The assumption of causality between school tradition and students’ academic performance may be disaffirmed by implementing partial zoning. Based on my reflection, I have surmised that it is not that established secondary schools perform well because of tradition; but rather they maintain the tradition of success because of the quality of students they receive. Based on this observation, I believe that the move to introduce partial zoning must be applauded. This move is certainly testimony of a political determination to achieve a measure of equity and efficiency in the Secondary Education System. Additionally, with the implementation of this policy I anticipate inclusion and choice working with the grain of democracy and social justice to stem the erosion of parental trust in the new schools.
The demographic changes involving the internal migration of families in St. Lucia have been dramatic. Notably these demographic variations occur in the social, cultural and economic conditions impacting school zones. As a result these changing demographics have the potential to turn the tide towards increased student diversity in the new secondary schools with the implementation of partial zoning. In this vein, the excuse for parents’ choice of school based on the composition of the student body will no longer be defensible, since the selection process will now serve to make schools heterogeneous rather than stratify them. As a result, better student performance can be fostered due to supportive community and peer connections. Partial zoning then if designed as a policy to reconcile academic performance and schooling can have the potential for preventing the displacement of students from the districts and conserving parents’ disposable income and government revenue. Additionally, there will be no reason for costly bus subsidies for students commuting to another district. Usually the sole aim for these subsidies is to compensate for the financial difficulties of parents who perceive the school in their zone to be under performing. Stemming the displacement of students can depress the loss of capacity to improve the overall academic performance of some schools. Partial zoning therefore might have the potential to narrow the cultural capital gap among schools.
The constraints of geography sustained by partial zoning can have an upside. That is, how partial zoning is experienced can frame the stakeholders identity and ownership, and can influence the way people think about their community or district. Partial zoning in the long term can have much appeal if its communitarian elements are highlighted. Schools can and do represent forms of communal associations and serve as the focal point for building communities.
Groups of families seeking to pursue a particular vision of schooling and community can evolve and benefit from district/zonal schools. Partial zoning therefore can promote communities of preference, which is families claiming ownership together with teachers, around particular views of education. Research suggests that such shared vision of schooling can be more effective in pursuing academic and co curricular outcomes. It can also help foster valuable social capital and civic cohesion.
I believe the time is right to assess the current model of secondary school placement. We need to shore its deficiencies with the strengths of Partial zoning. Notwithstanding the issues raised in this discourse, the policy of partial zoning should provoke an interrogation by all the stake holders. It is important that what is proposed under this given name be known and be thoroughly examined. It is like a food label. The consumer must study the fine print to see what exactly the ingredients are.
Can partial zoning be a quasi choice model combing the logic of the freedom of the marketplace with moral concerns for the under-subscribed secondary schools? Will partial zoning be choice with regulation? Because only by regulating choice will under-subscribed secondary schools be afforded an opportunity to succeed and be evaluated as equals to the established schools. Will partial zoning be the wedge necessary to marginalize opposition to the creation of an equitable student composition in Secondary Schools? Will partial zoning maintain a differential in terms of status between schools that are zoned and the few that are not?
Editor’s note: The above, the conclusion of a three part series first published in the STAR Newspaper on Wednesday, May 15, 2013.