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Daily Dish: The Need for Racial and Socioeconomic Diversity in U.S. Schools

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March 01, 2016 03:01 pm

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In an article, The Concentration of Poverty in American Schools, The Atlantic explores the connection between concentrated poverty and gaps in educational achievement within the nation’s cities. The piece draws from an analysis of data from the National Equity Atlas, a project of PolicyLink and University of Southern California’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE). According to this data, in almost all cities in the U.S., most African American and Latino students attend public schools where the majority of students are from low-income families. More specifically, in half of the largest one hundred cities in the country, these African American and Latino students attend schools where 75 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

The article explains that “concentrated poverty is tightly correlated with gaps in educational achievement,” or, as Sean F. Reardon, professor at Stanford University Graduate School of Education put it: “it’s the measure of segregation that is most strongly correlated to the racial achievement gap.” Reardon, who is a leading expert on residential and educational segregation, said, “The difference in the rate at which black, Hispanic, and white students go to school with poor classmates is the best predictor of the racial-achievement gap.”

Reardon says that it’s not “that sitting next to a poor kid makes you do less well in school,” but that “it’s 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.”

NPR highlights a “new wave of integration” strategies that are attempting to make schools more diverse by using socioeconomic status, instead of race, as the driver. In the article, Halley Potter, author of a Century Foundation report on this topic, explains that integration, whether by income or race, benefits all students, noting that “when a school reaches a stable level of about 30 percent middle-class students, the lower-income students achieve at higher levels and the privileged students do no worse,” the article says. Mercedes Ebanks, associate professor at Howard University School of Education, makes the argument that diversifying by income will reach the same outcome as race, saying: “Diversification by socioeconomic status also means by race…the movement towards socioeconomic integration will lead to racial integration and educational equality.”

The NPR piece touches on a push towards socioeconomic integration in schools that came out of the White House recently, with President Obama announcement of the new “Stronger Together” competitive grant program. The program would support “voluntary, community-supported efforts to develop and implement strategies to address the effects of concentrated poverty by increasing socioeconomic diversity in pre-K–12 schools.” In a blog post on Medium, Acting Education Secretary John King gave background on the program and expanded on the need to support innovative and effective methods of creating diversity in schools, saying, “In today’s economy, diversity isn’t some vague ideal. It’s a path to better outcomes for all of America’s children.” He continued, “We need all our children on a path to achievement. That’s why we need to do more to ensure families and communities can offer students opportunities to learn to work together in school as they will need to in their lives ahead.

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