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Caddo schools paint stripes on a horse, call it a zebra

That was quick; as I wrote yesterday’s post, the Caddo Parish School Board revised its admissions policy (at least temporarily) for magnet schools. It did exactly the right thing for Middle Magnet – got rid race or anything else entirely for admissions after things like the sibling exception.

But it stumbled when it came to the magnet elementary schools. In order to maintain “diversity,” rather than go with the Middle Magnet standard (which it does for half of the applicants), now it is reserving half of the places for students that meet a minimum cutoff that historically has been well below the average white student score for successful applicants, who would ordinarily be attending a “high poverty” school.

I’d like to know what qualifies under the guidelines as a “high poverty” school, but it’s almost certain that most of these children are going to be black. Using reduced and free school lunch programs as a surrogate measure for poverty based upon qualifying students in a school for the school to receive Title I funding (because Title I status automatically qualifies for the lunch program), blacks (who comprise five-eighths of total enrollment) comprise about five-sixths of children in poverty in Caddo public schools.

Caddo Superintendent Ollie Tyler argues that the non-merit standard half would be split about half white and black. But that seems unlikely unless Tyler creates a very broad definition of what is a “high poverty” school. Let’s say she goes a somewhat below the Caddo average of around 58 percent in the free/reduced lunch program and puts it at 50 percent. Of schools that have at least 50 percent of their students in the program, only about a fifth of their students are white, meaning for Tyler’s math to work at this level four times the number of white students would have to qualify among white students than qualifying blacks among blacks.

Is it true that four-fifths of those hitting the minimum score among all of these schools are white? If not, then blacks will be disproportionately assisted by these rules and it still makes it a quota system – a diluted one, but still one designed to favor applicants of one race.

But let’s say Tyler is right about this. The new rules still discriminate, but now on the basis of income and geography, and thereby indirectly by race. The fact is, a white student from wealthier east Shreveport can score higher on the entrance exam than a black student from north Shreveport yet the latter will take the former’s spot in a magnet elementary school because the former goes to the wrong school where there aren’t enough poor students.

And how can an appeal to “diversity” justify this? Let’s say the percentage of “disadvantaged” children in a typical magnet elementary school goes from 10 to 20 percent as a result of this. Is this doubling from this base really going to “broaden” a non-disadvantaged student’s horizon beyond what it already was?

You can paint stripes on a horse and call it a zebra, which is what the Caddo schools have done in reference to their quota-based admissions policy to magnet elementary schools. Sounds like something that may have to be taken to court, unless the “permanent” rules that should come out in the near future correct this inequity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

(a personal rant with a point, i think)

I have heard many people call the previous Caddo schools magnet admission policy "fair to low-income, low-opportunity students", justifiable, and "tradition". There are very few people writing to newspapers, and other media, praising the family that was willing to stand up to the system and put a name on the growing shame our parish has been hiding for years. The laws regarding race as a means for entry into the magnet school system were enacted in 1981, the year I was born. In 1985, my parents applied for my admission into the magnet program (I was an exceptional child, reading words from Cosmopolitan magazine by three-years-old and attending college at 13). I was denied. The schoolboard told my parents in a phone call that they had enough white students at this time. We were never allowed to know my test score, but my gifted and talented teacher did some research and told me that it had been "astronomical". This being the case, I have - in some ways - carried a "chip on my shoulder" when it comes to race issues. I do not believe that minorities should be given special privileges. I also do not believe the majority should rule everyone and everything. When possible, (as should be the case where school admissions testing is concerned) everyone should be exposed to the same admissions standards. Women and men should have to pass the same physicals to join the military and children should have to score above a certain percentage to be admitted to the magnet program...period. There should be no reason to debate this.

I came from a low-income household. My parents worked three jobs and had a total annual income of $18,000 to support two kids. We bought our food at County Market, my father shot most of our meat on land owned by a family friend, and when our flour had weevils in it, my mother spread it out on a piece of plywood in our backyard so that they would leave it. We lived in Shreveport, not out in the country. We did not qualify for food stamps, welfare, or Medicaid because we were not a minority and because my parents were employed. Yet somehow, I was able to go to college on full scholarships. I work as a technical writer in Shreveport and I make more (without previous experience) than my parents made combined. I have no respect for people who complain because they cannot improve themselves because they come from a poor family. Poverty does not make you stupid or take away the industrious human spirit. My parents taught me that I could do anything with my life, and they were right. I have never used our lack-of-money as an excuse for laziness or ignorance. It is more than likely that, if I had, I would have been told to get over it and move on, rather than having the standards bent for me.

