Reconciling Education Reform and New Urbanism

Schools may not be the urbanist anchors we want, but the community can serve as a school, as well as push for transit that connects other educational needs.

I once read an article in the News and Observer that illustrates the true effect of the modern neighborhood school. In this article, schools in wealthy neighborhoods had established private foundations, some that were able to pay teachers outside of state funding. This is on top of the money raised by their Parent Teacher Associations (PTA). However, schools in poorer neighborhoods were dependent completely on government funding.

Say what you will about who’s to blame for the poor education system, but it often comes down to economics. Equally troubling were the comments on the article. These comments bashed the idea of having a big all-district endowment instead of the per-school endowment. The assumption would be that each school would get equal dollars. I think this makes sense in the public school realm. Yet, this was slammed as socialism by many commentators on the post. One commenter offered to help other schools establish private foundations, but the sad part about him was that he was also anonymous. Still, parents who are buying into public schools, remember that they are public. Your money goes to the public good. If you really are concerned that bad about helping other students that you don’t like or know, consider taking your kids to private school.

A part of good urbanism is having amenities close by. This includes our schools. However, I believe our schools will be the last piece to join a compact, self-sustaining urban neighborhood. There are far too many curriculum choices, learning styles, parenting styles and age groups in fluctuation to allow for a successful neighborhood school network in line with urbanist principles. However, urbanism can embrace equal school access.

For cities like Raleigh that have a large enough urban and suburban base, I propose that we go to zone based schooling.  Zones would have several types of schools in one geographic area. No student would be bused out of this area unless demand far exceeded supply. A plan like this was proposed in Wake County. It was passed, but with far too many holes and disagreements and politics to work well.The main concern was that schools would re-segregate by racial and economic lines. They probably will, but that’s only a problem if the teachers and parents make it a problem. Kids bully, cheat, and fail tests all across the school income spectrum. I witnessed at the suburban high school I attended.  While these privileged kids from the suburbs were in high end classes and some did quite well, not as many did so well in college and so far there aren’t any who are doing above-average things that their high education would speak to. For the record, we do have aspiring lawyers doctors and young engineers. We’ve launched an Olympic athlete and a governor. Yet, just like any school, no matter the level, there’s not a 100% success rate.

Yet, what is success? People have different definitions. My own success came from a parent making me do well. In college I had professors and mentors that cared enough about my future to push me to the top. People are needed to help all students find resources they need and they don’t always cost money. They could be your neighbors. In a dense urban environment that’s economically stable, these neighbors also have careers and occupations that serve as educational outlets.

Ultimately, if we can’t get schools into the neighborhood fold, at least get mentors and teachers there. Find store and business owners who are willing to train students who aren’t too academic to  run tech based businesses or manage stores. Provide an adequate transportation network to and from schools that offer something the neighborhood school doesn’t. The neighborhood school should host other community events either free of charge or at a reasonable rate. Bring mentors in for students who are struggling, as well as for parents who may need help with continuing education and entrepreneurial training. Also, as we hold all parties (parents, teachers, students and the community) accountable for environmental issues, let’s push for educational excellence as well. Lastly, we must remember that success looks different, but we should strive for whatever it is for a particular person.

At this point, we can then start solving the urban schools problem and cross that off our list of urban renewal(the good kind) and suburban retrofit.

  • Reconciling Education Reform and New Urbanism

  • Reconciling Education Reform and New Urbanism //

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  • We agree, incorporating education into  New Urbanism design and community layout can be an integral part of education reform. Having schools distributed evenly throughout all parts of the city is a reasonable approach to ensuring education equality in impoverished neighborhoods. 

    • ChezKiva

      That’s the model we have in Little Rock; relatively even distribution, with ‘arts magnets, and special-district schools,’ plus secular escapes for those who make over, say, $60,k. Low numbers, low creativity & near-zero social ‘outputs.’ It’s a continual reinforcement for ‘institutionalized racism’ from my perspective as well, even without a host of valid criticism for mandatory testing in compulsory education at any age.

      The greater problem is a near complete void of ‘neighborly’ interactions of any kind in our daily lives. “Mentorships,’ even on the most incidental levels, are strictly catch-as-catch-can, or up to the determination of the parents- plural! Singles have like zero chance to break the silence and push their kids into simple, character-building interactions, like the time we went to watch them making Sail Boats!, and real Timex Watches, and.. OMG! “Wonder Bread!”

  • Some holistic ideas. RT @blackurbanist #Education is a part of #smartgrowth and #urbanism-

  • Can #urbanism and education reform work together?…

  • I hope I’m not angering you with my links but this fits right into the topic of Institutional Racism and Classism that I wrote about months ago: Then hours later I witnessed a murder that proved my point: You see, it comes down to understanding that certain groups of people never learn to pull themselves up because everything and everyone they see is just like they are. They are deliberatly isolated from good examples by our current development models.

    • Kristen Jeffers

      Nope, thanks for sharing!

  • Such a tricky situation. We had a choice of several Raleigh schools — most of which were “Inside the Beltline” and all that were very good schools. We would have been lucky to send out kid to any one of them. I mean that. The elementary school that we wound up in is fantastic — and it’s one of those schools you described that has its own foundation IN ADDITION to a very active PTA. It has been able to save some assistant positions and other positions because of the foundation. But more important, it has a VERY active collection of parents who volunteer in the classroom regularly. I don’t think this can be discounted. We know of other schools where when parents volunteer, they are helping out in the cafeteria, or with the book fair — rarely IN the classroom with the kids. In our school, the parents are able to, and that makes all the difference in the world.

    You will NOT be surprised to hear that our school is in a fairly affluent neighborhood. I hope this doesn’t sound paternalistic, but I wish every school had the involvement of parents like ours does.

    • kristenej

      It is. I grew up in a school where my mom was a stay-at-home/room-mom. She was not alone, although the PTA was small. It was the early 90’s and we were a solidly lower/working class neighborhood. I think it can be done no matter where you are, it’s just being creative with parents. I do wish we could share some of that wealth in this day and time. My elementary school continues to be a Title I(or whatever the low-performing schools are called now) school. I also know my opinion may change when I have a kid, but based on my experience, maybe not.