Some perceptions never die – or are hard to change.
By Kate Bartlett
The exchange between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden in the Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019, with respect to school busing brought attention again to the busing controversy and to the long-term effects of busing that Pasadena experienced under court order in 1970. With perfect hindsight, one may argue whether busing black students to predominately white schools, and vice versa, was the right way to attempt to achieve desegregation in the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD).
The discussion of the efficacy of busing is even more interesting considering the ethnicity changes occurring in Pasadena since 1970, particularly the increase in the Asian and Hispanic populations. It is, however, inarguable that school busing gave birth to the rapid increase in private schools to which affluent white parents sent their children and to the disruption of funding for neighborhood-based public schools. It is also inarguable that the rapid rise in private schools produced the notion that they were the “good” schools and one ought not to send a child to a school in the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) if one could afford to do otherwise.
Sometimes perceptions begin with a basis in reality, but those perceptions often do not change when reality changes. Perceptions of the quality of PUSD schools are beginning to change based on a new reality. It is a begrudging new reality, as evidenced by the title of an article in LAist, “Are Pasadena Public Schools Really That Bad?” Yes, PUSD schools still are suffering enrollment issues and related funding issues because private schools, charter schools and out-of-district schools siphon off kids (charter schools are lumped with private schools although they get public funding).
The new reality, which certainly is positively affecting perception, includes the following facts:
- The decline in the white middle class student population does not mean a decline in the middle class population. Asian, Hispanic, Black, Multi-Race and other ethnicities also are middle class, and they invest in their schools financially and emotionally.
- PUSD leadership is taking “proactive steps to strengthen and systematize” relationships with communities of interest, including science, arts, business, civil rights and philanthropic, according to A Report to Inform the Educational Master Plan for Pasadena Unified School District, dated September 2016 (The Master Plan Report). Those resources include the fantastic work of the Pasadena Educational Foundation, the Pasadena Education Network, CollaboratePASadena, Caltech’s Center for Teaching, Learning and Outreach, Pasadena Community College, Adelante Youth Alliance, the Chamber of Commerce, Pasadena Playhouse and ten museums and arts organizations.
- In the Master Plan Report, Dr. Richard Kahlenberg described “substantial and compelling recent research demonstrating the high public and private return on investment in socioeconomic integration of schools,” a return that exceeds all other education investments other than early childhood education. PUSD students are able to experience that socioeconomic integration.
- The presence of innovative programs such as accelerated Math Academy classes at three middle schools with plans for follow-on curriculum at PUSD high schools demonstrates the capability and commitment of PUSD and Superintendent Brian McDonald. A Washington Post article described this accelerated AP math program as one of only two in the county, the other being the University of Minnesota’s UMTYMP program for talented youth.
- PUSD performance on the CAASPP SBAC state test has steadily improved in both ELA and Math, with the odd exception of a slight fall-off in 2017-18 for Grade 11 ELA.
A first-hand account is the very best proof of the qualities of PUSD schools. Cindy Guyer, a PUSD parent of two, submitted an unsolicited article to Pasadena Education Network because she was frustrated by the “inaccurate and incomplete” information available about school choice. Ms. Guyer conducted extensive inquiries and research to choose the best schools for her two children who were then in a private school. She chose PUSD schools. The reasons for her school choices, the positive results of those choices and her ongoing oversight are described in her very thoughtful piece (read it here).
To all of those parents with children in private school: investigate PUSD schools as a valuable investment in your children.
End of article
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