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Thread: Planning for a better school system?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Planning for a better school system?

    A common case to move out of older urban areas is the quality of schools. While I think that it is more a perception issue and not a quality of education issue, there appears to be serious case of swimming against the current.

    There are many older urban neighborhoods that are now historic districts but are plagued with low/moderate income persons that have a low educational level. However the physical infrastructure of these homes is phenomenal, they are often a mixed use pedestrian friendly neighborhood, and have all the amenities and qualities that a family will look for in a place to locate... with one exception. The school districts are often perceived as having poor educational quality.

    What urban redevelopment, planning, or zoning techniques do you know of that can improve the quality of schools or at least the quality of the perception of schools in older urban areas? Is it something that is out of our hands?
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  2. #2
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis View post
    Is it something that is out of our hands?
    Yes. I'm not sure what zoning techniques can be used to change people's perception. And I can guarantee you that many people send their children to suburban schools simply because of the race issue. Not sure there are any zoning ordinances in the country that can help fight racism.

    School districts (at least in Michigan) need to figure out their finances in terms of health care and pensions. (Come on unions, step to the plate.) Once finances are in order, the school districts can begin to work on more meatier issues, such as spending an appropriate amount of money on the actual education of students.

    School districts are really an entity unto themselves, often crossing municipal boundaries. I guess I don't have a very positive outlook on municipal planners improving school systems.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    forgetabit this one here in California thanks to Prop 13. The schools are funded by property taxes, and the higher the property taxes collected for schools from new homes built in the suburbs, the better the school district tends to be. Bettering our school funding sources to better equip more urban schools is something i believe out of the planner's hands and unfortunately rests with state legislatures (especially here in California since our state legislature seem to act like a bunch of monkeys in a banana tree).
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  4. #4
    Cyburbian Plan 9's avatar
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    A part of the perception often comes from the fact that as a neighborhood ages, there are often less kids in the district. Mostly because the kids grow up and leave and the parents grow old there.

    Less kids, usually means less money, less money = fewer teachers, poorer buiding maintenance, etc. If parents would see reason and allow school boards to combine school districts and close under utilized schools some of these problems might be mitigated. Unfortunately, the noisy, loud, unreasonable parents are the ones that go to school board meetings and don't let them close schools that are operating at half or less of their design capacity in older neighborhoods. Otherwise, the school board could close em down and get some economy of scale out of full schools rather than several partially filled schools.
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  5. #5
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    Preschool & Charter Schools

    Having "low/moderate income persons that have a low educational level" is a tough hurdle to overcome. You can try to tackle the issue or do an end-around. Tackling the issue might include universal preschool for the area's families, as well as adult education, to raise the general level of education. Involving local employers/ churches/ community groups as mentors would help those already in the system. An end-around would be to start a charter school (or more, depending on the size of the area you want to impact), which would attract local families that are more involved/concerned with education, possibly resulting in a school that you could advertise to potential buyers.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by btrage View post
    Yes. I'm not sure what zoning techniques can be used to change people's perception. And I can guarantee you that many people send their children to suburban schools simply because of the race issue. Not sure there are any zoning ordinances in the country that can help fight racism.
    Remember, in the 60s when "white flight" was on its way, these "bad urban schools" were in fact good schools. They only became bad when dedicated parents left and let the schools rot with those parents who were not as involved with their children's education.

    Zoning can't change family behavior.
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    There is hope! Lots to read

    There is a lot happening on this subject now! Read some of the lit from Clearinghouse for Education Facilities http://www.edfacilities.org/ Go to to the resource list for different categories.

    You'll find examples like these:
    Nat. Gov. Assoc. 05/02/2007
    Integrating Schools into Healthy Community Design, Darren Springer

    Why Johnny Can't Walk to School: Historic Neighborhood Schools in the Age of Sprawl.
    http://www.nationaltrust.org/issues/downloads/schools_why_johnny.pdf
    Beaumont, Constance E.; Pianca, Elizabeth G.
    (National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, DC, Oct 2002)

  8. #8
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    The Flint, Michigan school district has been losing students at a rate of several hundred every year for some time now. They have tried TV ad campaigns, radio ads, billboards (the commercial garb) and that obviously didn't work. They've tried bringing in new superintendents to reform the school structures (i.e. making freshman academies, re-allocating students to different buildings to optimize use) but the programs (and the people they've hired) haven't panned out at all. Charter schools are doing well in Flint (one of them is at 350 kids in 9-12 after only a few years of existence), but the public system is still crap. They can't find anyone to run the show.....but then one person really can't fix what Flint has put itself in.

    I apologize...that was more of a rant than being helpful in any constructive way. Hopefully there's something in there worth noting.
    Last edited by mendelman; 11 Oct 2007 at 12:44 PM.

  9. #9
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    A Shift in Culture

    In terms of its founding historical goal, public education has worked. It has brought "education" to the mass; moving us in and through an age where education was a privilege for the few to an age where education is a
    "right". From an objective standpoint, we've achieved much in the past 150 years. However, our exceleration as a society has outweighed and outrun our public systems capacity and we are left with an outdated system and culture of being.

    Change, therefore, must be viewed as first requiring a holistic shift in the culture of education, one that builds on global operational principles while simultaneously raising its business proforma. In other words, be responsive to children families and community as a whole - while at the same time - be accountable like any service industry.

    Indeed a hard cultural shift in a system rooted in dynamics typical of government infrastructure; systems built on securities and not on innovations.

    Our culture creating solutions? Return to the past for learning (remember who you were) and at the same time create a vision for your future that is beyond even the best practices of best practices. And resting in the middle of everything you do is the priority welfare of children, families and communities; the compass to any quality learning experience.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    This is a very regionally specific thread. Here in Iowa, the best schools are in the hearts of cities. I went to the best high school in Iowa (or so the award says) and it's quite near a "ghetto" area (if there is a ghetto in Iowa at all lol).
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  11. #11
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    It is a regional issue, for the most part.

    The problems here are generally:

    1. Districts with mostly poor demographics (urban or suburban) are cash-starved.
    2. Districts with mostly rich demographics (mostly suburban) use several different means to keep their cash per student high (limiting population growth within their district, courting development that will provide tax revenue without increasing the number of students - including huge amounts of senior-only housing)
    3. Districts with a mix of really rich,rich, and poor (mostly urban) have a decent amount of money - but the upper and upper middle classes all send their kids to private schools - leaving mostly poor and lower middle class kids in the public schools.

    The schools that fit into #2 are the only good schools, because they are essentially private public schools - you don't have a ticket to the neighborhood, you don't have a ticket to the school. Having multiple very small school districts was originally a way to get around the supreme court declaring racial segregation illegal - now it's a way for rich areas to maintain income-based segregation. Planning wise - I don't have an answer.

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