Parents asking feds to undo Gwinnett redistricting. Is it time for public school choice?

The Gwinnett school board decision to move students out of the Peachtree Ridge cluster — which has some of county’s most affluent areas — has ed a group of parents to file federal civil rights complaints.

I still wonder if open enrollment isn’t the answer in most counties. I think public school choice would go a long way to appeasing parents.

l talked yesterday to a father from another county who wanted his child to attend the public school a mile from the family business so he and his wife could pick her up and bring her back to the shop in the afternoons. (They both work every day in the shop.)

Instead, the county was holding firm that the family had to send the girl to the school nearest their home, but 18 miles from the shop.

As a taxpayer with a home and business in the school district, the dad couldn’t understand why he couldn’t get approval to send his daughter to a different school within the system. I told him that most schools are zoned by community and that the community gets first dibs on seats in the school.

He thought it was wrong that he pays the same taxes as everyone else in the county,  yet couldn’t send his daughter to the local school of his choice.  Nor could he understand the hostility with which his request was being met by the central office.

According to the AJC:

Two complaints were filed with the federal Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, alleging that Gwinnett Schools is discriminating against the kids by rerouting them to campuses with fewer resources and more students from lower income homes.

About 505 students will move to empty seats in Duluth schools in August. The school board approved the moves last week, saying they will relieve overcrowding.

“The Board of Education and its planning department selected a group of minority children of low socio-economic status to move from a more affluent school district to an already overburdened one under the guise of saying they were trying to reduce overcrowding,” said Lynne Sycamore, a Duluth mom who is among a handful of parents who filed the complaints.

“Most of the children they selected came out of Mason Elementary, which is already under capacity,” she said.

Nearly half of the affected students — 241 — are being moved from Mason Elementary, which is under capacity by 13. Peachtree Ridge High, a school of 3,226 that is over capacity by 426, will lose 158 teens. Hull Middle School, which has 2,409 students, is over capacity by 659 and will lose 106 students.

Gwinnett Schools’ spokeswoman Sloan Roach said the district has not been notified of the complaint.

Students are redistricted based on population figures, said school board member Mary Kay Murphy.

“We don’t use socio-economics,” she said. “Our core belief as a school system is that all students can learn at or above grade level. We would not have received the Broad Prize for closing the achievement gap if we weren’t serving all populations.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

86 comments Add your comment

Dunwoody Mom

April 28th, 2011
8:51 am

We would not have received the Broad Prize for closing the achievement gap if we weren’t serving all populations.”

LOL….that is too, too funny….

Old School

April 28th, 2011
8:53 am

So if every kid in Gwinnett wants to go to Peachtree Ridge and every kind in DeKalb wants to go to Lakeside, how does public choice solve the problem.

Dr NO

April 28th, 2011
8:56 am

Agreed Old School. But for the sake of “diversity” we must make these changes. No matter the inconvience, illogic, ridiculousness and burdens brought to bear it is for the greater good.

“The needs of the ONE outweigh the needs of the few and/or the many.”

Can I get an AMAN!??

Dunwoody Mom

April 28th, 2011
8:59 am

Since the majority of schools that would be involved in “choice” are already overcrowded, how do you handle that? Overcrowd already overcrowded schools? We already do that – it’s called AYP transfers and that has worked real well, right?

Reality Check

April 28th, 2011
9:04 am

Parents paying for their own children’s education with absolutely no involvement from government whatsoever would give everyone exactly the kind of freedom of choice they require. Instead the call is to continue stealing from taxpayers and property owners and giving everyone a choice among government run institutions. Maybe my concept of freedom and choice doesn’t agree with everyone’s, but that certainly doesn’t sound like much of a choice for anyone.

East Cobb Parent

April 28th, 2011
9:05 am

@ Maureen, Dunwoody Mom brings up a good point, how would you decide where and who attended which school if it were school choice? Walton is already over crowded and I constantly hear parents of kids zoned for Pope, North Cobb looking for a way to send their child to Walton. Several are using the address of Grandparents, not exactly legal. But your proposal seems to me it would do away with neighborhood schools or do you propose school choice only if there is capacity after zoned kids? If that is the case, we already have that, but the better schools are over crowded and no room for other kids.

