MAKING THE CASE FOR INTEGRATION
According to an article in the American Educator, researchers who have studied school integration have documented similar benefits for both students of color and white students.
We now have a vast body of empirical evidence that many of the Black and Latino children who participated in the METCO program—a voluntary desegregation effort that made it possible for a significant number of children of color from Boston to be bused to affluent schools in the suburbs—benefited significantly, especially when compared to their counterparts who remained in Boston's racially isolated schools
Sadly, research of this type is neither widely known nor particularly influential in current debates over school integration. At the same time, many highly sought-after private schools boast of their commitment to diversity and equity, even when most of the students they serve are white and affluent. (Private school racial enrollments and segregation) The same is true of many public magnet schools and charter schools, which research shows are more likely to be segregated than traditional public schools. Given the demographic changes occurring in our society, it is essential that support for integration be far more than tokenism and lip service.
BENEFITS OF INTEGRATED SCHOOLS
According to a study by the Century Foundation, the following are many benefits of socioeconomically and racially integrated schools and classrooms.
ACADEMIC AND COGNITIVE BENEFITS
On average, students in socioeconomically and racially diverse schools—regardless of a student’s own economic status—have stronger academic outcomes than students in schools with concentrated poverty.
- Students in integrated schools have higher average test scores. On the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) given to fourth graders in math, for example, low-income students attending more affluent schools scored roughly two years of learning ahead of low-income students in high-poverty schools. Controlling carefully for students’ family background, another study found that students in mixed-income schools showed 30 percent more growth in test scores over their four years in high school than peers with similar socioeconomic backgrounds in schools with concentrated poverty.
- Integrated schools help to reduce racial achievement gaps. In fact, the racial achievement gap in K–12 education closed more rapidly during the peak years of school desegregation in the 1970s and 1980s than it has overall in the decades that followed—when many desegregation policies were dismantled. The gap in SAT scores between black and white students continues to be larger in segregated districts, and one study showed that change from complete segregation to complete integration in a district could reduce as much as one quarter of the current SAT score disparity. A recent study from Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis confirmed that school segregation is one of the most significant drivers of the racial achievement gap.
- Students in integrated schools are less likely to drop out. Dropout rates are significantly higher for students in segregated, high-poverty schools than for students in integrated schools. During the height of desegregation in the 1970s and 1980s, dropout rates decreased for minority students, with the greatest decline in dropout rates occurring in districts that had undergone the largest reductions in school segregation.
- Students in integrated schools are more likely to enroll in college. When comparing students with similar socioeconomic backgrounds, those students at more affluent schools are 68 percent more likely to enroll at a four-year college than their peers at high-poverty schools.
- Integrated classrooms encourage critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity. We know that diverse classrooms, in which students learn cooperatively alongside those whose perspectives and backgrounds are different from their own, benefit all students —including middle-class white students—because these environments promote creativity, motivation, deeper learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.
CIVIC AND SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL BENEFITS
Racially and socioeconomically diverse schools offer students important social-emotional benefits by exposing them to peers of different backgrounds. The increased tolerance and cross-cultural dialogue that result from these interactions are beneficial for civil society.
- Attending a diverse school can help reduce racial bias and counter stereotypes. Children are at risk of developing stereotypes about racial groups if they live in and are educated in racially isolated settings. By contrast, when school settings include students from multiple racial groups, students develop a greater understanding of racial and cultural differences and become more comfortable with people of other races, which leads to a dramatic decrease in discriminatory attitudes and prejudices.
- Students who attend integrated schools are more likely to seek out integrated settings later in life. Integrated schools encourage relationships and friendships across group lines. According to one study, students who attend racially diverse high schools are more likely to live in diverse neighborhoods five years after graduation.
- Integrated classrooms can improve students’ satisfaction and intellectual self-confidence. Research on diversity at the college level shows that when students have positive experiences interacting with students of other backgrounds and view the campus racial and cultural climate as affirming, they emerge with greater confidence in their own academic abilities.
- Learning in integrated settings can enhance students’ leadership skills. A longitudinal study of college students found that the more often first-year students were exposed to diverse educational settings, the more their leadership skills improved.
- Meaningful relationships between individuals with different racial or ethnic backgrounds impacts how people treat racial and ethnic groups. Studies show that emotional bonds formed through close cross-group relationships lead people to treat members of their friends’ groups as well as they treat members of their own groups. These types of relationships are most commonly formed within schools that have greater levels of racial and ethnic diversity.
- Exposure to diversity reduces anxiety. Surveys of students found that positive intergroup contact led to lower levels of anxiety in relationships.
Providing more students with integrated school environments is a cost-effective strategy for boosting student achievement and preparing students for work in a diverse global economy.
- School integration efforts produce a high return on investment. According to one recent estimate, reducing socioeconomic segregation in our schools by half would produce a return on investment of 3-5 times the cost of the programs. According to an article by Richard D. Kahlenberg, “the net lifetime public benefit of having a student graduate high school is estimated at $209,200 (in constant dollars) coming in the form of increased tax revenue due to greater earnings, as well as decreased health care spending, criminal justice system costs, and spending on welfare.”
- School integration promotes more equitable access to resources. Integrating schools can help to reduce disparities in access to well-maintained facilities, highly qualified teachers, challenging courses, and private and public funding.
- Diverse classrooms prepare students to succeed in a global economy. In higher education, university officials and business leaders note that diverse college campuses and classrooms prepare students for life, work, and leadership in a more global economy by fostering leaders who are creative, collaborative, and able to navigate deftly in dynamic, multicultural environments.
