"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, August 06, 2007

Economic Integration Moves Forward in Florida's Seminole County

From the Orlando Sentinel:
Seminole County is joining a handful of school systems across the nation that are making integration more a matter of green rather than black and white.

Starting this school year, the district is abandoning racial considerations when deciding who goes to which school.

Instead, household income will become the primary factor in approving student assignments and transfers and will play an important role in decisions that shift attendance zones.

"Our new direction is looking at socioeconomic diversity," said Anna Marie Cote, director of instruction for Seminole schools.

Seminole is among 40 school districts in the nation that have adopted "economic integration" in pupil assignments to some extent, according to a new report by Richard Kahlenberg, a researcher with the nonpartisan Century Foundation, who advocates the approach. Other Florida school districts using economics are Duval, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and St. Lucie.

Orange County schools, which have been involved in a school-desegregation lawsuit since 1962, have talked about economic integration, too, although it's uncertain the concept will become part of a settlement. Nevertheless, the school system is considering economics in school-rezoning decisions, district spokesman Dylan Thomas said.

A federal judge last year declared that Seminole County schools were "unitary," which meant they no longer had the remnants of separate education systems for black and white students.

As part of the settlement of the decades-old school-desegregation case, the district agreed to use family wealth rather than student race to balance diversity.

The change may have been timely.

In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that while schools need to be diverse, race cannot be the sole deciding factor in assigning students. Several school districts across the country, including Louisville and Seattle, which were the focus of the court case, are considering economic integration as an alternative.

"We are way ahead of the curve," Seminole School Board Attorney Ned Julian said.

While the new policy is no longer based strictly on race, it will continue to affect many black students whose families are poor, along with a large number of Hispanic and white students who live in poverty. . . .

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