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Sustainability Through Schools

Efforts to desegregate schools in the 1970s weakened neighborhood ties. Now, a return to school assignments based on where children live could make communities stronger.

Back in the day, local public schools defined the city of Seattle, says essayist Knute Berger, who writes, "The first question Seattleites used to ask each other was "Where did you go to school?" They'd answer Franklin, Garfield, Rainier Beach, Ballard, Roosevelt, Lincoln, Queen Anne. It was short-hand for telling them all about was the starting point for establishing common ground."

Berger contends mandatory busing policies changed that social fabric. While many cities, including Seattle, have dropped busing polices, now is the time to re-establish schools as neighborhood hubs.

Converting school assignment policies to place students in neighborhood schools eliminates choice, a bad thing for families who want to give their children the best education options possible. Berger says to make a neighborhood schools strategy work, safety issues need to be addressed, affordable housing needs to be made available within walking distance of schools, and streets must be made bike and pedestrian friendly.

These tactics are hallmarks of neighborhood sustainability efforts. By making neighborhood schools better places, cities are improved for all citizens.

Full Story: How schools can help save neighborhoods



Sustainability through schools

Even more than addressing safety issues, affordable housing, and making a school's attendance area bike-and-pedestrian-friendly (all important, but not the crucial issue), this policy trend will meet with considerable negative reaction from the public, which correctly sees its educational options being narrowed, unless considerable capital – intellectual, physical, financial and social – is invested in the schools themselves.

"Neighborhood schools" is an iconic phrase that virtually no one opposes, unless you begin to ask people about their own neighborhood school. In affluent suburbs, the response is likely to be positive, but in plenty of urban neighborhoods, the odds of negative feedback are considerably higher, and often with justification. Unless and until the same resources are devoted to each child, urban, suburban, rural, whatever, the oft-quoted ideal of "equal opportunity" is likely to be an especially cruel joke.

A substantial portion of the necessary investment in the schools themselves, by the way, must come from the students attending them. All the shiny new brick, computers, library and classrooms, not to mention top-notch teachers and materials, won't make much difference in the end if there's no academic effort from the kids for whom all the effort and capital is being expended. In poor neighborhoods, that's a sizable part of the achievement gap that continues to grow, no matter what the attendance policies in a given city might be.

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