I remember back in the early 2000s when Omni Middle School, which I was attending at the time, began bringing in what were colloquially called “Concretables.” Essentially a glorified portable classroom, these highly impersonal concrete blocks were dropped toward the back of the school to make room for a growing student body. At the time, I did not think much of it, but as a former Boca student and current educator, I am greatly concerned for the students, parents, and teachers who face what seems to be a growing issue for Boca Raton. Because questions such as how we got here and who is responsible continue to be covered extensively by BocaWatch and other outlets, I do not wish to rehash those issues here. Instead, I want to take a step back and discuss the potential social consequences of school overcrowding for Boca and its surrounding communities.
School overcrowding has the potential to exacerbate the already existing internal segregation of our schools. Schools are supposed to be the great equalizer, but unfortunately, in many cases they succeed only in reproducing inequality. My most vivid memories of Omni Middle School have to do with the ways the school segregated the “Gifted” students from the “Regular” ones. A remarkably pejorative distinction, students in the Gifted Program had (in most cases) entirely separate buildings, lunch periods, and teachers. A nearly perfected form of what is called “tracking,” Omni succeed in segregating students not by their actual meritocratic ability but by whose parents had the most resources to better prepare their children before ever stepping foot in school. Why do I mention all this? Because in a society where parents uniformly believe their children are all the best and brightest, and in a city where “merit” can go to the highest bidder, we find ourselves in a situation where there is increasing demand and competition for a shrinking opportunity structure.
If we keep adding more students to the pool, what does that mean for the issues just described? It means that the parental task of ensuring that our children have the best education possible becomes more difficult. It means parents and students will not only fight over the right to attend certain schools, but also the right to access the best classrooms and teachers within those schools. It means the families with the least resources to combat these issues will likely have to expect less for their children. More students will have to settle for just being “Regular” in middle school, and the AP and Honors classes offered at high schools will have to be reserved for only the most elite. My fear is that the consequence of all this will be a fiercely exacerbated “race to the bottom,” characterized by parents using whatever tricks and resources are available to ensure their children are not the ones left out by overcrowding. To be clear, it would be naïve and irrational to blame parents for wanting the best for their children, but my concern is that we are increasingly realizing a situation where parents will fight for their children’s education even at the expense of other children and their own neighbors.
The way Boca residents have been talking about redistricting and competition makes us sound less like a civilization and more like a stale version of The Hunger Games. While I readily admit I do not have the answers to these complex problems, I strongly believe a quality education should be a right and not a privilege, and that this city should be working together to ensure quality, equitable educations for its residents’ children.