What's best for kids?

April 28th, 2011
9:19 am

YES! It is time for public school choice!

www.honeyfern.org

April 28th, 2011
9:25 am

Cobb already has choice; parents are responsible for transportation, and there are limits on how many students can enroll (so, technically, no overcrowding on the campuses, but class sizes are still huge). In Marietta City, you can pay tuition ($3K) to drive your kids to one of their schools.

There already is choice in some districts, but not all.Some parents want choice and transportation (not a possibility), and some schools are worried their high test scores will flee to other schools.

HoneyFern is still enrolling for fall. Maximum total school size is 8, grades 6-12, and tuition is well below your overpriced 20K private schools and includes everything (and no fundraising, except as seniors for a class trip). Come visit and see what we’re about.

Look past your own nose

April 28th, 2011
9:27 am

“Reality Check” — you really believe you derive no benefit from having an educated citizenry? It’s “stealing” to use tax money to ensure that children are taught the skills that will make them good employees, future property owners and responsible citizens? Or are you just another insular pseudo Libertarian who claims they are “self-made” all the while ignoring their own public education, their own taxpayer-subsidized college degree and the myriad other benefits that never seem to count when they’re whining about tax-as-theft?

atlmom

April 28th, 2011
9:30 am

Reality check: but as a citizen of this country I would think you would want all children educated. Of course, that’s not what we have now, but seriously – do you think we shouldn’t try to educate all? You can pay for education or prisons – and believe me we’d have many more than we do now (which is way too many) if we weren’t at least trying to educate all.

As for school choice – it’s GOT TO BE better than what we have now. I actually think that even if the ‘best’ schools didn’t have any room, the ‘other’ schools would still have to get better – not knowing when the ‘better’ schools would have room for the ‘other’ students. Really – there’s probably not much worse we can do than what we now have. Parents need choices (and if their choice is *no* school…not homeschooling…then what was discussed recently would work) – I mean, I have school choice and my friends have school choice. It’s just that those with no choices are the ones who are losing these days.

Maureen Downey

April 28th, 2011
9:34 am

@Dunwoody, For true public school choice, you would have to put all schools on the table. If certain schools were oversubscribed — and Walton would likely be — you would have to go to a lottery. I also think transportation would be the challenge in larger counties where schools are miles apart.
If choice within systems was embraced — the notion that all district taxpayers were on equal footing in school alignment — I think we would eventually see better schools all around.
As for the issue of neighborhood schools: While I think neighborhood schools have benefits, I think good schools have greater benefits.
I think Kittredge in DeKalb shows that families will forsake the notion of a neighborhood school for strong programs.
At this point, it would be hard to adopt public school choice because neighborhoods within districts feel ownership toward their school, and that’s most marked in communities with good schools.
There is an affluent town in New Jersey that did this 30 years ago. It created different themes and approaches in each of its elementary schools and allowed parents to choose from a varied landscape. (There were only two middle and high schools so the real issue was elementary school choice.)

thomas

April 28th, 2011
9:37 am

Stop free public education at the age of 15 – elementary and middle schools can remain “community” schools with the district providing free transportation. For HS (maybe just 10-12), let both students and schools choose. There should be an entrance exam and other screening methods, while students can apply to go to any HS they wish in the district. There must be tuition, not necessarily a huge amount, and subsidize low-income families. Parents are responsible for providing own transportation – or pay fees to use school buses.

Disgusted in GA

April 28th, 2011
9:37 am

If school choice was mandatory, maybe the disctricts would need to pay attention to the very real discrepencies in programing that result from the variations in parent resources.

