Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Thursday, August 26, 2010

From 36 to1?

Rhode Island may be our nation's smallest state, but it can be home to some pretty big ideas. This is from Linda Borg's report in the Providence Journal:

The leaders of the state’s two teachers’ unions said that they would not be opposed to consolidating Rhode Island’s 36 school districts into one big district.

Although they cautioned that they were speaking as private citizens, Marcia Reback, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, and Robert A. Walsh Jr., executive director of the National Education Association, Rhode Island, offered the most radical suggestions about how to fix public education. The two made their remarks at a morning-long forum in Smithfield sponsored by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council.

Reback said a statewide school district might be the only way to level the playing field between rich and poor students in Rhode Island, where the vast majority of poor, urban students attend schools that are largely isolated from their white middle-class peers.

“Desegregation works,” Reback told 200 educators, community leaders and public officials gathered Tuesday at Fidelity Investments. “We need to create opportunities for students of color and those with limited English language skills to go to school with kids who aren’t like them.”

What, she asked, would close the gaps between poor children and privileged ones? Combining the Central Falls and the Cumberland school districts. Joining Lincoln and Pawtucket.

This is certainly one way to remove some of the inequities inherent in a system that is mostly funded by local property taxes. Landlords in poor communities and wealthy families in affluent communities would all have their property taxes put into the same huge pot. Moving students by bus to different schools within this new mega-district would move us in the direction of desegregation.

The biggest obstacles I would foresee in implementing this bold plan are logistical and cultural. Some of the larger of Rhode Island's 36 districts, like Providence, are already accustomed to dealing with great diversity and large numbers of students. The explosion in size would be a real logistical shock to those accustomed to much smaller districts. The cultural shock would be profound. These 36 districts represent communities that have enjoyed local independent government for a long time-- in some cases well over 300 years! Could they all be brought together on one school board without deep wounds to local pride? Because Rhode Island is so small, folks define their comfort zone as a pretty tiny geographical area. Any drive of more than twenty minutes is considered an epic journey, only to be undertaken in exceptional circumstances. Families in both poor and wealthy communities will not be easily persuaded to send their kids to a school in another city or town.

Still, it is good to see that people find the current inequitable situation as something that needs major change. Hopefully this will spark needed dialogue about how to make things better.

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