with ‘white flight to the suburbs’.
School reform efforts to improve achievement with competition from charter schools and tax credit private school scholarships do not work. They only increase segregation. What will work is not clear. We can see what was working in the past and ask why we changed course.
The political will to have unified, equitable school systems is crucial. Without public resolve, districts can do little. The consequences of continuing to privatize schools are emerging. Separate and unequal may be the result.