Carrots, sticks and set-asides in the DCPS boundaries proposal

April 7

The committee working on changes in D.C.’s school assignment policy has floated some proposals. They’re not as radical as some feared — or perhaps hoped — but there’s still plenty of fodder for debate.

The DC Advisory Committee on Student Assignment has been working for six months on the knotty issue of D.C.’s school boundaries and feeder patterns, which haven’t been fundamentally changed since 1968. Now they’ve unveiled three possible systems that reflect different policy priorities, along with proposed new boundaries for DCPS elementary schools.

Until now, the committee members and the deputy mayor for education, Abigail Smith, would only say that “everything” was “on the table.” That open-endedness led to much speculation. Some residents on the geographic fringes of the coveted Deal-Wilson feeder pattern feared they would be assigned to lower-performing secondary schools. Others imagined the committee adopting a lottery for all students, with an algorithm that would ensure socioeconomic diversity.

The committee members haven’t necessarily taken anything off the table, since they haven’t committed to any one of the three proposals. They say they’re simply examples of how different elements might be combined, and they could still be rearranged in a “one from column A, one from column B” approach. But at least we’re now getting a menu rather than an unlimited smorgasbord of possibilities.

Some suspected that the committee wasn’t only trying to adjust outdated lines on a map but had broader social goals in mind. There’s now confirmation that they were correct. At a community meeting at Dunbar High School on Saturday morning, Smith kicked off the proceedings with two questions that the committee has been asking and that she now threw open to the public:

  • Do our policies reflect our vision for public education in the city?
  • How can these policies help accelerate our work to increase quality at all our schools?

Given the inequities in the school system, it makes sense to ask those questions. But none of the proposals engages in radical social engineering. None, for example, adopts the controlled choice approach that would try to ensure a certain level of socioeconomic diversity at as many schools as possible.

[Continue reading Natalie Wexler's post at Greater Greater Education.]

Natalie Wexler is the editor of Greater Greater Education and a member of the board of the D.C. Scholars Public Charter School. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

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