February 28th, 2010 | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Schools

A Portland Counterpoint: What "Neighborhood Schools" Mean In North Carolina

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One goal of Portland Public Schools' high-school redesign -- increasing the socio-economic diversity of its schools -- is meeting opposition in Wake County, N.C.

The New York Times has an interesting story today about the Wake County school district's busing policy and fresh attempts by new board members to challenge it. "The board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to support the creation of 'community assignment zones' to restrict the distance that students are bused," the Times reports. "A new board member has also introduced a resolution to remove the word 'diverse' from the busing policy and add a clause 'promoting neighborhood schools with proximity to home consideration.'"

Obviously, Portland is not considering a new, mandatory busing policy. Its current plan for reforming high schools calls for strong neighborhood schools. But the plan could allow students to transfer out of their neighborhood schools, if by doing so they increase another school's socio-economic diversity. Voluntary busing, if you will. Also, attendance boundaries may be redrawn under the current redesign plan. That could create more diverse school-attendance zones and undo some of the gerrymandering that has taken place in the district in recent years.

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled school districts that want to promote diversity in their schools could not use a student's race as a factor in his or her school assignment. Since then, school districts across the country have used parents' income levels, as measured by their students' eligibility for free or reduced-price lunches, as a factor in assigning children to schools. In this way, school districts have used what some critics of race-based assignments might call a loophole in the Supreme Court decision, since race and socio-economic status often correlate strongly.

The Portland School Board has been weighing the ramifications of the Supreme Court decision for almost three years.

One thing that sets Portland apart from other districts is that the Portland district's current policy of letting students transfer from their neighborhood schools has actually heightened racial and economic segregation. Whereas in Wake County, the words "neighborhood schools" appear to be code for renewed segregation, those words tend to mean something else entirely in Portland.
 
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