Dunwoody Mom

April 28th, 2011
9:38 am

DeKalb has lotteries now for their “choice” schools – there is a whole other level of complaint with this method. Kittredge and the other magnet programs have academic requirements attached to it. Are you saying that school choice should be only for those who make a certain grade on the ITBS or GPA?

atlmom

April 28th, 2011
9:52 am

Maureen: I think adopting something akin to what the charter schools do might be better. They have a ‘first tier’ of students – those closest to the school, then a second tier, slightly further away then enrollment’s open to the whole district. This way you kind of have a neighborhood school, which is really great for a neighborhood, but you’d have slots for others as well.
My friend just moved from seattle here, where they do have school choice (I’m not exactly sure how it works) and she was shocked that all she had to do was live in the district to enroll her kids in school. That was that. I guess in Seattle they open up however many slots they have at the schools, then there’s some sort of application process.
We wouldn’t need to do this ridiculous redistricting all the time. we could go to lottery, make a district smaller and smaller around schools that don’t have a lot of room.
There has GOT to be a better way.
Morningside was JUST redistricted and it’s about at capacity AGAIN – as is SPARK and Mary Lin.
APS is not worrying about it because it’s got bigger fish to fry – again, these schools aren’t getting what they need…

EducationCEO

April 28th, 2011
9:57 am

@DunwoodyMom Actually, that is not true for every school in Gwinnett. South Gwinnett is/has been overcrowded for years and no one is begging for a permissive transfer to that school. All of the high schools that are not run like factories/prisons are in the northern part of the county, or at least 40 minutes away from where we live- no buses so my son is stuck. Mary Kay Murphy and any other board member who uses the Broad Prize as justification for what they are doing is naive/apathetic or just plain ignorant. This district has so many hidden policies that disenfranchise minority or low-income kids (which could include Whites too) that it is pathetic. As long as the federal government is lax in monitoring the racial balance in schools this type of thing will continue to happen…or util they get another superintendent who actually has experience in/knowledge of diverse/urban districts. No, Gwinnett IS NOT urban. It is diverse, but urban it is not.

Me

April 28th, 2011
9:58 am

No, it is time for parents to grow up, quit being a bunch of whiners and pitch in to improve the school they are zoned to.

EducationCEO

April 28th, 2011
10:00 am

@ATLMom Not sure which charters you refer to but that is not how enrollment is ’supposed’ to work. Charter schools are open to anyone living within the district and most, except those in Gwinnett, provide some form of transportation from the beginning…not 2-3 years later. There are some groups, mostly those with financial influence, who can create charter schools and strategically keep certain people out. That is where the State Board of Education is ’supposed’ to use their governing authority to prevent such things but this is Georgia after all….

Dr NO

April 28th, 2011
10:00 am

This idea will never work.

atlmom

April 28th, 2011
10:09 am

educationceo: i don’t know exactly – a friend of mine in a crappy school district told me this was the case with a new charter school. so she was either in the ‘first’ or ’second’ tier. I have no way of knowing how true any of this is.
Her kid’s in private school now since the charter school wouldn’t take her kid (even though they have spots) and she wanted to avoid a lawsuit. She was never going to send her child to the local school even if they had to walk away from their condo. this is what i mean by school choice – there are plenty of us with it.
the ones who are losing are those in crappy schools whose parents don’t care or can’t move. so who’s against school choice? all those people who say they are for the ‘poor’ and they care so much about them.
I don’t know if any kind of school choice can work – but certainly we need something new and radical. what we’re doing sucks and is doing no one any good – and we are doing nothing good for us as a society by keeping the status quo and just tweaking it.

Clarence

April 28th, 2011
10:11 am

“If choice within systems was embraced — the notion that all district taxpayers were on equal footing in school alignment — I think we would eventually see better schools all around.”
I think we need a little more than “think” if we’re going to unravel the current system. Will another system work better? Is a lottery more fair than allowing citizens to move to a district that they think has better schools? You allude to a district in New Jersey, but offer no information on the outcomes. Did all the schools improve? How was this measured?

catlady

April 28th, 2011
10:15 am

Whatever happened with Athens/Clarke County’s school choice started in about 1995? Anyone know? Is it still operative?

Tonya C.

