Archive for Wednesday, August 25, 2010

District lines

Will redrawing Lawrence’s high school boundary line benefit students?

August 25, 2010


It’s not a bad idea to take a look at Lawrence’s high school boundaries, but engineering the two districts in an effort to achieve educational goals will be a tricky business.

On Monday, Lawrence school board members agreed to start a “community conversation” about the boundaries for Lawrence High School and Free State High School. They expressed concern that the 15th Street boundary line that has separated the two attendance areas since Free State was opened in 1997 may no longer be achieving the kind of balance they’d like to see between the two schools. According to board member Mary Loveland, due to changes in population and demographics, the 15th Street boundary “isn’t working anymore.”

In what sense is it not working? Enrollment at the two high schools is relatively equal (1,064 at Free State, 1,221 at LHS) but other factors are drawing the board’s attention.

The number of economically disadvantaged students (the number receiving free or reduced-price lunches) is significantly higher at LHS (36 percent) than at Free State (22.5 percent). According to the most recent state report card on schools, LHS also has a significantly higher percentage of minority students, about 27 percent compared with 19.8 percent at Free State. Those factors may or may not be related to lower graduation rates at LHS and lower scores on the state’s reading and math proficiency tests.

While all of those factors are worthy of discussion, it’s hard to know exactly how tweaking the boundary line between the two schools’ attendance areas will impact those trends. No matter how the line is drawn, it’s hard to predict how the populations within the two districts will change over time. Long-term trends may justify a boundary change, but the district shouldn’t redraw the line every few years in an effort to maintain some kind of statistical balance.

Back in 1997, splitting the town from east to west made sense to district patrons and addressed the concern that a new high school on the west side of Lawrence would primarily serve a more affluent and less diverse population. After 13 years, it’s fine to re-examine the high school boundaries, but the question many district patrons will have is whether adjusting the socio-economic or racial balance at the two schools will actually result in better test scores or higher graduation rates.

An improved education for students at both schools should be the No. 1 objective of any discussions about changing the high school boundary line.


Keith 7 years, 3 months ago

"Back in 1997, splitting the town from east to west made sense to district patrons..."

Don't you mean north to south?

justforfun 7 years, 3 months ago

I think they mean that 15th runs east and west, in turn makes the north and south,.

John Hamm 7 years, 3 months ago

Let us not forget it was the Loveland's who purchased a house on the West side of town for their then HS age daughter to list as a "residence" so she could attend Free State. Thing is the house was outside the FS boundary - but she still was allowed to attend FS!

texburgh 7 years, 3 months ago

Richard Kahlenberg and others have studied the effects of economic segregation In schools for years and found that economic integration does indeed raise student achievement and reduce the drop out rate. You can read a good summary of research right here:

Lawrence did the right thing choosing the 15th street line in 1997 and it speaks well of the board that they want to re-examine it now in light of shifting demographic lines. The LJW should applaud them rather than call the decision into question.

olddesk 7 years, 3 months ago

It always makes sense to split the city when a few cry babies, Loveland for one, want to make sure they and or their friends get special treatment.

GardenMomma 7 years, 3 months ago

Has anyone mentioned HOW they want to redraw the boundry? I heard mention of feeder schools but nothing definite.

Did I miss something in yesterday's article? What I did read in the article is that some board members think that the boundry line issue will be a good campaign issue.

nobody1793 7 years, 3 months ago

They should do it by popularity. The cool kids go to LHS, the geeks go to Free State. Then they have a comical inter-school olympiad at the end of the year to once and for all settle the battle of whether jocks or nerds are superior.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 3 months ago

"If one side of town attracts a certain demographic"

You mean rich and white?

Tammy Yergey 7 years, 3 months ago

Because we want our kids to succeed. Read texburgh's post.

Tammy Yergey 7 years, 3 months ago

That's the problem. As the poverty level rises, the quality of education goes down. Read the study he posted. It truly does make a difference. I can attest to it.

Tammy Yergey 7 years, 3 months ago

I don' t act as if anything. I would prefer they leave things alone, but if they redraw the boundaries, then make sure that they do it on an equitable basis. If they use feeder schools, which is what Loveland suggested, and it is based on proximity, which is what many readers have commented, then South and Central would go to LHS, and Southwest and West would go to FSHS. Then, yes, the town would be segregated, based on wealth and color.

THAT is the warning I'm giving... that as poverty level rises, the quality of education goes down. If that should happen, you will see a decline in LHS performance.

texburgh 7 years, 3 months ago

What a shame. We are so close to Monroe School and yet we forget the lessons. Monroe School and Kansas were chosen precisely for the reasons people here post as rationale for not looking at boundaries - in Topeka the schools were segregated but the facilities, materials and teaching staff were essentially equal. The schools were "separate but equal." The lesson was that separate implies inequality and leads to lower expectations and hence lower achievement. The lines dividing the high schools here were drawn only partially for racial reasons but to a great extent to keep one school from being the "poor school" and the other the "rich school." As a result both schools have experienced pretty the same success. It was an excellent idea - both schools are seen as desirable schools. As demographics change, there is the possibility that the two schools will diverge in their achievements. It's not guaranteed but research would indicate it is quite possible. I suggest that you look at the link to research summaries I posted earlier and view it with an open mind. I would again posit that the school board is right to examine the issue BEFORE something changes rather than react later. They may find there is no need to change, but what is wrong with proactive thinking? I applaud them.

texburgh 7 years, 3 months ago

You keep trying to make this about race. Perhaps had you read my posts and the research link I provided you could get beyond your preconceptions about how different cultures think and consider for a moment how economic segregation can and is "forced" when neighborhoods are developed by housing costs - we don't have mixed income housing by design. Drawing school boundaries to mitigate the effects of economic segregation was done here to good effect in 1997. There is nothing wrong with trying to maintain that. Unless of course the poor are simply another group you don't want your children mixing with. In which case we arrive at a different motivation for your opposition.

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