'White flight' in Boulder

Wednesday 21 December 2005 at 09:37

The Rocky Mountain News ran a story with this headline on the 19th. It will probably drop behind a paywall soon, so I thought I'd post the link now while you can still get there for free.

'White flight' in Boulder - Rocky Mountain News

From my cynical view of the media, and from the article headline, I think this is the money quote:

School segregation has been a subject of discussion - and embarrassment - for the past five years in Boulder, a community that considers itself the most progressive in the state.

There are probably a lot of folks in Colorado who are happy to see the People's Republic of Boulder getting it's progressive nose rubbed in the dirt a bit. Anyway, Columbine Elementary is featured. Here's the lead:

BOULDER - The neighborhood around Columbine Elementary School is 87 percent Anglo. But enrollment numbers indicate that many neighborhood kids are going elsewhere. This year, the school in northeast Boulder is 82 percent Hispanic.

"Most of the parents who are involved in this would not say they were (engaged in) 'white flight' - they were simply choosing options that were better for their children," says Julie Phillips, who stepped down in November as Boulder school board president.

But Richard Garcia, a member of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education who put six children through Boulder schools, is more blunt:

"My feeling is the problem is racism," Garcia says. "I think people are leaving Columbine because they don't like to be with brown kids. I know I'm going to get killed because I said that, but I'm going to call it as I see it."

That pretty well sets up the tension that exists around the school. I have a couple factual quibbles. It's north Boulder, not northeast -- the author must not be from Boulder. The figure of 87% Anglo in the neighborhood must be about the immediate neighborhood and not the school's attendance area which is around 38% Anglo. (That by itself is interesting, but I'll have to take it up later.) Anyway, there's a nice quote from the principal that gets at why I'm excited about being involved:

As for Columbine, Principal Lynn Widger says Anglo parents shun the school because they believe their children will be more challenged elsewhere.

"I think it's a concern around that, vs. racism," Widger says.

But, she says, Anglo parents would find a rich curriculum for their children at Columbine and teachers who are skilled at tailoring lessons to the needs of individual children.

"I don't want them to come here necessarily because they would serve our Latino children," Widger says of Anglo kids. "I want them to come here because it would be a good environment for them.

"And, yes, they would learn about diversity, as well as our children here would have more intercultural interaction."

Most of my neighbors will say that what they care most about the school they choose for their children is academic rigor. The low test scores lead people to believe that Columbine lacks rigor. I don't think the test scores by themselves can point to that conclusively. Poor kids don't grow up surrounded by books and puzzles and blocks and Baby Einstein DVDs. I assume that's the case anyway -- all of that stuff is expensive. The middle- and upper-class Anglo kids who live in the immediate neighborhood of Columbine start school with a huge head start on academics. Columbine could provide a rigorous education and still show low test scores -- the tests measure family income as much as anything.

The public schools I went to were about as white anglo-saxon protestant as you could probably find. I would prefer that Elliott grow up with more cultural awareness than I did. I'll bet the demographics of the Columbine attendance area more closely match the demographics of the Western Hemisphere than the rest of the schools in Boulder.

Anyway, either Columbine has high academic rigor and a bad image, or there's something missing in the academic rigor. Either way, the neighborhood can do something about it by getting involved. Someday (hopefully soon) I'll get specific here about what exactly I mean by "getting involved."