Part 2: Solving School Resegregation
April 06, 2016
In Part 1 of this article, we explored the causes and effects of the rapid resegregation of American public schools. In Part 2, we will examine exactly why school segregation is a problem and offer up some preliminary solutions to this growing epidemic.
When African American parents were fighting for desegregation in the 1950s, it wasn’t the companionship of white students that they wanted for their children. They wanted access to the better educational resources and opportunities that existed in white schools. The problem with school resegregation today doesn’t necessarily lie in the differing composition of student bodies, but in the vastly differing educational resources and opportunities available to students in these schools. Schools with largely non-white populations tend to have the least qualified teachers, the worst facilities, and the fewest and least rigorous curricular options. One way to quantify the disparity between white and nonwhite schools is to look at per pupil spending. A report by the Center for American Progress found that mostly white schools (90 percent or more white) spent $773 more per student than mostly nonwhite schools (90 percent or more nonwhite).  The fact of the matter is that our nation still has a de facto separate but equal education policy. And just as in the 1950’s, these schools are separate but in no way equal.
The first problem we can tackle is the funding inequities between different schools. A report from The Center for American Progress finds that changing a particular provision of a federal law would result in more equitable funding for school districts. Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is the federal government’s major contribution to public education for students living in poverty. It requires that school districts spend comparable amounts per pupil in both their high poverty schools and low poverty schools in order to get Title 1 funding. Districts across the country routinely tell the federal government that they are in compliance with Title 1. However, the so called “comparability loophole” explicitly directs districts to exclude teacher salary differentials when determining comparability compliance. This is a big deal because experience is a major driver of teacher’s salaries. More experienced older teachers tend to leave for richer schools in the suburbs, which of course tend to be whiter. This leaves new and relatively inexperienced teachers in urban schools with mostly black and Latino students. In other words, the comparability loophole fools districts into thinking they’ve spent equal amounts of money on high and low poverty schools, when in reality, students in low poverty schools are shortchanged with new and inexperienced teachers. It’s estimated that closing this loophole would affect about 3,386 districts, where 77 percent of all students attend school. Of course, this is not a magic bullet-disparities in funding will still exist. But it is a good first step.
There have also been several examples of racially integrated schools that have enjoyed massive success. A joint study by the organizations Justice Matters and The School Redesign Network from Stanford University located five California public high schools that they described as “racially just” schools as they exemplified what integration sets out to do. They adopted a structural approach to tackling racism within schools by satisfying the specific social and economic needs of their students and parents. Given that many of these schools were situated in high poverty neighborhoods, many students didn’t have access to adequate healthcare and nutritional meals. So these schools hired more school nurses, psychologists and nutritional advisors. They identified pedagogical practices that connected the curriculum with their students’ life experiences and gave extensive cultural training to their teachers so that they could effectively utilize the new practices. They also pushed for teachers to develop more personal relationships with their students to get them invested in their education.
One specific in school policy that was immensely successful was the detracking of curriculum. Tracking is when schools separate students by academic ability so that students only attend classes with other students whose overall academic achievement is the same as their own. By detracking mathematics, Railside High School in California was able to close the achievement gap between white students and students of color. Detracking all subjects in Rockville Center, New York led to an increase in the percentage of African American and Hispanic students passing the Regents exam by 25% and 75%. These academic benefits aren’t limited to students of color either. The same high school in New York was able to increase the number of white students who passed the Regents exam from 54% to 98%.
In addition to the above strategies to create “racially just” schools, there also have to be policies specifically designed to desegregate schools. Municipalities need to repeal exclusionary zoning policies that create residential segregation and instead adopt policies designed to racially and economically integrated communities. One example of such a policy is Inclusionary Zoning (IZ), where all new developers are required to set aside a set number of housing units for low and middle income households. A study by the Rand Corporation found that IZ units were assigned to schools that had lower poverty rates as measured by the proportion of students who qualified for free or reduced-price meals. The elementary schools that IZ units were assigned to were also more racially diverse that similar school districts without Inclusionary Zoning. So such explicit measures to create residential integration would clearly spillover into educational integration as well.
In the end, lawmakers and community members need to recognize the growing danger of segregation within our public schools. It leads to worse educational outcomes for students of all races, and specifically disadvantages poor students of color by giving them schools with the least resources and opportunities. We need to act now to address this growing problem so we don’t repeat the mistakes of our past.
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