April 28th, 2011
10:18 am

Dunwoody Mom is the more pragmatic and logical here. Maureen, you’re far too optimistic and idealistic. Dunwoody Mom brings a valid point: this is only going to create a new set of headaches and most likely to occur as a result of so-called ‘choice’.

atlmom

April 28th, 2011
10:22 am

clarence: they have had some sort of school choice program in south florida at some point and I hear that it was abandoned. Why? i don’t know.
There are ways to reform the current school system without choice, but no one seems to have the fortitude that it would need to do it.
Part of it is the complication in our government – too many cooks in the broth (i.e., like discussed the other day – if you’re on welfare and you have kids – you have a responsibility to getting that kid to school and your benefits should depend on it and/or have your kid taken away).

d

April 28th, 2011
10:24 am

@EducationCEO – I may have misread, and if I did, please forgive me, but if you are concerned about the racial balance of students in the southern end of Gwinnett (Specifically South Gwinnett and Shiloh), I’d ask where do you want the balance to come from? I grew up in the area – moved there when I was 7 years old, graduated from Shiloh in the late 90s and still live in the area. There are very few whites left. Should we start bringing them in from Parkview, Brookwood, and Grayson even though those schools are farther away? I will say at the time I attended Shiloh, it was ranked 8th best in the state as far as academics were concerned (other top schools were Parkview, Brookwood, and Duluth). I think everything comes down to how much does the community support its local school? Better community support, better academic performance.

Lori

April 28th, 2011
10:25 am

I think the real issue would be better solved if we could figure out how to make all schools equal. Why should one school be so much better than another? Solve that problem and redistricting wouldn’t be an issue.

Tonya C.

April 28th, 2011
10:27 am

EducationCEO:

Ummm..what Charter School are you referring to? My son has gone to SEVERAL and they have worked like what atlmom described. And as for transportation…the one TRUE charter he went to, with open enrollment for the ENTIRE county and a lottery system provided NO transportation. The other two were neighborhood charters that took the the first tier/second tier approach.

Elizabeth

April 28th, 2011
10:28 am

I am all for school choice. As long as:

1. parents provide the transportation, not the school system.

2. the school you are going to has rooom– without adding trailors which are dangerous as well as too small and not conducive to learning.

3. the school’s permanent buildings do not exceed capacity as determined by the Fire Marshall.

4. the parents pick up and drop off their children ON TIME—not early or late.

5. the parents do not use distance as an excuse for keeping their child out of school or for parents attending all school functions, including required conferences and meeting.

6.the parents do NOT expect babysitting if the child is sick, or the parent is late. Pick them up regardless.

7. As long as truancy laws and chronic absenteeism/tardeiness rules are Tightened and strictly enforced with NO exceptions granted.

Think of the money we could save by eliminating school buses from the budget!

School attendence would level out and all schools would be about equal in number. Right? So then parents would not be able to complain about the teachers or the education their little darlings were receiving. Right??

Atlanta mom

April 28th, 2011
10:29 am

Maureen,
I don’t think you are suggesting school choice. You are offering random assignment to any school in a district. Is that what you meant? An oversubscribed school goes to a lottery, so if I live next door to the school, and my number isn’t drawn, I get to go to some other school I didn’t apply to?

Maureen Downey

April 28th, 2011
10:31 am

@Atlanta mom, Systems that allow choice usually require that parents list several schools. It would not be random as parents can request specific schools within the district;
The NJ system that did this 30 years ago by creating theme or magnet schools and allowing choice was Montclair. Here is a good story about what that same system is doing now that talks about the problems as well as the pluses:
http://montclair.patch.com/articles/are-montclair-schools-truly-integrated-and-diverse

Tonya C.

April 28th, 2011
10:33 am

atlmom:

It was a bomb? How do I know? I am a native Floridian (born and raised in Miami-Dade/Broward) and saw it firsthand. It didn’t produce any REAL change and has been all but abandoned at this point. The best schools had NO room already and the local residents put up a fight if their school was placed on the transfer list. The schools available to transfer to were often not much better than the students’ original home schools and seemed to only get worse with the influx of kids from outside the neighborhood.

I’ve seen this play out, and it NEVER goes the way it is idealized.

Lynn d

April 28th, 2011
10:33 am

DeKalb’s magnets and magnets across the country benefit tremendously from extra dollars. Kittredge (since you used it as an example) gets six teachers more than it really earns. DeKalb School of the Arts gets 10.

Would people move their children around if all the schools had the same resources? Or would it be either shopping for the best student population or on the other extreme, the teachers who wouldn’t call and complain about your child?

