The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Another City Tries Community Schools

on June 21, 2017

What a surprise! An article on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times,  Dallas Schools, Long Segregated, Charge Forward on Diversity, was strongly reminiscent of the story I wrote about earlier this week. Dallas,Texas, like Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been losing middle class families and their children to the more prosperous white suburbs, and the school district is using innovative actions to win those families back. Their tactics are somewhat different from what was done in Grand Rapids and, so far, not as successful.

The problem in Dallas, unlike the one in Grand Rapids, is more about color than poverty. The families that have been moving out of the city or enrolling their children in private or charter schools are overwhelmingly white, while most of the ones left in the public schools are black or Hispanic.

Although the district’s desire is to have a good balance of students of color in every school, they cannot legally control school enrollments by race. However, what they can do is try to create a balance of students from different economic levels, which, at the same time, may also result in a better racial balance. Having  an economic and  racial  balance in a school usually leads to better learning for everyone. As the school district’s superintendent Michael Hinojosa says, “When you have a mix of kids, the affluent kids don’t suffer and the children of intergenerational poverty do better.”

In order to achieve its goal of an economic balance in its schools the district has been trying to make a number of neighborhood schools more appealing to wealthier families by installing new programs. Like the schools in Cedar Rapids, they attract students by having themes that are exciting to parents and students, such as music, drama, or bilingualism.

The most popular new school is the “Solar Preparatory School for Girls”, which specializes in sciences and arts. It has become so desirable to wealthy parents that the district has had to save a certain number of seats for students who live in low-income neighborhoods.

One thing that has helped the school plan to succeed is that the region is in a financial boom period which has drawn more white and well educated parents to the city. This year 1,705 new students applied for the 613 seats available in the transformational schools. For the next school year there are already 255 applicants who are now in private schools, charter schools, or living outside the district.

Clearly, the Dallas plan has been aided by its improved economy. But if it hopes to make more of its schools multi-racial it will have to do more. Right now a third of its black and Hispanic students are still at schools that are 90 percent nonwhite. One thing the school district could do is to create more new schools in the kinds of non-education places that Cedar Rapids has chosen. With more white  and wealthy families moving back to the city, those would be exciting opportunities for their children to engage in project learning and get a start in career areas that they and their parents value highly.

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