• by María Robledo Montecel, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • March 1997
The City Council of Farmers Branch and the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District (ISD) board of trustees are two discrete elected policy-making bodies facing the same powerful educational, economic and demographic forces. Both are trying to make decisions that will enable them to meet their public responsibilities with wisdom, integrity and effectiveness.
In another time, in the rural and even the postwar suburban era of Carrollton-Farmers Branch, each entity could have comfortably made those decisions without concern for their effect on the ability of the other to uphold their public trust. But the city of Farmers Branch and the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district are right in the middle of rapid and constant economic, educational and demographic transformations that require that each attend and contribute to the quality of information, input and decision making of the other.
A study by IDRA grew out of the concern of the Farmers Branch city council (and a broad spectrum of members of the Farmers Branch community) that the proposed school attendance zones contemplated by the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district have the potential to exacerbate pressures on the school and the community that would lead to a decline in the quality of education in the schools serving Farmers Branch students. The city of Farmers Branch has concerns about access, equity and excellence (effectiveness) and how the decisions made for constructing new schools and the proposed attendance zones will affect these. This study was commissioned to assist the city in preparing a set of recommendations that reflects a broad spectrum of involved voices from the community and includes choices broader than those the school sees as its current options.
IDRA and a team of researchers interviewed 14 key stakeholders individually and convened 29 others in focus groups.
The size and diversity of the community has changed dramatically in the last 17 years. The district has a good reputation in the state. Because of the shifting population trends, there are some campuses in which minorities are the majority and other campuses with high concentrations of low-income populations. There is concern among some community residents that the quality of offerings and reputations of the schools will suffer.
Many respondents feel that a downward economic spiral will ensue if the concentrations of students that the population shifts are bringing dominate any campus.
The community interviewed wants diversity and sees diversity as a positive value. Key stakeholders unanimously support diversity, equity and excellence in the community and the district. There is also strong support for redrawing attendance zones to facilitate diversity at all levels.
IDRA included in the study a review of what the law and the courts state including:
- Separate public schooling is inherently unequal.
- The school district bears the primary responsibility for achieving and maintaining desegregated schools.
In addition to interviews, the research team acquired selected student achievement and participation data and compiled data sets focusing on attendance zone demographics. Highlights of the findings are listed below.
Equitable student assignment to schools…
- In the past 17 years, the numbers of students, minority students and low-income students have almost doubled.
Equitable student access to programs and services…
- Only 7 percent of the students in gifted and talented programs are Hispanic and 2 percent are African American, even though these students make up 24 percent and 8 percent of the student population, respectively.
- Students who bring to school a language other than English constitute almost 13 percent of the district’s population, the same percentage of such children in the state. District results for these children lag behind the state in reading, mathematics and all tests; the higher the grade level, the bigger the gap.
- Only one in 10 teachers is minority.
Quality of educational programs…
- While the overall TAAS performance of students is impressive and reflects the local schools’ trend of meeting or exceeding state average performance levels, there are gaps in the academic performance levels of different sub-groups of pupils.
- Hispanic students in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD high schools dropped out in greater numbers than did other students within the district.
- Review of the data indicates that the use of the proposed attendance zones will tend to concentrate the future high school minority population that is currently 57 percent White and 43 percent minority.
- The proposed attendance zone configuration would result in one high school zone having the most minority students and the least experienced teachers from feeder elementary schools.
- The schools with the greatest percentages of low-income pupils are grouped within the proposed new attendance zone.
In sum, property values can be protected for all sectors of the community if the criterion used for assigning children to schools is not limited to “neighborhood schools.” A downward economic spiral evidenced in some neighborhoods will affect the whole district if schools only reflect the economic conditions of the immediate neighborhood. There has been a lack of inclusion of members of minority groups in the formal and informal decision making-process.
Based on the results of the interviews and data analysis, a series of recommendations was developed. IDRA presented research findings and recommendations to the City Council of Farmers Branch and the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District board of trustees. The recommendations represented a spectrum of solutions, from changing the current decisions of where the new school will be located, to re-drawing the attendance zones, to considering the offerings and configurations of all the current and planned high schools. Highlights of the recommendations include the following:
Climate for decision making
- Affirm responsibility for all children in the district.
- Recognize the human capital and personal assets represented in the new population groups in the district.
- Examine and consider the effects of decisions on diverse groups.
- Underscore future collaboration with the principles of shared responsibility and the interrelated consequences of decision making.
- Look for innovative solutions to atypical problems.
Shaping of attendance zones
- Ensure that the new attendance zones will do no harm to the district’s school communities and ensure that attendance zone decisions do not exacerbate the ethnic and socio-economic level identifiability of any school.
- Consider alternative attendance zones presented in the report.
- Transform a certain high school and its feeder middle schools into a “Global Technologies Academy.”
- Create a corporate community college fund for children in low-income families.
- Improve the district’s capacity to identify and serve high ability and gifted and talented children from minority and low-income backgrounds.
- Improve the district’s capacity to ensure success for children who bring to schools a language other than English.
- Maintain high quality, experienced teachers in the schools with the greatest needs.
- Recruit and retain high quality minority teachers and administrators who are strategically engaged in helping the district address the needs of minority students.
- Collaborate with area universities and training organizations on programs to strengthen the capacity of working with changing demographics.
Community building and leadership development
- Explore alternative models of community building and leadership development to ensure minority parents are meaningfully engaged in decision making.
Enhanced city and business community support
- Consider annexing the land on which a certain high school now sits.
- Form a task force of corporate sector representatives with chambers of commerce and other organizations to support the schools instructionally and programmatically.
Since receiving the results of the study the city council and school board have gone through several stages to address the study’s findings and recommendations. These stages have included limited public forums, U.S. Department of Education mediation and steps toward possible litigation. The Carrollton-Farmers Branch community has taken on some tough questions, and this study shows that members of the community are ready for innovative ideas. By working collaboratively with a common vision, the community can address these questions in positive ways that assure equity and success for all children in the district and in ways that maintain the community’s economic viability.
Dr. María Robledo Montecel is the executive director of IDRA. Comments and questions may be sent to her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is a summary of the key findings and recommendations of the report submitted by IDRA to the City Council of Farmers Branch and the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District.
[©1997, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 1997 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]