American Renaissance

S.F. Chinese Community Astir over School Desegregation Debate

S. Chou, Kai-Ping Liu, Yvonne Lee, Sing Tao Daily, NCM, Apr. 20

SAN FRANCISCO — A Chinese community leader blasted a proposal being linked to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein that seeks to do away with the San Francisco school system’s desegregation formula, according to local Chinese-language media.

The proposal merely expresses politicians’ wish to increase voter participation in the November presidential election, said Ted Wang, policy director of Chinese For Affirmative Action.

Feinstein, former San Franciso mayor, is a powerful Democrat.

Wang said abolishing the current desegregation system would have no practical impact in improving the San Francisco public schools’ quality of education.

Wang stressed politicians were merely seeking to increase Chinese American voter turnout for the presidential ballot. San Francisco’s current desegregation system, known as the Diversity Index, is unpopular with many Chinese parents because it often means their children must board buses to attend schools across town.

According to The San Francisco Chronicle, the SFSOS, a moderate political organization formed by Feinstein two years ago with influential members from the city’s business community, plans to place on the November ballot an advisory measure for the school district to abolish its current policy on desegregation and go back to a system used two decades ago.

This change would allow students to attend schools in their own neighborhood and not have to travel across town on buses. Critics of the current desegregation system say the bussing creates safety problems.

By assigning higher placement priority to students with low achievement and from low-income families with the stated goal of creating “diverse” student bodies, Chinese parents critical of the current system say the diversity index — a legacy of civil rights school desegregation suits — essentially forces their children to board buses for cross-town trips to faraway, low-performing high schools.

Several popular and desirable high schools are on the far west side of the city in areas that have a high concentration of Chinese residents.

“There will be many initiatives proposed by liberal and conservative groups for the November presidential ballot. To increase voters participation, politicians are using this kind of public education proposal as an attempt to stimulate the voting rate,” said Wang.

He added that the main purpose of the SFSOS action was to raise the conservative voter participation to defeat initiatives sponsored by progressive groups.

He asserted the San Francisco Unified School District needed to continue with the current desegregation policy and not to abolish it midstream.

U.C. Berkeley professor Ling Chi Wang stated that the city’s school problems did not rest with the diversity index or the desegregation policy. Neither did he believe the parents’ request for neighborhood schools is a genuine concern because it was a fact that better performing schools were concentrated in the city’s west side, where many Chinese families live.

Ted Wang agrees. He said parents really didn’t mind the school’s distance but were concerned with the quality of the school. “I was from Hong Kong where there were only a few good quality schools,” he said. “In order to get a good education, students would have to spend over two hours on the bus and ferry every morning just to get to those schools.”

He also criticized politicians’ blatant political motives in offering this proposal at this time. Since the desegregation policy was an order from a federal court stemming from suits with civil rights groups, it is not a policy that the San Francisco Unified School district can decide on its own accord.

Further, as the court-ordered policy expires in two years anyway, he questioned why politicians would seek to inflame the public debate on the issue and create “tension and worry”.

Wang suggested the best way to resolve the school assignment struggle is to raise the performance of schools on the east side of the city where Chinese students often get sent. To make such improvements, the district would need to distribute funding fairly, he said. Wang said the school district must not abandon schools because of poor performance. He added now was the time for school officials, including Superintendent Arlene Ackerman to demonstrate leadership.

Otherwise Ackerman should resign immediately, he said.