Neighborhood Public Schools in Big Cities

In many large American cities, real neighborhood schools don’t exist. Neighborhood kids never get together to walk or bike to school. In fact, they barely know one another, if at all.

My wife and I moved our family out of San Francisco seven years ago largely because neighborhood public schools don’t exist there. We wanted our first son, age one at the time, to go to a good public school together with neighbor kids who live right around us.

Unfortunately, San Francisco’s school integration policy makes it highly unlikely that children of a middle or upper-middle class neighborhood can attend a school in their own neighborhood. As a result of this policy, a large proportion of middle and upper-middle class families have either moved out of the city or stayed, but chosen private schools over public schools.

In sum, this integration policy has resulted in worse public schools, no progress on integration, and sharply declining public school enrollments. Can you spell F-A-I-L?

Similar integration policies, with similar results, exist in many other large US cities. Last Friday’s New York Times tells a similar story for Boston, which famously initiated forced busing to integrate its schools in the 1970s. Since 1967, the proportion of students in the city’s public schools that are white has plunged from 72% to 13%. Many white families have moved out to the suburbs, but almost half of all residents – 47%, according to the 2010 census – are still white. Meanwhile, academic performance of the most disadvantaged students continues to be poor.

The school district buses 64% of its K-8 students to schools outside of their neighborhoods, and as a result, it spends fully 9.4% of its budget on transportation, almost twice the national average.

Boston’s mayor, Democrat Thomas Menino, has asked school officials to come up with “a radically different plan” under which students would be assigned to schools as close to home as possible. Besides the fact that the district is spending a lot of money on transportation and not getting improved school performance, he and other Bostonians complain that local residents aren’t invested in the schools in their neighborhoods.

I would add that neighborhood life suffers greatly when children and their parents don’t walk or ride bikes to local schools. Everyday social interactions in the neighborhood are greatly diminished.

Forced busing may have made some sense back in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, but it clearly makes no sense today. It’s contributed to the destruction of inner city neighborhoods and their schools.

I admire what Mayor Menino’s trying to do in Boston, and for the sake of its neighborhoods and citizens, I hope it happens ASAP.

As for San Francisco and many other large cities, the lunacy of forced busing continues unabated. San Francisco’s voters very narrowly defeated a nonbinding proposition in support of neighborhood schools last November, in spite of the fact that the anti- side outspent the pro- side by more than 10 to 1. It’s sad…

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