Thursday, August 8, 2013

Interdistrict Transfer Case Reignites Controversy

A few weeks ago, I posted on the Missouri Supreme Court's decision upholding an interdistrict transfer program, which primarily would move students from St. Louis city schools to the suburbs, along with per pupil expenditures.  Both districts were unhappy with the statute.  

Yesterday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran an editorial titled "Some St. Louis County schools say it loud: 'No blacks allowed.'"  Of course, I don't have a feel for the local pulse and may be missing something everyone else in St. Louis knows, but the text of the editorial did not match the title.  It did not discuss any specifics regarding hostility toward minorities in the suburban schools (hence my sense that the title may have been potentially overstated), but it did focus on the closely related and general issue of transfer students finding belonging in their new schools and the importance of a welcoming environment.  The editorial suggests that the city students would find more belonging in their current schools and that transfers may just increase both the school system and the students' demoralization.

I stand by my long held position that integrative interdistrict programs are very important and that the research and data behind integration show impressive academic gains for low income minorities and social gains for whites.  Yet, even though this editorial out of St. Louis greatly discounts the value of integration and the harms of segregation, it reminds us that numbers, social science, and generalities are rarely good enough in real world situations.   Local communities always have their own political and emotional challenges, and students must attend school in real buildings that may or may not feel welcoming to them.  Unless these local issues are handled carefully, good policies like interdistrict integration can easily fail.  Let's hope the families and schools of St. Louis find a way forward.  They have history on their side, as this program--although smaller in scale and financial impact--has been popular in the past and an important example for other communities to follow.


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