Monday, August 04, 2008

Trust but verify

The NAACP Nashville branch is demanding that the MNPS BOE rescind their rezoning vote. I hope the BOE responds with thanks for their concern but lets them know they're not going to change a thing. The City Paper has their letter to the BOE.

First of all, it's not like the NAACP and any of the folks they represent didn't have an opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions about the plan while it was being developed. If Mark North did anything right in heading up this committee it was ensuring that he and the committee were available to listen. The NAACP says 5 days wasn't enough time to review the final plan...well welcome to the MNPS BOE agenda schedule. It's routine for the BOE agenda to come out on Thursday or Friday and in preparation for their vote on Tuesday. I've never thought that was sufficient time to vet anything on the agenda, let alone something as huge as this rezoning plan but those are the BOE rules. If you don't like those rules, work to get them changed.

Secondly, we don't need to operate our representative government in a manner that allows those who didn't get what they wanted a do-over until they get what they want. The NAACP quibbles about the 5/4 vote for the rezoning plan. Those are the rules, folks. If that close a vote is unacceptable to you you need to change the rules to require a super majority. Until then...the vote stands.

Interestingly, this doesn't come from the NAACP's Education Committee headed by former MNPS BOE member Mebenin Awipi but from their "Legal Redress Chair" and their President instead. The last we heard from Dr. Awipi was back in June when he was quoted by WPLN:

The rezoning effort was then given to a task force, and NAACP education chair Mebenin Awipi says the rezoning now appears inevitable. But he’s calling for at least some legal recourse if the district doesn’t keep its part of the bargain.

"Any financial promises they are making are just that, promises. To be trusted with the goodwill of the communities that are going to be affected, we want the mayor and city council to weigh in.”

I think Dr. Awipi is right. If the district doesn't keep its part of the deal, then let's talk lawsuit. In the meatime allowing the plan to go ahead and keeping the system on a very short leash seems the very best plan at this point. No one really wants us back under a judicial order or do they?

Everyone wants the children to get the best education possible. It makes sense to keep all these children as close to home as possible in order to maximize parental and neighborhood involvement AND minimize transportation expenses. Those who suffered during the bad old days of segregation have an opportunity to ensure it doesn't happen again by volunteering in these schools so they can see what's really going on and help ensure they have the resources the rest of the district has. If they discover a school is getting fewer necessary resources than other schools...I suggest they make that known immediately and loudly so that it can be quickly rectified. I believe Nashville is not the same city many of the NAACP leadership grew up in and we need to give the city a chance to prove that. We need to use the Ronald Reagan plan for now: "Trust but verify."

1 comment:

N.S. Allen said...

You know, I'm not really worried that the promises for equal or extra funding for poverty-stricken schools won't be kept. I'm terrified because studies show that, even if they are, those promises are useless.

Regardless of funding, this zoning plan increases the percentages of poor students in many schools and ships poor students who were formerly in more "privileged" schools back to closer, predominantly lower class ones. But, the argument goes, those schools will have the funding necessary to deal with the added challenges that poverty poses.

Problem: studies ranging from 1966 to 2006 have shown that funding isn't the problem. The innate challenge of concentrated poverty is.

In the 1960's, for instance, a study showed that poor black children didn't underperform just because their schools were funded less or given poorer equipment - the same sort of achievement gap for poor, black (and white) children was found in schools that were well-funded but still high-poverty.

In the 1970's, another study determined that poor middle-schoolers in largely middle-class schools were nearly two years ahead of poor middle-schoolers in poverty-stricken ones. And a study just two years back showed that only about 1% of students in poverty-laden schools achieved high levels of performance, in terms of Department of Education standards. Roughly 24% of more middle-class schools did.

So, basically, unless forty years' worth of research is incredibly wrong, we can safely conclude that, regardless of funding, clustering together low-income students, as this plan does, is simply an awful idea.

Next time, the school board ought to promise to do things a little more intelligently.

(P.S. With regards to parents in areas that formerly suffered from segregation needing to are they supposed to find time? I grew up in a comfortably middle-class family, and work schedules made that kind of volunteering virtually impossible for both of my parents, once my siblings and I got out of elementary school. To expect families that are just struggling to make ends meet to manage the same, let alone to be able to spend the necessary time noting the resources that the school seems to have, is pie-in-the-sky level fantasy, I'm sorry to say.)