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daily mail editorial

March 26, 2002

Giving needy children access to good schools

When Chinese-American parents in San Francisco challenged a school desegregation plan that had been place for almost 20 years, some expected a long and expensive court action. What emerged instead - and what bears watching - is a new plan designed to mix students not by race, but by their parents' incomes.

According to Richard D. Kahlenberg's account in Education Week, parents challenged the old rule which limited the enrollment of certain ethnic groups in the schools because it limited access to Lowell High School, an elite school which students must apply to attend.

After the court bounced out the old rule, the city crafted a new one in which the parents of poor children can apply to send them to schools with higher concentrations of upper-middle-class children. Applications were due Feb. 1 and parents will find out the results this week.

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The plan has three virtues. It does not force any student to leave his or her "home" school. But it does require low-income parents to participate, at least to the point of preparing an application.

Finally, it begins to address what Kahlenberg sees as the key problem facing schools: "The extra needs poor students bring to school can effectively overwhelm schools with large numbers of needy kids."

Why would mixing students from different economic backgrounds help? Because, Kahlenberg says, students learn from each other, as well as from their teachers; because higher-income parents are more likely to be involved in school activities and because those same parents are more likely to demand that good teachers be retained and poor ones sent away.

In Washington County, many parents have applied for "special permission" to move children to other school districts so the child can be cared for after school by a grandparent. If that's appropriate, why shouldn't economically disadvantaged families have the right to send their children to schools where research indicates they'll get a better education?

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