Friday, January 23, 2015

On the Administration's Proposal to Modify Twain and Hills Boundaries

The ICCSD administration has proposed that the School Board approve revised boundaries for Hills and Twain (starting on page 227). It takes a neighborhood that is presently assigned to Twain, was going to be reassigned to Hills, but under the administration's recommendation would continue to be assigned to Twain. Two primary reasons are offered for this:

First, the administration believes that it will help a relatively low-income area by keeping it at Twain. It is suggested that this will be better insofar as it provided a stable school situation for the community in question. and for properly utilizing buildings at Hills and Twain respectively.

Second, it will keep Hills from being overcrowded, which likely would have resulted in temporary buildings be used at Hills. Furthermore it would keep Twain from having too few students--which would likely have resulted in increased costs and/or hurting peer-to-peer collaboration by reducing the number of teachers at Twain (or both).

I think these reasons are important and should figure heavily in our decision-making procedure. What I don't see, however, is a consideration of whether this change moves us in the right direction toward addressing educational justice concerns arising from socioeconomic imbalances. That is, will it exacerbate Twain's challenges by increasing its population of low-income students? I know the district shouldn't talk directly about FRL rates at this point, but it should at the least be able to answer whether this will make matters worse than the redistricted approved by the board just a few months ago? My guess, based on the demographics of the area in question, is that it will lower the percentage of low-income students at Hills while increasing it at Twain. Perhaps I'm wrong about that?

But if I'm not, then perhaps it would be wise to consider alternatives that would accomplish the administration's goals while also addressing the much more significant worry that this proposal make educational justice worse in our district.

For example, might it be helpful to consider making Twain a sister school with Longfellow. Sister schools would have one of the campuses serve lower grades (K-2/3) while the other campus serves the upper grades (3/4-6). Here are the benefits, as I see them, from making Twain and Longfellow sister-schools:

Distance and Busing: Longfellow and Twain are a walking distance of 0.9 miles and a driving distance of 1.1 miles from each other. Twain and Longfellow already both have a significant number of students who are bused to both schools (Windsor Ridge for Longfellow and a large subsection of Twain's students), so it wouldn't likely be a significant change in that respect especially given the close geographical proximity.  

Educational Justice/Poverty: Based on rough calculations based on last year's FRL rate, the combined FRL rate of the two schools would likely be less than 50%. Next year with Twain's redistricting, it would likely be lower (perhaps not, however, with the Hills/Twain change?).

Class sizes: When you combine the two schools cohorts by grade level, you would be able to reduce the number of classes that exceed or are under the district's aspirational class goals. This year, there were 4 classes at the schools that were over the class size goals, and there were 4 that were well under the class size goals. Under a sister-school system, none of grades would have any classes outside of the aspirational goals. You would have 25 students in first grade classes at Twain, nor would you have 25 students in second grade classrooms at Longfellow. Furthermore, you would haven't 18 students for 5th and 6th grade classrooms as we do this year at Twain.

Here is how the sections might have broken down this past year had Longfellow and Twain been sister schools (the class sizes would be slightly smaller next year given Twain's redistricting):

K: 5 sections of 19
1: 5 sections of 22/23
2: 5 sections of 22/23
3: 4 sections of 25/26
4: 4 sections of 24/25
5: 3 sections of 27
6: 3 sections of 28

Saving Money: Pairing Longfellow and Twain as sister schools this year, would have meant that the district could have had the class sizes outlined above while having two fewer teachers assigned to those schools. Those teachers could have been reassigned to lower class sizes elsewhere, or they could have presented a significant operational cost benefit to the district. And as the budget will be tight again this next year assuming the budget increased as proposed, we need to think of how we can save more money.

Capacity: The district has projected, under their proposal mentioned above, that Twain would probably likely have no more than 240 students. That would put Twain at exactly 62 students under their building capacity next year. Fortuitously, Longfellow was exactly 62 students over its building capacity this year.

