What if school integration was not the key to equity in education?

Would integration improve outcomes for the most vulnerable students, as many assume? Or would it be more effective to change the standard classroom practices that hold these students back, no matter who their classmates are?

Public schools have become increasingly separate since the 1970s, if you measure this by the isolation of non-white, poorer students from their richer white peers. In 2018, for example, 40% of black students attended a school where 90% more of their peers were also students of color. A recent report from the Urban Institute traced this back to government redlining practices in the New Deal era, which characterized black neighborhoods as “unsafe” for mortgages.

The report advocates a simple solution to at least part of this injustice: slightly shifting school boundaries within districts so that neighboring schools become more integrated. Changes to school boundaries have been controversial in the past. But, according to the author of the report, things are different now and fears of a “white leak” are overblown.

But even in politically liberal communities, the issue has sparked opposition. In Minneapolis, boundary changes led to home sales and an exodus to charter or suburban schools. In Montgomery County, Maryland, a study of possible changes was enough to spark a heated debate.

Even if families in a school district adopted boundary changes, it was estimated that this would reduce overall segregation by only about a third. To do more, authorities should cross the lines separating urban and peri-urban neighborhoods. This would require overcoming serious legal obstacles.

Some have resorted to shaming “nice white parents,” as the title of an influential podcast series puts it, accusing them of hypocrisy if they profess a belief in inclusion but send their children to school. . predominantly white.

Both the advocacy for boundary changes and the shame are based on the belief that inclusion has improved outcomes for black students in the past. The most frequently cited study is that of economist Rucker C. Johnson, who examined school integration efforts in the 1970s and 1980s. He found that black students who attended integrated and well-funded schools were much more likely to attend good colleges, earn more money, and enjoy better health as adults, while their chances of incarceration were significantly reduced.

But other research has questioned these findings. Recently, for example, four economists analyzed data on black adults aged 25 to 65 in 1979-1980. They discovered that black students who attended principally white high schools performed better, but those who attended high schools where the races were more or less equally balanced finished less Years of study than those in predominantly black schools. The share of white students made no difference in the employment or home ownership rates of black adults.

What to do with all this? Some points :

· These two studies are based on data from over 40 years.

All sorts of things may have changed since then, so it would be best to rely on more recent research.

· More recent research, alas, also goes both ways.

Some have found it beneficial, but it is difficult to separate family factors from the influence of schools. A 2018 study that checked student backgrounds found that the socio-economic makeup of a school had little impact on test scores.

· Integrating schools does not necessarily mean Classroom will be integrated.

A study in North Carolina found that segregation in schools, often referred to as tracking, accounted for up to 40% of all racial segregation in the state, and it was most common in counties with greater integration at the school level.

The study also indicated that follow-up was more frequent at higher levels. But it is also a common practice in elementary-level classes, where it’s called “graded reading” or in math, just “pooling”. It may make sense for some purposes, but using it regularly to teach reading comprehension leads to follow-up in higher grades.

· People assume integration works because predominantly white, wealthy schools have more resources, leading some to advocate for better funding for predominantly black schools.

Even the four economists who found that black students in racially balanced schools performed worse assumed that whiter schools had smaller class sizes, better teachers, and other perks. The problem, they speculated, was that white hostility towards black students prevented them from taking advantage of these resources.

These economists and other commentators have argued that instead of focusing on integration, it would make sense to spend money on improving predominantly black schools. This prospect is not new. In 1935, WEB DuBois wrote that “the negro does not need separate or coeducational schools. What he needs is education.

Likewise, towards the end of Beautiful white parents, journalist Chana Joffe-Walt discovers that the black parents she interviews do not focus on integration; they just want better schools (that hasn’t prompted Joffe-Walt to change the show’s premise that segregation is the key issue).

Some members of the black community may even view integration as a threat. After the school boundaries changed in Minneapolis, the principal and some parents of a predominantly black high school feared the school would lose its identity.

· The assumption that schools with more white and wealthy students get more funding may be wrong.

A recent study found that black and low-income students received less funding per student nationwide, but Following funding, on average, at state and district levels. Another found that, considering funding from all levels of government, “almost all states allocate more funds per student to poor children than to non-poor children.” The predominantly black schools certainly used to get less funding than whiter schools, and some still do. But on average, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

· Spending more money may not lead to better results.

Obviously, a certain level of funding is necessary for schools to function well. And schools serving more students living in poverty may need Following funding than the average because their students have greater needs. But beyond a certain point, money may not make a difference if it is not spent wisely. An economist said there was “no significant relationship between resources and performance.”

For example, Washington, DC, which has a largely black, low-income school population, spends about $ 22,000 per year per student, far more than the US average of about $ 12,500. In 2019, DC ranked second among states for spending per student. (DC is not a state, but it is counted as one for funding education and for political purposes.)

And yet, only 23% of eighth-graders in DC achieve a proficiency level or better on national reading tests, nine percentage points below the national average. The racial and income-based differences are huge. While DC likes to say that this is the fastest improving urban school district in the country, if you control the influx of affluent students, there has been no improvement in reading in eighth grade. . over the past 15 years.

So, if inclusion is not the solution to long-standing inequalities in education, what is it? The answer may well lie in something that economists who do large-scale statistical studies rarely consider: What is taught in schools and How? ‘Or’ What? ‘Or what it is delivered. The standard approach in elementary school does not teach many children to read and does not build the academic knowledge and vocabulary they need to be successful later in life. Children who have access to this knowledge at home because their parents are more educated end up benefiting more. And teacher education programs routinely instill beliefs that conflict with scientific findings about how children learn. Children who still manage to learn tend to be those whose families are better able to support them.

Economist Sean F. Reardon, who analyzes huge amounts of data on test scores, dismisses the idea that we can improve poorest schools amid economic segregation and inequality. “If it had been possible,” he wrote, “one community – among the thousands of districts across the country – would have done it. None have. The separation is always uneven. But maybe he hasn’t seen that kind of improvement because it’s done on a relatively small scale, with schools and districts scattered across the country moving to a different type of program – and because that it may take years for the results to appear on the results of the standardized tests on which it bases its conclusions.

If the researchers took a closer look, they might uncover success stories that might inspire others to try the one approach that might work when all the others have failed. Well integrated schools undoubtedly bring benefits, and I hope we will have them someday. But mainstreaming is not necessary to improve the education of students from historically marginalized communities and low-income families, nor would it be enough.


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