Iowa City School Board Hears Public's Response to Diversity Policy at Listening Post

A change to the diversity policy that's garnered a lot of criticism recently received a bit more (and some support) at an organized school board listening post on Saturday.

Amidst public backlash and board member infighting, the Iowa City School Board held a listening post on Saturday morning to hear some public feedback on the recently proposed changes to the district's diversity policy.

Adam Sullivan of the Iowa City Press-Citizen writes that an awful lot of people showed up to give their feedback.

More than 100 people turned out to an Iowa City Community School Board listening post Saturday morning. The meeting initially was called so the School Board could vote on the second reading of the diversity policy — meant to curb vast poverty rate disparities across district schools — but that move stirred intense backlash from community members, so officials opted to only host a listening post, rather than vote on the document.

Heather Hobbs of KCRG was also at the event, and wrote that the policy received feedback from both supporters and detractors.

Those for the policy, believe it will help raise the level of student achievement

"Lincoln has six percent free and reduced lunch, 67 percent in the top 25 national test scores for 5th graders. Mark Twain has 79 percent free and reduced lunch, 4 percent in the top 25 nationally. These numbers are real and this is an attempt to bring those numbers into balance," Jason Lewis, Iowa City parent, said.

Laurie Moore supports the policy because she feels every child should get the same educational experience

"We have the resources in the community to serve all students well," Moore said.

But those against the policy feel, sending kids to a different school in another part of the town won't solve the problem, but rather create another one.

"High school is more than a means to a diploma, schools by their nature are social as well, breaking up musicals, debate, sports, drama for purpose of equilization effects individuals," Chris Arpey, Iowa City parent, said.

Improving the balance of diversity in Iowa City Schools, in this case measured under state required free-and-reduced lunch rate, has been a longstanding goal of several of the Iowa City School Board members, including most prominently Sarah Swisher. This is because research has shown a correlational relationship between the existence of pockets of poverty at individual schools and declining student achievement.

Currently free and reduced lunch rates are as low as the single digits at some schools (Lincoln Elementary the lowest at six) while being as high as 79 percent at others (Twain Elementary).

The draft policy, posted here, requires that Superintendent Steve Murley achieve a desired balance for certain grade levels by certain dates.

  • no more than 10 percentage points of difference between the comprehensive high schools(grades 9-12) with the highest and lowest percentages of minority students at such schools in the District;
  • no more than 15 percentage points of difference between the junior high schools (grades 7-8) with the highest and lowest percentages of minority students at such schools in the District; and
  • for each elementary school (grades K-6), no more than 15 percentage points above the mean percentage of the district-wide percentage of minority students for all students in grades K-6.

It also calls for the superintendent to achieve this while observing certain capacity goals, but as some have pointed out, it leaves it mostly up to his discretion how to do so. Others have written that they are troubled by diversity being defined solely by free-and-reduced lunch rates.

The policy also apparently isn't that keen on forcing him to do it that quickly, as it gives the Iowa City Superintendent more than five years to reach the K-8 level benchmarks, and two years for the already closer secondary school level.

This arguing could be slightly overblown at this point, as the district could wait to do its redistricting until potentially opening up the new elementary schools it intends to open in both Eastern Iowa City and the North Liberty area, and a new high school in North Liberty-- all things that board has stated it wants to do if the public passes a Revenue Purpose Statement in February that allows the district  to pay for the construction.

The projects are still of course yet to be passed, but school openings are traditionally used by school districts as occasions for redistricting, as there are legal restrictions on redistricting solely for the purpose of balancing diversity. This policy then would not force busing of children from one place to the next, as some in the community fear, but instead help guide future redistricting discussions.

In any case, the diversity policy will require two more votes before it can pass, one on this Tuesday evening's meeting, and another at its meeting on February 5.

Stephen Schmidt January 14, 2013 at 02:49 PM
Good point, and thanks for the comment. But that doesn't mean that there isn't some truth to the research.
Stephen Schmidt January 14, 2013 at 04:45 PM
True, and I am one who needs to do a better job at looking at some of the primary research documents. On the other hand I have spoken with teachers at Wood Elementary in the past who are in strong agreement with lowering free and reduced lunch rates there as a way to improve instruction and I value that sort of testimony highly.
Eric Johnson January 17, 2013 at 05:52 AM
You don't I think, have to depend on correlations between test sores and poverty rates to see the benefits to creating a balanced, sociaoeconomically diverse environment in a school. Concentrating large numbers of poor kids in a school strains that schools teacher and resources. Certainly this could be felt in test scores, but it has plenty of other ill effects. That school's parents lack both political capital and the time free from work to make their voice heard in the community. Its no accident that the schools with the high FRL numbers are also the schools with neglected facilities.. Kids in schools with homogenously well-to-do and homogenously poor populations aren't exposed to how many of their fellow citizens really live, and who those fellow citizens are. You don't need to talk test scores to see that this is the wrong way for a public school system to be organized.
Eric Johnson January 17, 2013 at 05:53 AM
ahh...apologies for the spelling errors!
Maria Houser Conzemius February 01, 2013 at 10:15 PM
The Iowa City Community School District wants to even out high, average, and low test scores in each school so that it is no longer a District in Need of Assistance and we don't have so many individual Schools in Need of Assistance. Evening out test scores saves central administration's butts per the No Child Left Behind rules and puts the burden of solving school failures on children riding buses to schools far away from their neighborhoods.


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