The first comprehensive study of the nation’s eight remaining inter-district school desegregation programs – which were expressly created to enable disadvantaged, black and Latino students cross school district boundary lines and attend affluent, predominantly white suburban public schools – has found that these programs help close black-white and Latino-white achievement gaps, improve racial attitudes and lead to long-term mobility and further education for the students of color who participate.
“Despite the fact that these programs are out of sync with the current political framing of problems and solutions in the field of education, the research suggests they are far more successful than recent choice and accountability policies at closing the achievement gaps and offering meaningful school choices,” concludes the study, “Boundary Crossing for Diversity, Equity and Achievement: Inter-district School Desegregation and Educational Opportunity,” which was led by Amy Stuart Wells, Professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and director of the College’s Center for Understanding Race and Education (CURE).
The full study can be viewed at www.tc.edu/news/7232.
The study will be presented tomorrow morning at a conference in Washington, D.C., Reaffirming the Role of School Integration in K-12 Public Education Policy: A Conversation Among Policymakers, Advocates and Educators, convened by the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice (CHHIRJ) at Harvard Law School (www.charleshamiltonhouston.org) with the goal of restoring a desegregation focus to U.S. education policy. Speakers include Ted Shaw, formerly of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President’s White House Domestic Policy Council; Gary Orfield, Co-Director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA; and William Taylor, Chair of the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights. The Houston Institute also commissioned the research led by Professor Wells.
Among the most striking findings of the study – the sources of which include studies by other researchers, newspaper articles and court documents -- is that suburban residents, educators, school officials and students grow to appreciate these programs more the longer they continue. In fact, many former opponents are now defending the programs against threats of curtailment, even when continuation would entail reduced funding.
“The separateness and inequality that characterizes U. S. education along racial/ethnic and social class lines is increasingly circumscribed by school district boundaries,” the authors write, noting the finding of other researchers that “a full 84 percent” of racial/ethnic segregation in U.S. public schools occurs between and not within school districts. They note that while racial segregation remains high, Americans are becoming increasingly segregated by income, with more affluent people living close together, divided spatially in urban and suburban areas from those with less.
Yet educational policies addressing segregation and inequality have generally been limited to within-district solutions, beginning with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1974 ruling in Milliken v. Bradley that federal judges could not order desegregation remedies sending students across urban-suburban district boundaries without substantial, hard-to-document evidence that the suburban districts created the racial segregation. The central policy focus in education has since shifted to the use of standards, tests and accountability systems to improve student achievement, along with school choice policies that allow alternative, private providers to compete for students and their public school funds.
The authors assert these strategies have not delivered and inequality has grown in many states. “Reams of social science evidence suggest that unless we address the separateness and inequality in which students are being educated, we will never significantly narrow achievement gaps across race and social class lines,” they write.
The inter-district programs (which are voluntary for students) are also school choice plans, in that they all allow students to choose to transfer from one district to the other. Yet, they differ markedly from more recently created school choice plans because of their history and mission to provide viable choices to the most disadvantaged students.
Of the inter-district programs studied, three (Hartford, Minneapolis and Tinsley) were formalized via state court rulings grounded in state constitutional guarantees of equal educational opportunities; three (Indianapolis, Milwakee and St. Louis) were codified in federal court orders and two (Boston’s METCO and Rochester) were supported by state legislation and local policies to create more racially diverse public schools.
Among the study’s findings about what the inter-districts have achieved:
The inter-district study co-authors are Bianca Baldridge, Jacquelyn Duran, Courtney Grzesikowski, Richard Lofton, Allison Roda, Miya Warner and Terrendra White
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