New Era of Integration: The proof is in the punch

I was sad and frustrated last year at the Supreme Court decision to declare race-based integration unconstitutional. It seems an absurdity that the validity of the process of bringing students from diverse backgrounds and experiences together to enhance learning and opportunity for all would be called into question. But that was then, and this is now.

I was so pleased to find this article from the July 20th NY Times, via my NCTE Inbox this week. Class/SES-based integration seems like the next logical step towards creating schools that value and honor the need for students to be provided with equitable facilities, instruction and resources.

As the article points out, and as I myself believe, it is of course possible for schools comprised of a majority of students from low-income homes to thrive under the appropriate set of circumstances. But the evidence of years of research strongly suggests that when poor students--of any racial background--are given the opportunity to learn amidst the same circumstances as their middle-class peers, the gains are consistently observable and statistically quantifiable.

Of course, no one answer will be universally applicable. As long as poverty reigns in cities like Detroit, Boston, New York, L.A., etc.--cities in which 70%+ live below the poverty line--integration of school populations based on socioeconomic status becomes severely impeded. And the necessity of maintaining race as a factor in the integration of some areas of the country is essential. Though there are no absolutes, there are some very promising solutions being pursued by thoughtful administrators, lawyers and parents all over the U.S.

Please take the time to read the article! It's not short, but it is so worthwhile.

Here are a few excerpts:

"The chief justice didn’t address the idea of class-based integration in his opinion. But Justice Anthony Kennedy did, in a separate concurrence. And because Kennedy cast the fifth vote for the majority, his view controls the law. Though he agreed with Roberts that public school districts should not make school assignments based on the race of individual students, he added that the court’s ruling 'should not prevent school districts from continuing the important work of bringing together students of different racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds.'

. . .

Wake County adopted class-based integration with the hard-nosed goal of raising test scores. The strategy was simple: no poor schools, no bad schools. And indeed, the district has posted striking improvements in the test scores of black and low-income students: in 1995, only 40 percent of the black students in Wake County in the third through eighth grades scored at grade level in state reading tests; by last year,
the rate had almostdoubled, to 82.5 percent. Statewide scores for black students also got better over the same time period, but not by as much. Wake County’s numbers improve as students get older: 92 percent of all eighth graders read at or above grade level, including about 85 percent of black students and about 80 percent of low-income students. (Math scores are lower, following a statewide trend that reflects a change in the grading scale.) The district has achieved these results even as the share of low-income students over all has increased from about 30 percent a decade ago to about 40 percent today.

. . .

If Congress were to revise No Child Left Behind to encourage more transfers of poor students to middle-class schools, would poor students drag down their better-off peers? In the end, the prospects of class-based integration will probably rise or fall on the answer to this question. Socioeconomic integration may be good for the have-nots, but if the haves think their kids are paying too great a price, they will kill it off at the polls."

My italicization. Pic nytimes.com


jenny said...

I came here by way of My Many Colored Crayons.

Our small town a couple of hours from Houston has just added a 4th junior high. The school zone decision makers took the take that is mentioned in the second paragraph you quoted from the article (which I didn't read---yet?), in that there would be no more "bad schools" and the low-income groups would be spread around town a little better. Of course the "good neighborhood" that got re-zoned for the "semi-bad" school was really upset and the school board weakly let them just have their way and go back to the school they're not zoned for. They ahve to provide their own transportation, though. The decisions were not race based, but SES based, which is pretty much a race issue in our town. And there's a definite division between low-income Black neighborhoods and low-income Hispanic neighborhoods. No one enforces this---it just happens. or does it??

The problem with letting low-income kids go to the better schools is that often times there is no transportation to get there. The fact that the bus can take them to "a" school is more attractive. We live in a town with very poor public transportation, by the way.

And as for me and my family, both my kids have transferred to a school that is literally and figuaratively "across the tracks" (not that our neighborhood is all that great, it's very mid-income and racially mixed). About 85% are on free or reduced lunch (and we ourselves are not too far above this level, I found out). We made this choice so they could attend a Dual Language program, which has had many benfits. This put my now 7th grader at the "bad" junior high last year---but it was a great experience. It has it's share of discipline problems and even race issues (Hispanic, White and Black), but he had teachers that really cared and encouraged him into clubs and doing well.

For the new school year, the GT magnet program is being housed at our school----the school everyone in town has thumbed it's noee at for a long time. But I am bothered that this decision was made to even out the scores around town, not because it really is the best choice for the kids. On the other hand, my kid's in GT and Dual Language, so it works out wonderfully for us who want both at the same school. And it's really not the worst school in town! it's great there.

I guess I just wanted to put my situation out there as an example of what's really going on in towns across America.

teach people not books said...

hi jenny, thanks for sharing your experience.

something i'm hearing--and correct me if i'm wrong--is that there really is a strong, complicating parent force at work against the attempts to balance school populations in your area. and it sounds like these parents, unlike you, aren't seeing the potential benefits for their own students, including the ones you discussed.

i actually moved from a catholic k-8 school to a mostly low-income public school (my mom taught at the catholic school, my parents couldn't have come anywhere near affording 3 kids in catholic otherwise), and i agree with you that it was absolutely an enriching experience.

i was overtly, for the first time, confronted with the quality of lives of others. kids asking me for $.50 so they could afford something for lunch, driving home friends to rough parts of town, learning how to form friendships with and mitigate disagreements with people other than middle-class white kids, etc.... but learning about other kids' lives wasn't just benefiting me in the whole "look how much better i have it" way (though this was is certainly important, too). i learned how to communicate with and work alongside people from different races. the importance of this cannot be understated. race is still a major issue. students need an environment in which they are confronted with difference, and in which they can find likenesses among them. if they don't do this work in schools, where will they?

you know, maybe it's racist to say that i learned how to talk with, work with, disagree with people from other races. but it is true. white is the norm, and many white kids learn communications and patterns of relationships from other white kids. it's not that every time a black person is in the room i think back to what it was like to be with a black person in high school. nor do i assume that all black, hispanic, or asian people have the same way of relating to the world. but there is something to be said for learning about cultural difference, and in bringing that understanding of what separates and what unifies with you on in into the world.

just an idea. anyone, feel free to tell my why i am off base here. i am still fleshing out my thinking about all of this.