Saturday, January 31, 2009

Integrating Suburban Public Schools / An Old Idea in a New Era

For the past several years, I’ve conducted alumni interviews for my undergraduate college, Brown University. Yesterday afternoon, I met with a student from a Prep for Prep-like program who attends an elite private school. Our enjoyable conversation jumped from New York architecture to the rigors of commuting to the challenge of independent learning. He’s an impressive kid, and he’s certainly come a long way—from an immigrant working-class community in Queens to being a serious candidate for Brown admissions. I’m rooting for him.

With the success of Prep for Prep placement organizations in setting so many low-income middle school students on the track to elite college admissions through the mechanism of well-known private schools, it’s a shame that we haven’t yet crafted an equivalent way to send low-income urban students across city borders to high-achieving suburban schools in such a way that is not reminiscent of acrimonious court-ordered desegregation efforts.

How can we revive the idea of integrating suburban schools? With incentives from states to cover the gaps in educational expenditures; private donors stepping up to the plate; and Prep for Prep running a rigorous selection and support process, I believe that suburban politicians and schools leaders would support the initiative if it could be made a win-win for everyone. A privately funded pilot test could get the ball rolling.

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