It’s pretty rare to go to an edu-wonk event here in Washington, D.C. and talk openly about the right of poor children to sit in classrooms alongside middle class ones. So kudos to Columbia University Teacher College’s Richard Colvin. Moderating an event on education and the next president at the New America Foundation today, Colvin asked Lisa Graham Keegan, McCain’s top education adviser, and Jon Schnur, an Obama adviser, whether their respective candidates support intra-district transfers between failing urban schools and high-quality suburban ones.
No Child Left Behind does have a transfer provision that, technically, makes such moves possible. But due to underfunding and lack of publicity, only 2 percent of eligible students have taken advantage of the policy. Would Obama or McCain change that? “I don’t know,” said Schnur, the Obama rep. Keegan replied with a simple, “Yes.” But chatting with Matt Yglesias after the event, Keegan said that in fact, McCain doesn’t support anything more drastic that what is already included in NCLB.
In other words, neither of these candidates is embracing the socioeconomic integration of American schools. Kevin Drum suggests today that such a goal is hopeless, due to the geographic patterns of poverty within cities. In actuality, mid-size cities such as Washington, D.C., with contiguous, affluent suburbs, would lend themselves quite nicely to intra-district transfers, and even the creation of more regionalized school districts. In Hartford, Conn., a comparable city, there’s a popular, over-subscribed program that allows suburban kids to transfer into high-quality, diverse urban magnet schools, and city kids to transfer into traditional suburban high schools. The barrier to enacting such programs isn’t just geography or the concentration of poverty, but also resistance from many suburban parents who, frankly, don’t want poor, sometimes troubled kids in their own children’s schools.
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