For all its charms and its rich history, Rochester is not known for being bold when it comes to social change—not since the abolitionists and suffragists called our city home in the 19th century.
A lot of people here recognize the need for change if we are to reverse the effects of decades of concentrated poverty on our neighborhoods and our city schools. But when it comes to giving up bad old ideas for better new ideas, we freeze.
At Great Schools for All, we see and hear this all the time. Most people now agree that socioeconomically diverse schools are the best tool for improving the odds for academic success for the poorest kids —and the best tool for teaching all kids, including those who are pretty affluent, how to collaborate in an increasingly diverse world.
But when it comes to taking that first step…
Here’s a little encouragement. On June 19, The New York Times ran a story under the headline: “Dallas schools, long segregated, charge forward on diversity.”
Yes, Dallas. My colleague Don Pryor wrote a blog on the Dallas initiative last September, noting its early successes and noting that our Great Schools parent survey from last spring found strong support among city and suburban parents for diverse schools. There is every reason to believe that Monroe County parents would welcome the discussion of interdistrict schools—if our leaders would take that first step.
The Dallas superintendent, Michael Hinojosa, is a native who lived through a failed integration campaign in Dallas in the early ’70s. But the experience did not sour him one bit.
Hinojosa has inherited a plan developed two years ago by his predecessor. The goal is to open 35 new schools by 2020, drawing a 50-50 mix of poor and more affluent students and enticing some wealthier families back into the city.
It’s a heavy lift and progress is slow. But the commitment is real.
“Every major city in America has to find some way to deal with this issue,” Hinojosa told the Times. “When you have a mix of kids, the affluent kids don’t suffer and the children of intergenerational poverty do better.”
Dallas has launched “innovation schools,” which try to improve neighborhood schools with new curriculum such as International Baccalaureate. Test scores are up somewhat in these schools, but the districts hasn’t had much luck attracting middle class families to poor neighborhoods.
More successful are “transformation schools,” magnet schools, using popular themes—arts, sciences, etc.—to attract interest. Admission is by lottery and a socioeconomic balance is the goal.
This spring, the Times reports, 1,705 students applied for 613 spots in five existing transformation schools—and one in four applicants is coming from a charter or private school, olives outside the district.
The district has posted on its website a five-page concept paper on socioeconomic diversity as part of its aggressive effort to market these new schools. It reads in part:
“But no matter the lever which creates the diversity in schools, the positive student results remain the same. The takeaway is that economic diversity matters a great deal and more districts are taking note.”
If Dallas can take this step, surely Rochester can, and should.