I think that choice is part of the answer but we would end up with more and more segregated, either racially, economically or both.

What's best for kids?

April 28th, 2011
10:35 am

Public school choice is a win/win/win:
Win for parents: they send their kids to the school of their choice, assuming all responsibility for the child’s education.
Win for schools: schools raise the expectations academically and behaviorally; if the student is unhappy, he/she can move to another school.
Win for students: they get the best possible education that they can under the circumstances that they are given.

What we have now is not working, and our antipathy toward change is keepingus from making some of the decisions that need to be made to save our kids and save our schools.

DeKalb Educated

April 28th, 2011
10:39 am

With the price of gas going up and the weight of our children rising even faster, we should encourage neighborhood schools where children can walk and ride bikes to school (like the childhood of my youth). Parents need to do the hard work and improve their neighborhood schools just like they do with their yards. For all the money spent on hair extensions and fancy fingernails, is money that can be spent on education. It is about priorities. We had work days our schools. We raised money for lab equipment and art supplies. We raised money for foreign language teachers. Every school district can do this. It takes time, effort and willingness. Yes, there will be many parents who will ride on the coat tails of the few hard working parents and never lift a finger to help but will demand their children be allowed to participate. Much like those in the other part of the county who think they can ship their child from one school to another and reap the benefits. What children need are role models in their homes who put education ahead of reality tv where trips to library outnumber trips to the mall.

Clarence

April 28th, 2011
10:47 am

I’ve not seen a single person point out how a “lottery” is fair. If you have school choice, certain schools are ALWAYS going to have more demand than capacity, meaning it won’t be TRUE school choice. So my questions is how is a lottery more fair than the current system? To me this comes down to people feeling like they are entitled to send their children wherever they please instead of following @Me’s advice “to grow up, quit being a bunch of whiners and pitch in to improve the school they are zoned to.”

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

April 28th, 2011
10:53 am

Maureen,

Might I suggest that public schools need to get out of the parent-appeasement business. Suggesting that much of the grade-inflation, student misbehavior and teacher angst has arisen from appeasing unreasonable parents would not be a stretch.

When public schools educate their children, reasonable parents are satisfied.

Please keep us apprised of what happens to this civil rights complaint. I’m interested in finding out whether the USDOE’s Office of Civil Rights thinks that this complaint is founded upon reasonable grounds.

By the way, have you recently heard anything from the SW DeKalb teacher whose letter you published several weeks ago? Let’s not forget about him.

Clarence

April 28th, 2011
10:53 am

And after reading Maureen’s link to the Montclair article, I failed to see many “pluses.” I’m not claiming they don’t exist – maybe all of the schools in question increased performance. But I feel like that piece highlighted the inherent inequities and administrative challenges more than anything.

Simply Me

April 28th, 2011
10:56 am

I sympathize the father who wants to send his child to a school close to his place of business and don’t understand why his request will not be approved. Teachers are allowed to bring their children to the school in which they work – how is this any different. Don’t get me wrong, yes teachers are doing a great thing by teaching our kids everyday but are they above having to deal with the same things other parents face when balancing work and home???

Cris

April 28th, 2011
10:56 am

I read an article this morning about a homeless woman in Connecticut who has been charged with larceny for using her babysitters address so that her kindergartner could attend a higher performing school in the babysitters district…..this craziness is everywhere! Unfortunately, while choice/charter seems to be the answer it’s just not realistic! Again, the parents who are involved and care about their children’s education will find a way to a) make the school they are currently districted for work for their child or b) move the child by whatever means necessary to a better school….I’ve said it 100 times (or more) the quality of the child’s education is directly related to parental involvement (of course you will always have students who will rise above poor parenting as well). School systems, whatever they may try, cannot fufill the role of a concerned parent!! Does that mean we shouldn’t try? If I had the answer to that, I’d be the new DeKalb superintentant it seems……

LOL

April 28th, 2011
10:59 am

Ms. Murphy’s last statement,”We would not have received the Broad Prize for closing the achievement gap if we weren’t serving all populations,” is absolutely hilarious! They won the award for political reasons. The school district is definitely not an urban district. All districts should offer school choice. Parents know what is best for their children, so school districts should put aside power issues and do what is best for children, by offering school choice options for all!
Cobb and Fulton Counties are about to allow this for their charter schools. Students from Cobb will be able go to a Fulton County charter school and vice versa. This is a great start. Parents need to organize and speak up!