A man named "Gregory Hudson" wrote an opinion in the Shreveport Times recently stating that the following is a well-known myth: When a black child is allowed into the magnet system below the required test score, a white child is losing their place at the school. He vehemently disagreed, but did not show any proof that this was not the case. How can this not be the case when my parents and many others are being told that, though their children surpassed the requirements and scored above the 98th percentile, the schools had met their quota of white children. We don't need quotas. We need parents that take responsibility for the education of their children so that they can pass the test.

Three months ago, I was making $7.50 an hour at a local casino and I am the only working person in my family of four. One and a third paychecks per month paid for rent. The other two-thirds of our monthly income ($300) paid utilities, school fees, diapers, and groceries. We never ate out, my husband cooks every meal. We qualified for WIC and this helped a little. We qualified for Medicaid and this helped a lot. We lived this way for one and a half years. My daughter is a genius. She is a four-year-old whose favorite subject of study is microbiology. She can name and identify ten different forms of microorganisms. She knows 52 kinds of dinosaurs and taught herself to add/subtract/divide last year (much to my surprise). Yes, we were a low-income family. We bought our clothes at Goodwill and Salvation Army and accepted any donations that came our way without hesitation. If this is the case, how is it that my daughter is so interested in learning? My husband and I work hard to build her critical thinking skills and encourage her to ask questions. We do not have cable television. That is a bill that we could not afford. Our television never strays from LPB/PBS. Some people have told me that I am keeping my children from discovering the world around them by keeping them from watching cable. That they are missing learning opportunities. I believe they are missing pro-wrestling, football, and CNN. A fair-trade for playing outside or using Paint on my computer to create masterpieces. We encourage personal growth and do not focus on material wealth.

I digress, but to a point. Low-income does not denote low-ability! Because someone is considered low-income, or their school is defined by *the state of Louisiana* as a "high-poverty school", there is no reason to assume that they are not able to achieve the same level of intelligence as any other child.

I now make $30,000 a year. I am still the only working parent. We have no daycare bill because my husband is still a stay-at-home dad. He cooks every meal. We do not have cable TV or Internet access. We recently purchased a second vehicle for $1700 because my husband has been taking me to/from work for three years and we can't afford to lose our first car to wear and tear. My daughter applied to magnet school this year at Eden Gardens Fundamental Elementary. I didn't believe there was any way she was going to be accepted. She is white, our income is now considered just above the poverty line, and my previous experience has made me gun-shy. When I heard about the lawsuit, I could not believe it. This is not 1981/1984/1986 anymore.... The social climate of 20-years-ago no longer exists, though there are many in the community that would like to have seen it stay. Desegregation is no longer necessary. Any child in Caddo Parish who wants to attend a majority-white school may certainly do so, with little or no harassment. Of course, any white child may attend a majority black school, as well. However, my friend's family moved six months ago into a district where his younger brother had to attend Woodlawn High School. He is a white middle-class sophomore. He tried to commit suicide after weeks of enduring beatings and attacks because - as he was told - "he didn't belong there". I can see lots of people opting for that.

Yesterday I received a letter stating that my daughter was accepted to Eden Gardens and starts there in the fall. I know that without the restructuring of the rules she wouldn't have made it. She scored in the 98.5 percentile. I agree that these rules are a Band-Aid, with local school officials trying to allow infections like affirmative-action seep past the Band-Aid and get in the way of learning. We need a more “astringent” way of dealing with this.

I thank you for allowing me to finally get that off my shoulders after twenty years of anger. I would like to assure you that I am not a racist and anyone (black/white/Trinidad-ian/other) that I know would agree that I am the most outgoing person they know. Ten bucks to the first person who can guess what type of clothing I wear on a daily basis away from work (j/k). I am just angry at the unjust treatment of all people that I see all around me. If you want equality, you have to give it to receive it. This is the education of our future teachers, doctors, firemen, politicians, secretaries, and garbage men. This needs more than a Band-Aid.