Re-districting Policies and Their Effect On Public Elementary School Demographics in Walla Walla, WA

Susannah Lowe

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My final project examines the ways in which school diversity can be impacted by certain policies which determine where each student attends school. I attempted to answer the following questions by examining a particular case in the Walla Walla Public Schools (WWPS), located in a town of about 30,000 in southeast Washington: (1) How have the new elementary school boundaries implemented in the Fall of 2009 affected the racial/ethnic, income-level, and native language makeup of the schools which students attend? (2) What policies and/or practices impacted theses decisions?  Are these policies and practices detrimental or advantageous for the students who are subject to them?  What impact did the neighborhood school model determined by the school district have on the distribution of students?  (3) What are the possible effects of these changes for elementary school students within the district?

Methods:  I ran statistical analysis of data available from the Washington State Report Cards created by Washington State’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and WWPS administration.  This data included the makeup of each school’s population in terms of racial/ethnic minorities, low-income students, as well as the numbers of non-native English speakers at each school and goes back to the 1998-1999 school year.  I also used a computer program called GIS to illustrate these data on a map, which allowed for spatial as well as statistical analysis.  Finally, I interviewed two school district officials in order to show how the new boundaries were decided upon and to contextualize my statistical and spatial data.

FindingsThe neighborhood school model appeared to conflict with a model based on the racial/ethnic integration of students.  No scholars suggested the neighborhood school model was beneficial to students’ success and education, whereas many scholars showed that the integration model was valuable in this setting. I also found:

  • One of the traditionally least diverse schools that was moving towards increasing ethnic and social class diversity in recent years has become less diverse in these two aspects – ethnicity and income-level.
  •  In the school which had been serving the largest Hispanic population and the largest percentage of students living in poverty, there was an increase in both of these populations.
  • One school that was traditionally white/middle-class did receive a large number of underprivileged and Hispanic students, but integration in this one school nevertheless may not make up for the increasing disparities seen between the five elementary schools

Recommendations:

  • WWPS should re-examine the benefits of the neighborhood school model to their elementary school students
  • More research is needed both on the impacts integration can have at the elementary school level and on the positive impacts the neighborhood school model may have for students

 

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