Pluto

April 28th, 2011
11:03 am

Why do the parents need to ask the feds to resolve this? The federal department needs to be abolished and the local level needs to address this. Why aren’t people at the local level smart enough to figure this stuff out? They hold elections don’t they?

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

April 28th, 2011
11:08 am

d and Clarence:

I agree with your points about the value of community and parent support for public schools.

But I have serious questions about what individual schools, school systems, and education-related organizations are doing to recruit parents and other community members to volunteer in, and otherwise support, local schools.

And I don’t think sending-a-note-home-with-a-student constitutes vigorous recruitment.

T Krugman

April 28th, 2011
11:10 am

School choice sounds great, but has anyone thought it through? Imagine if 10,000 kids wanted to attend School A and no students wanted to attend school B. WHo gets priority? Who arranges the transportation and staffing? What is to keep School A from ‘cherry picking’ students for atheltics or other reasons? What does the system do wth the empty buildings? What happens if half of those 10,000 change their minds a few months into the academic year and wish to transfer to school C? These things are much more complex than simply stating that ’school choice’ is the answer to our educational woes.

A Conservative Voice

April 28th, 2011
11:13 am

Racism, pure and simply and I’m gonna use the “damn” race card right now.

catlady

April 28th, 2011
11:16 am

Apparently Athens/Clarke County schools abandoned the modified school choice 2 years ago. It was to function like this: you rank your first 3 choices for elementary, and something like 98% of parents got one of those choices. You would provide transportation or I think there was to be central dropoff points for catching buses. Middle school you chose from 2 schools, and high school you went where zoned. I think parents who failed to choose saw their kids sent wherever there was room.

Apparently it was not a rousing success since they abandoned it. Would love to hear some feedback from real people about it, or even an “official” report.

One thing that bothers me is we assume that schools with high concentrations of poor students cannot have parental involvement. I think this is incorrect. Anyone got any examples?

Parental investment is key–one reason why charter schools with poorer students see some increase in test scores is because parents have to apply to get in there (or is that so?).

Let's be real

April 28th, 2011
11:27 am

“We don’t use socio-economics,” she said. “Our core belief as a school system is that all students can learn at or above grade level. We would not have received the Broad Prize for closing the achievement gap if we weren’t serving all populations”

Watch out for the lightning strikes. I don’t think I could do a job where I would just have to tell boldfaced lies with a straight face.

Dr NO

April 28th, 2011
11:57 am

This is just pie in the sky. Aint gonna happen.

atlmom

April 28th, 2011
12:00 pm

all you people who think the answer is ‘parents getting involved’: okay – great – there are many parents involved. But do the children need to suffer when the parents ARE NOT involved?
Even school choice is re-arranging deck chairs (my kids will always go to a good school, or wherever is best for them, as I’ve mentioned before – *I* have school choice).
If the parents aren’t involved, it is clear to all that they won’t *be* involved. So, now what?
I guess the answer is: how do we educate *those* children where parents treat the school as free day care/food/everything their kids need????
Personally, I want EVERY SINGLE CHILD to get a great fantastic education. We owe it to the kids – as a society. We owe it to the kids for a zillion reasons, some of which, as a society are selfish (you educate every single one because you don’t know which one is the einstein of his/her generation).

Tonya C.

April 28th, 2011
12:13 pm

atlmom:

The idea is utopian. Beautiful, but utopian none the less. Once America realizes this, it can fight to regain what has been lost to other countries who already realize this. I’m being honest.

Cris

April 28th, 2011
12:15 pm

atlmom, I don’t think that poor parents = non-involvement – you don’t have to be rich to be a good parent (I think we all agree that the other extreme can be just as bad if not worse) and I do want to see every child educated…..I’m just saying we can all rant and rave about what the school systems, teachers, gov’t, administrations, etc until we’re blue in the face, but none of those entities can change parental involvement