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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in School choice

As is often the case, a recent PPTA conference paper helped set the agenda - with headlines in newspapers up and down the country in recent times about ‘white flight’ and the increasing segregation of our schools. And they’re right to be concerned.

We identified a real problem in that paper, one that is widely agreed upon, but as is so often the way, the solutions to it are not straight forward at all.  

NZ has entrenched school choice– and many people on both side of the political spectrum would be loath to reverse it entirely and insist on strict zoning, and the complete removal of schools of choice (like kura a iwi, Catholic integrated, Steiner schools etc…). But even with a (probably impossible) return to strict zoning, as a result of the economic and social divisions within cities we would still to a large extent have segregated schools.  

So, what can be done? Probably the best answer, and certainly the one that would contribute most to equity, is to make the schools that are currently the least desirable for aspirational families much more so – and without a doubt this involves resourcing. Even the inequity in school buildings and grounds contributes – Auckland Grammar’s plan to raise millions from their exclusive network to build a new block that will cost around double what a regular school would spend on a similar space is a classic example – at the same time as half empty schools to the south struggle with outdated and run-down buildings and grounds.

In the US they have been struggling with desegregating schools for decades. In a system where school choice is generally less entrenched (except in charter school districts, which brings in rafts of other problems) options such as mass busing of students from one area to another has been a common place practice – similar in some ways to what happens in Auckland already, but for the opposite purpose (mixing schools up instead of making them more homogenous). This can happen because of local school boards controlling entry to schools.

I recently read a response to the awful Time Magazine cover story on teacher tenure and in there was an interesting answer. Recognising the importance of schools as a place for students to mix with, and learn from, students of different ethnicities and cultures, some districts deliberately set up their school rolls to reflect the make-up of their wider community. (There also is an element of choice in the example discussed here, as families can rank their preferred schools, and are then placed by the district.)

Thinking about this then – perhaps something that schools could aim for, and talk to parents about is reflecting the cultural makeup of their community – not just the suburb they are in (as it’s unlikely students will spend their whole lives in their little suburb) – but at least the wider area that they are in- say the local authority area, or the Ministry of Education region? Maybe even, at a smaller scale, Communities of Schools could work on this goal – to be reflective of the community. Is this something that the Ministry’s regional offices or ERO talks to schools about? I’ve never heard of it – and in our devolved system, many principals would probably take affront.

 

I’d be interested to know which schools are around that already reflect this – noting that the demographics of young people are different from the whole population. At least it might be something that the journalists busy ranking schools by their results could helpfully consider doing.

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