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School integration by income is an experiment being used by a small but growing number of school districts to close the education achievement gap. Cambridge, Massachusetts is the latest school district to implement this concept. Others include Wake County, North Carolina and LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

Comprised of 7,300, the Cambridge district is a highly diverse area with no ethnic group claiming a majority. This initiative is planned to take effect next fall, starting with kindergarteners. The objective is to erase existing family income disparities in student enrollments, which range from 21 percent to 72 percent of students qualifying for free and reduced-priced meals.

Integration by income is a rather new method, but is becoming a more common education reform tactic. Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, advised Cambridge on the plan. His book, All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools Through Public School Choice, discusses wealth-based school initiatives in depth and purports to lay out a course of action that will become the future of education integration.

Kahlenberg’s plan combines Thomas Mann’s nineteenth century concept of the common school-which calls for educating disadvantaged and advantaged children under one roof-with the current enthusiasm for choice among public schools. The idea suggests that the disadvantaged children will benefit from the social connections, better resources, and greater community support that middle-class schools draw versus the poor conditions at most poverty-level schools.

In Kahlenberg’s school, disadvantaged children would greatly improve in their academic success while the scores of middle-class children are not affected. Opponents of this plan fear that Kahlenberg’s plan will erode the idea of the neighborhood school.


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