The subject of school integration came up several months ago while I was researching a story. The idea of a metro school system, though heralded by many as one of the most promising ways to improve student performance in Rochester’s schools, was simultaneously dismissed by the people I was with. “Impossible,” “Will never happen,” and “Not plausible,” they said.
That’s why the discussion of somehow integrating city students into suburban schools at yesterday’s Grad Nation Summit is so interesting. The conversation, which was the theme of one of the panel discussions, was reported by the D&C’s Tiffany Lankes.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone who attended the summit was unaware that Rochester is a highly segregated metropolitan area. Certainly, area politicians learned that lesson from former mayor Bill Johnson’s attempt to snatch the county executive’s seat away from Maggie Brooks. Her infamous Pac-Man ad, which showed the little yellow critter gnawing away at the county, was supposed to suggest Johnson’s penchant for big government. But many people saw it as racism.
A metro school system was one of Johnson’s ideas for improving city schools, and critics said that the ad played on the fears and opposition that many suburban voters held at the time. Johnson was soundly defeated. As one politician put it to me recently, even bringing up the idea of a metro school would be a career-altering decision.
But even more curious is how the student integration issue is being held up as a way to combat the ills of concentrated poverty in Rochester. More than a few people who attended yesterday’s summit have publicly held the position that poverty has been used as an “excuse” for low student achievement in city schools.
“Since race correlates closely with economic status, this racial separation drives a concentration of poverty in certain schools – a factor that research consistently shows is a prime indicator of academic performance,” Lankes writes.
Maybe we're finally ready to admit that poverty isn't an excuse. It's a reality.