Diversity in school helps kids thrive

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Adam Ingersoll, guest columnist

I  have four kids at Borlaug Elementary in Iowa City, where my wife served two years as PTO President. As a kid, I qualified for free or reduced lunch. In fact, the free lunch was often the most reliable meal my six siblings and I ate during my K-12 years when I attended eight different schools.

In hindsight, it is clear that my academic achievement was directly related to my environment. When I attended schools where most of the students had similar barriers of poverty and instability, I did not do as well. And that was not the teachers’ fault or the other poor kids’ fault. It was just a reality. When I attended schools that were socioeconomically diverse, I was able to accomplish so much more. The distance I had to travel to get to school or to activities made no difference.

But I’m not asking the community to rely on my, or anyone else’s, anecdotal experience. Research and data from our district shows unequivocally that socioeconomic balance — above all else — positively impacts academic achievement. The Iowa City school board members focused on busing are either being disingenuous or naive. Their own data shows that the correlation between the number of miles students travel to get to school and their academic proficiency is less than two percent. Conversely, the correlation between free or reduced lunch populations and academic proficiency is almost 90 percent.

When we moved to Iowa City in 2010, two years before Borlaug opened, most of my neighbors expressed inclusive and informed views of public education. There were exceptions. I was told that we needed to lobby for the “good kind of diversity,” which I learned referred to the international families who studied and taught at the University of Iowa. I was told that our kids would be in big trouble if certain kids were sent to Borlaug. At best, this way of thinking reflects ignorance and fear. At worst, it reveals bigotry and prejudice. The school board has an opportunity and an obligation to rebuke this way of thinking.

The plan proposed by school board member Chris Liebig will cause socioeconomic and racial imbalances in our high schools. Liberty High will be an island of whiteness and wealth while West and City will face disproportionate barriers to learning. Disparities will widen. Worst of all, the board’s failure to prioritize balance will give safe harbor to bigotry and prejudice, signaling that any form of segregation is acceptable.

Every student in this district should be given the same academic opportunity as my four children. On July 19, I am voting for Paul Roesler. Paul is the candidate who will work to regain the public trust in the board’s ability to make progress, keep the May 2015 boundary plan, pass the bond to stay committed to the Facilities Master Plan, ensure three equally strong high schools, and embrace the diversity in our schools.

• Adam Ingersoll owns a college admission consulting business and serves on the boards of trustees of the Iowa City Public Library, FilmScene, and the Unitarian Universalist church.

More opinions on the July 19 Iowa City School Board election: 

• Balance schools, minimize barriers to education

• Balance and equity in Iowa City schools

• Iowa City School election a referendum on equity, attendance

• School boundaries shouldn't worsen transportation barriers

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