Why DISD’s Anti-Everything Critics Are Wrong on School Boundaries

Because you can't treat kids like chess pieces

harry-potter-pawns

Before I got vote yes on the DISD bond at lunch – tomorrow is the last day to early vote, slackers; get to it – I wanted to address a particularly silly reason anti-bond goofballs are suggesting you vote no.

It has to do with attendance boundaries. The Dallas Morning News did a pretty darn good story on it this week, wherein they quote said goofballs as well as more thoughtful members of the community who rightly point out the goofiness of said complaint.

What is the complaint, and why is it hogwash? The notion is that, before we approve a bond to help fix schools, we should first move kids from overcrowded to schools to under-capacity schools. Then, the thinking goes, we may not have to spend money to expand or fix the overcrowded schools, and we wont waste money expanding or fixing half-empty schools.

This works just fine if you, like the goofballs, care nothing about student achievement and what’s best for kids. Also, doesn’t hurt if you believe surface-deep is a proper depth for all policy analysis. In other words, if you treat kids like pawns and move them around your big board however you please.

Let’s ignore that this is clearly a clutching-at-straws argument by folks whose entire self-identity is defined by how many things they can be against. Let’s not even discuss the fact that an attendance boundary review would of course come after a bond is approved, just as was done after both the 2002 and 2008 DISD bonds. (When none of these people complained, by the way.)

Let’s instead think about this for more than 30 seconds.

First, the idea that the 27-member Future Facilities Task Force didn’t consider attendance boundaries and demographic trends when it made its recommendations is wrong. Both co-chairs say they had a demographer at meetings who discussed these things, and they took them into consideration.

(And don’t bother telling me that Marion Barnett says otherwise. He’s Joyce Foreman’s appointee and is currently only speaking when she pulls his strings. Both co-chairs say Barnett made none of his claims or complaints during the yearlong FFTF process; he was silent on all the issues he now suggests he has huge problems with. How convenient.)

And there are other factors to consider besides simple enrollment numbers. For example: What important programmatic changes – specifically in pre-K, school choice, and career and technical education – is this bond trying to address? Anti-bond folks say, for example, that Pinkston shouldn’t be expanded because it’s way under capacity. But that is part of a plan to create a fantastic career and tech center/school in West Dallas – something that will draw kids and families, as well as help those already there.

Which gets us to another point, this one not addressed in the article: You have to factor student achievement into these decisions, not just enrollment numbers. If you have a great school like Lakewood that is 200 students over capacity, you think you can just move those kids out to a school that doesn’t perform as well? Ignore the revolt from parents – is that doing right by those kids? And it’s only cheaper in the short run to move kids from a high-performing school to a low-performing school. You just reduced educational quality for a bunch of kids, which will become more expensive over time as they struggle and need more resources.

It’s important to note: We’re not talking about “rich people problems.” Poor kids at Lakewood — there are poor kids there; one-fifth of the school is on free and reduced lunch — do better at Lakewood than they do at the school we would just force them into. So what the attendance boundary chess players are saying is, “Hey, just move a few pawns, and we save money!” What they are actually doing, though, is forcing — as a matter of public policy — some kids, needy kids, to have a worse education than they would otherwise. It is an unconscionable position.

So ignore the main argument of the no-voters.

As for the other arguments? Most of them are insane. “Trustees could later vote to change this!” Oh, no, you mean my democratically elected representatives could alter policy? Heaven forfend! “The committee didn’t take minutes!” So what? That has anything to do with anything? Did the 2002 group or the 2008 group? The Home Rule Commission took copious notes and put all its videos up, and it produced one of the most worthless documents in recent useless Dallas board document history. Minutes don’t equal good policy.

Tomorrow, Monday, and Tuesday, I’m going to answer some questions for those of you who have rightly asked me to “give me a reason to vote for it, not a reason why the ‘no’ voters are wrong.” Because the bond is NOT perfect, but it does need a yes vote if you care about kids and your city. I’ll give you three reasons starting tomorrow.

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