- Diversity produces more productive, more effective, and more creative teams. Integrated schools and workplaces support the conditions necessary to foster the core tenets of communication, inquiry, and collaboration. Simply interacting with people from different backgrounds encourages group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints, and to be ready to work towards consensus.
- Children who attended integrated schools had higher earnings as adults, had improved health outcomes, and were less likely to be incarcerated. Researcher Rucker Johnson tracked black children exposed to desegregation plans in the 1960s through the 1980s, and found a variety of positive outcomes for the quality and longevity of life associated with school integration. Socioeconomic Integration and Student Achievement
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights voted for key recommendations, including that Congress:
- make clear that there is a federal right to a public education,
- prioritize incentivizing states to adopt equitable public school finance systems that provide meaningful educational opportunity,
- promote student achievement for all students, and close achievement gaps where they exist;
- increase federal funding to supplement state funding with a goal to provide meaningful educational opportunity on an equitable basis to all students in the nation’s public schools; and
- promote the collection, monitoring, and evaluation of school spending data to determine how funds are most effectively spent to promote positive student outcomes.
Since its inception, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) has held briefings and released reports that address the issue of equal access to public education, an issue on which the Commission places great importance. The Commission has offered a number of findings and recommendations on various topics related to public education, which include:
- Eliminate racial isolation in schools. Congress should establish a mechanism for eliminating school segregation, and states will be responsible for devising the appropriate remedies to achieve that goal, with financial and technical assistance from Congress to help in the planning process.
- Develop affordable housing on a nondiscriminatory basis in order to integrate communities and schools. Congress should expand federal aid programs that provide for the development of affordable housing for low-moderate income families, and make sure that these projects are planned in a nondiscriminatory manner so as to reduce residential segregation and school segregation on the basis of race.
- Implement federal initiatives to desegregate schools. School desegregation is a “constitutional imperative” that must be recognized by leaders at the national, state, and local levels, and the federal government should expand programs to help facilitate school desegregation. Furthermore, there should be stricter enforcement to make sure that desegregation occurs.
- Develop a national standard for eliminating school segregation, and increase federal funding for desegregated school districts. A uniform standard should be implemented for school desegregation efforts with accountability measures, and schools that have met that proposed standard should receive an increase in federal funding.
- School desegregation offers all students an equal chance to learn and develop. School districts across the country must be committed to make desegregation work, along with leadership on a local level from political and community partners, as well as a partnership from all branches of the federal government.
- Build local partnerships and establish government interagency coordination. The U.S. Department of Education should coordinate with other government agencies and partner with advocacy groups, local beneficiaries, and other entities on issues of enforcement and maximizing efficiency to further the mission of providing “equal opportunity and access to high-quality education for all students.”
- Increase enforcement efforts to ensure that school districts operating under court supervision to desegregate are complying with existing orders. Furthermore, DOJ should continue an active review of districts to determine which ones qualify for unitary status, and provide guidance to help districts achieve unitary status.
In addition to those proposed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, others have offered the following recommendations:
1. Ensure that school have policies and practices that foster respect, recognition, and inclusion of diverse cultures and language.
2. Ensure that all teachers are trained in culturally responsive practices and specific strategies to teach target populations.
3. Make sure that policies and practices don’t recreate segregation within schools.
4. Engage families of diverse backgrounds
- Validate the contribution of parents of diverse backgrounds.
- Welcome families and invite them to participate in decision making.
- Make sure voices of parents are heard and engaged.
5. Implement a suite of socioeconomic integration “Equity Tools”
- Implement policies and practices that open pathways to academic excellence for all students.
- Revise outdated curriculum.
- Redesign classrooms.
- Situate learning in the lives of students and their families.
- Invest in embedded professional learning opportunities.
- Engage families and community members as partners.
- Establish family information centers.
6. Understand student assets and address student needs
- Begin with the developmental needs of the learner.
- Identify the stressors that influence learning.
- Identify the assets students bring to the classroom.
- Incorporate personalized and differentiating learning into the school & classroom experience.
- Establish short term and long term learning goals.
- Prepare students for college and/or career readiness.
7. Build a positive school culture that includes family and community
- A safe and supportive environment,
- Effective school leadership,
- Culturally responsive pedagogy and practice,
- High quality teachers,
- Rigorous instruction,
- Numerous extracurricular activities, and
- Staff collaboration.
RENEWING THE COMMITMENT
Throughout the country, we are dealing with a significant rise in racism and hate crimes. We are also reminded regularly of the consequences of allowing racially isolated school communities that are overwhelmed by the effects of concentrated poverty, to languish without the support they need. We live in a prosperous, multiracial society and we must redouble our commitment to integrated educational opportunities for all.
Because of our lack of will to enforce Brown, too many of our children are growing up unprepared to participate in our increasingly diverse society, and they are not gaining experience in how to live and work successfully in a society where soon no racial or ethnic group will constitute the majority.
Integrating our schools is about justice and righting 400-year-old wrongs. Everyone will benefit when we finally end four centuries of slavery's aftermath, and everyone will benefit when all children, not just the descendants of slaves, are ready for a very uncertain future.
It is time to regenerate our commitment to the promise of the Brown decision and remind all who doubt its importance why it still matters. There is no doubt that what happens in our nation's schools will play a major role in determining the type of nation we become. Given the current state of affairs in our nation and our schools, we have good reason to be concerned. Let's not take this issue lightly.