Academics: One of the methods that the district's SINA schools and high-FRL schools are using to address educational justice concerns is peer-collaboration. This method has proven to be extremely effective, and having a larger cohort of teachers in each grade level would likely result in improvements here.

So, why not take what the administration has proposed, and be more forward thinking about how to begin addressing, in part, some of the larger problems in our district regarding educational justice and finances.

*I also think that a possible pairing of Shimek and Mann would make a great deal of sense as well. See my Facebook post about that, if you are interested.


  1. I think sister schools are a plausible thing to look into.

    That being said - just to respond to the question you asked about this particular situation, it's a group already assigned to Twain that is not being moved from Twain - that sounds like no change to me. Not something that would "exacerbate Twain's challenges by increasing its population of low-income students."

    Probably still worth looking into. :)

    1. "it's a group already assigned to Twain that is not being moved from Twain - that sounds like no change to me. Not something that would "exacerbate Twain's challenges by increasing its population of low-income students.""

      Perhaps. However, I think it is likely that it will. Remember that Twain is being redistricted. Twain is losing some of its currently assigned areas near Alexander, which are relatively affluent. Despite that, it's FRL rate was reported to be lower in the redistricting than it was this past year. That is, it would be approximately 8-10% points lower (if memory serves me). The area in question, however, is a relatively high concentration of low-income students. I'm not sure how dense, but I suspect it would likely put Twain higher than it is this year. I hope that helps explain what I meant, but I hope I'm wrong.

    2. Thanks - didn't know about the other moves.

      Like the idea of sister schools at the elementary level. Seems like it has some advantages and is less disruptive than some of the other ideas being floated.

  2. Excellent and thoughtful analysis Michael. I do want to bring in a couple of points and clarify a couple of others. First on the Hills/Twain move:

    -Twain's estimated FRL% going into 2015-2016, before this change, was going to be about 72%, which would have been a drop from around 79%, so not quite the 8-1% reduction you thought, but close. In the redistricting to open Alexander Twain lost both some relatively affluent areas and some much less affluent areas.

    -Those boundaries they originally set for opening Alexander left Twain seriously underpopulated. The idea was to set the stage for a magnet program or school. But once it became clear that wasn't happening in time for 2015-16, there was a problem: it left Twain underpopulated that the teaching staff would have been greatly reduced, still with no guarantee of any magnet program, meaning that the building would have been vastly underutilized and that, as the population rose, unless a magnet program came in next year (not guaranteed by any means) we'd have to hire on new staff to replace those just displaced. Its inefficient and it takes teachers who've already made a commitment to the school and who know its students and sends them elsewhere. Not the worst thing in the world, but there was great concern about it among our staff and building administration.

    -The area that is being added back in/not moved is fairly high FRL and includes a large group of ELL students. We currently have a fairly large and well-functioning ELL staff in place. And, according to our principal its not a community with a lot of mobility.

    Now, I am generally an integration hawk. But given that leaving the borders the way they were set would underpopulate the building, and given that the 72% FRL that those borders got the school down to--nowhere near the district mean or a tipping point for affluent outmigration, then I think it makes a lot of sense to not take down and rebuild that ELL staff elsewhere, and to not take down the general teaching staff and possibly rebuild it within a year. I think that both of those things would be worth doing in a scenario that made a meaningful change in a school's economic isolation, but the borders previously approved wouldn't do that. And, while this will bring the school's FRL% above 72, I don't think it will bring it back to 79%.

  3. Regarding the Twain/Longfellow magnet: good luck. I think its an excellent idea in many ways. But, its been proposed before, and there's been quite a bit of resistance from families in the Longfellow neighborhood. I'd like to hope that times have changed, and that the conversation about integration and socioeconimc balance and boundary changes over the past year or two has made people more receptive to the idea. The families added back in to Twain would be travelling a ways to Longfellow, but not really that much farther than they already travel to Twain if they were part of the zone for this as a set of sister schools.