Monday, June 18, 2012

The complex issue of 'white flight' in our schools.

The issue of ‘white flight’ in our schools is a complex and somewhat emotive one. It would be easy to say it is a racist response and I notice the commentators on TV so far have avoided that label. They point to a parent’s desire to have their child in a school where they will be able to connect with the outside world form a base that ‘has connections.’
If that is correct then the flight could be put down to parents just wanting the best for their children. The question then has to be asked---‘why is it that the local school is often not perceived as being able to fill that need?’
The fact is--- the vast majority of schools do a good job and there are many examples of decile one schools sending their students on to university and the said students are doing well. If we looked at the figures a little more stringently, we would see a difference in the proportion of students achieving so well though. There are several good reasons for this.
It is pretty obvious that students in decile 10 schools are going to come from families where there is already a tradition of high achievement, both in educational outcomes and career success. The term ‘cultural capital‘ comes to mind. That means that if a young person is raised in a family where books, access to media, computers and where successful role models abound, then the link between success and CP is going to be high.
Many families in lower decile schools struggle just to get their kids to school, in uniform, pay the fees and provide a lunch---basics I know--- but not so easy if the income for the family is way below the national average. Most families want the best for their children, but the act of proving it is a task that many NZers are finding increasingly difficult. The act of sending their kids (at great cost, re transport etc.) is their attempt to gain a ‘foot in the door.’
I mentioned the possibility of ‘white flight’ being a racist response. Most commentators are reluctant to even discuss that possibility, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it is a factor. I am not sure to what extent that parents are avoiding the ‘browner schools of South Auckland and other area, but we need to at least accept that it is a possibility. What can we do about it?
We have to fight the ‘perception’ that lower decile schools are not good and challenge the misinformed beliefs about such schools that are based on racial makeup. I have spent many years in these so-called lower decile schools and I know them to offer wonderful opportunities to their students. The ‘extra funding’ they receive is well spent on increasing the possibilities for their students. The bigger question of deprivation in these communities and the accompanying social issues is one that the schools cannot fight alone. Any debate on ‘white flight (and middle class brown flight) must be seen in the wider context of what is happening in many areas of NZ society. It does not help that we have a government that is intent on taking the fiscal scissors to programme that address some of the issue I have described.
Let’s take up the challenge to work for a ‘fairer NZ.