The topic of diversification of area schools is nothing new to San Antonians. When we think of diversity, we normally think of ethnic diversity. Rarely does the notion of socioeconomic diversity enter the conversation. Yet, this is the issue that plagues Texas schools more now than ever with more than 60% of our 5.3 million Texas school children characterized as economically disadvantaged (this definition equates to the student qualifying under Federal guidelines for the free-and-reduced lunch program). With a goal of breaking down concentrations of poverty within their district, San Antonio ISD, under the leadership of its new Chief Innovation Officer Mohammed Choudhury, has unveiled a plan to deploy resources and programming to ensure socioeconomic diversity and integration within each campus in the district.
Explaining the district’s new plan to the Chamber’s Education and Workforce Development Council, Choudhury explained why socioeconomic diversification is needed, not just in SAISD, but in all school districts in the region. Outlining the concept of a “Controlled Choice” framework, Choudhury explained that historically disadvantaged families/students should not only have the option of excellent schools but access to those schools as well. Research shows that if concentrations of poverty remain in place, then racial and economic segregation will continue to be exacerbated. The issue then becomes how you accomplish controlled choice in a district with close to 93% of its population characterized as low-income.
“We need to understand that poverty in a school district isn’t just whether the student qualifies for free-and-reduced lunch,” said Choudhury. “It is more complex than that…it involves examining the dynamics of the household (is it a one or two parent home); home ownership (do they rent or own their home); educational level of the family (do the parents have a degree, certificate or other post-secondary experience).” With this in mind, Choudhury has broken up SAISD (and other districts) into socioeconomic blocks using information gathered through census data, SAISD data, and the 2015 American Community Survey five-year estimates. For a visual description of the breakdown of these blocks please see the image below:
Using these socioeconomic blocks and factors, Choudhury plans to evaluate current “choice” programs within the district to ensure that diversity truly exists while at the same time creating new opportunities that can attract middle-class families to the campuses. The idea being that if you can attract families of various socioeconomic blocks then the campus will experience true diversity and provide an ideal ground for opportunities for elevation of families out of poverty.
Choudhury was careful to note that this type of strategy doesn’t get implemented overnight and requires community commitment and patience; however, he was confident under the leadership of Superintendent Pedro Martinez and the current SAISD Board of Trustees, that positive change can occur in San Antonio’s largest urban district. “So long as we remain honest with our community and partners on what we need to do as a district, then we should see movement in ending these blocks of sustained poverty in San Antonio,” said Choudhury.
For more information on SAISD’s plan for socioeconomic diversity and integration please see the attached PPT.
For more information on how you can get engaged in the Chamber’s Education/Workforce Council you can email Priscilla Camacho.