A Little Progress is Still Progress: Final Update

After seven weeks of examining redistricting from the angle of students, school board members, parents, and community members, it was clear to me that from all points of view, some progress has been made toward educational equity in Williamsburg-James City County middle schools. During school observations, I found the consequences of overcrowding and the imbalance in resources/percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch to be readily apparent, but I was also heartened to see that the school board took those issues and made them the focal point of their redistricting discussions. Though the students themselves sometimes got lost in the politics of it all, the board (led by a few members in particular) pushed for a better balance of students on free and reduced lunch plans from the criteria stage down to the final edits and vote on the attendance zone maps. They were even willing to compromise on some of their other criteria in order to close the gap in low-socio-economic status students between the four middle schools, which I found to be particularly significant.

In terms of what happens next for these middle school students, I did find that the data from previous redistricting in 2009-10 fit trends from background literature and indicate that these attendance zone changes could bolster SOL scores for economically disadvantaged students. For example, in the previous redistricting, School B received an influx of free and reduced lunch students, and its SOL scores declined overall, a change consistent with research showing that low-SES students do not perform as well in a school saturated with other low-SES students. The board’s new attendance zones will reverse that process, providing a more even distribution of those students across the division. Given the patterns in the previous data, thisĀ could lift SOL scores up at School B in the next school year. Though SOL data is finicky (see update 3 for all of my frustrations on that!), these trends show the potential for redistricting to be a positive change for students’ academic achievement.

One of the people that I interviewed for this project told me, when asked about the consequences of the 2017-18 redistricting, that though changes like these will help, no single change will solve the larger issue of educational inequity. Though that may sound negative, I completely agree. Educational equity is a complex issue that is affected by other factors found at the student, school, neighborhood, district, state, and even national levels. So while this one new district map for the middle school students in WJCC will not make the schools in the division instantly equitable places where all students have completely equal opportunities, the discussion about maintaining balance and supporting all students in their academic endeavors is definitely a start. So while this progress is not a ground-breaking shift in the world of education, it is a step in the direction of equity, and that’s real progress to me.

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