School Desegregation Still At Issue

An article appearing in today’s issue of The New York Times reports that K-12 schools in the U.S. are still racially segregated; in fact, in some communities, schools are more segregated than they were in 1954, when the Supreme Court decided Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. That Supreme Court case established segregated schools as unconstitutional and mandated that school districts desegregate in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not create a timeline for desegregation. In addition, as the Times article notes, residential segregation has increased over time and school district enrollment practices may have contributed to and enhanced segregation.

According to the authors of the article “The Secret to School Integration,” Halley Potter and Kimberly Quick, both researchers from the The Century Foundation:

School leaders need to stop making excuses for segregation. Diverse classrooms reduce racial bias and promote complex reasoning, problem solving and creativity for all students. Five decades of research confirm that students in socioeconomically and racially diverse schools have higher test scores, are more likely to enroll in college, and are less likely to drop out, on average, than peers in schools with concentrated poverty. Low-income students’ achievement improves in integrated schools, and contrary to many parental concerns, middle-class students’ achievement does not suffer.

The structural and political challenges to integration are substantial, but viable options are still within reach for nearly any community that makes integration a priority. Take socioeconomic integration. According to our research, more than 90 school districts and charter schools in 32 states are using socioeconomic status as a factor in student assignment.

This issue has become a campaign issue, particularly among the Democratic candidates, because, following the 1954 Supreme Court case, the candidates argue that racially and socioeconomically diverse schools lead to greater learning and opportunities for lifetime success than segregated schools.

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