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How Some of the Nation’s Schools Are (or Aren’t) Addressing Increased Segregation

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March 31, 2016 12:30 pm

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Updated to include the results of the Loudoun County decision.

Although it has been more than 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education, the country’s schools are still considered to be separate and unequal, reports Education Dive. Public schools are more segregated now than in the 1970s, the article points out, with more than 30 percent of the nation’s African American and Latino population attending schools that are 90 percent non-white.

As districts and states work to combat this issue, strategies are emerging that incorporate not only race but socioeconomics, according to a new report by The Century Foundation. A New Wave of School Integration shows that ninety-one school districts and charters are using integration methods including magnet schools, weighted lotteries, and alternate school attendance zones to achieve more of a balance. According to Halley Potter, one of the report authors, this number is more than doubled since 2007.

On a federal level, the Obama Administration has allocated funds for a new competitive grant program, “Stronger Together,” that would aid districts in making schools more socioeconomically integrated. In a blog post on Medium, Education Secretary John King offers support for increased diversity in American schools, noting how a diverse school in New Orleans “benefited all of its students, offering students preparation for the real world they will inhabit as adults, and offering the kind of contact and connections that have been shown to boost empathy and reduce bias” while playing a “particularly important role in helping low-income students.”

A recent piece in The Atlantic quotes Sean F. Reardon, professor at Stanford University Graduate School of Education, who said that “school poverty turns out to be a good proxy for the quality of a school. They are in poorer communities, they have less local resources, they have fewer parents with college degrees, they have fewer two parent families where there are parents who can come spend time volunteering in the school, they have a harder time attracting the best teachers. So for a lot of reasons schools serving poor kids tend to have fewer resources, both economic and social capital resources.”

The Gotham Gazette shares the importance of children learning in a diverse environment from a parent’s perspective. A mother describes her children’s experiences in a racially diverse school, noting that her daughter’s classroom mirrors the population of the city as a whole, instead of just their neighborhood, and details the unique opportunities that a diverse student body can provide for her child’s education. She also explores some of the challenges parents face in negotiating relationships and building community, but continues to stress how critical it is to have this type of learning environment.

Despite the myriad evidence supporting de-segregation and promoting diversity in schools, the Washington Post reports that school board members in one wealthy county in Virginia are weighing a controversial plan that would redraw enrollment boundaries and concentrate primarily Latino students from low-income families into the same schools. The students, who primarily live in densely populated apartment complexes and currently attend several affluent schools nearby, would be placed into two neighborhood schools that would become majority minority students and students from low-income families.

In the article, supporters of Loudoun County’s proposal argue that it would enable the schools to concentrate their resources on these students in need. However, the article also points out that the nation’s most segregated schools “often are among the worst performing, experts say, in part because of the concentration of poverty and the myriad challenges that come with it.”

The article references evidence supporting diversity in school, including the voice of Richard D. Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, who says that “There’s a pretty strong consensus among researchers that one of the worst things you can do is concentrate poverty in schools.”

Here’s hoping Loudoun County is listening.

Update: The Loudoun County school board voted down a proposal that would resegregate schools in the county at a board meeting on March 29. Instead of the controversial plan, the board approved an alternative plan maintaining the economic integration system that is currently in place in the county, reports the Washington Post. As part of the new plan, many students will be shifted into schools closer to home, but almost all of the children in the downtown community, where 84 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, will remain at the schools they currently attend. More on the meeting here.

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