Absent a constitutional violation, there would be no basis for judicially ordering assignment of students on a racial basis. All things being equal, with no history of discrimination, it might well be desirable to assign pupils to schools nearest their homes. But all things are not equal in a system that has been deliberately constructed and maintained to enforce racial segregation.
Swann v Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education
Overview of Segregation
Our country is becoming more diverse. Our children, our future workforce and leaders, will need skills to be able to effectively integrate and thrive in our society. All students deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential and integrated schools have shown to best advance this goal.
Segregation has been present in American public schools since their inception. We know integrated schools benefit all children, yet our schools remain stubbornly segregated. School segregation limits educational opportunities and resources for black and brown students, isolates groups of students and limits interactions across groups. Schools with lower-income, high-minority student populations tend to have fewer resources and employ teachers who have less training. School segregation is associated with racial achievement gaps, higher dropout rates, and higher incarceration rates. Condemning children with fewer resources to sub-par schooling ultimately hurts our entire nation.
While the root issues are deep and challenging, it is clear that the one policy that has consistently narrowed the opportunity gap in public schools is integration. A long running study by Rucker C. Johnson on integration found that for black adults, attending integrated schools as children was associated with increased educational and career attainment beyond high school, higher lifetime earnings, a decreased risk of incarceration, and even better health. Integration benefits all students, including improved test scores, a decrease in drop-out rates, an increase in capacity for working with others, decreased levels of prejudice and much more.
Desegregation orders were initially met with massive resistance from whites. Yet, during the 1970s, federal integration orders were meaningfully implemented across the south, through busing and other means, and integration in public schools improved. The peak of integrated schools occurred in the 1980s. At that time, the gap between black and white students’ test scores narrowed and schools became more equitable. Between 1970 and 1990, the black-white gap in educational attainment decreased. Now, alarmingly, schools have become more segregated once again. Several factors have contributed to resegregation including the end of race-based busing and assignment.
Researchers analyzing the end of race-based busing in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools explain “We find that both white and minority students score lower on high school exams when they are assigned to schools with more minority students. We also find decreases in high school graduation and four-year college attendance for whites and large increases in crime for minority males. We conclude that the end of race-based busing widened racial inequality, despite efforts by CMS to mitigate the effect of segregation through compensatory resource allocation.”
Segregation is often discussed and studied in terms of black and white students. Meanwhile, Western states that typically have some of the largest populations of Latinx students are studied less frequently. Latinx students may experience segregation differently depending on when they came to this country or from which country their family originated. Méndez v. Westminster was a 1946 class-action lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of separate schools for Mexican American students in Southern California. Although they won the class action lawsuit, its impact was never felt at a national level. Forty-two percent of Latinx students attend intensely segregated schools in the South now, up from peak desegregation in 1988.
Recent policy initiatives regarding taxes and entitlements, fair housing, and school choice have great potential to exacerbate economic and racial/ethnic segregation, making this an especially significant moment to understand the extent and costs of segregation for children. Additionally, school segregation is an urgent issue in light of emerging demographic trends. The pew research center estimates: “By 2050, the nation’s racial and ethnic mix will look quite different than it does now. Non-Hispanic whites, who made up 67% of the population in 2005, will be 47% in 2050. Hispanics will rise from 14% of the population in 2005 to 29% in 2050. Blacks were 13% of the population in 2005 and will be roughly the same proportion in 2050. Asians, who were 5% of the population in 2005, will be 9% in 2050.” Children who are educated separately, will not have many of the experiences and levels of understanding of other racial and ethnic groups needed to be productive, respectful team members of a rapidly diversifying workforce and society.
Benefits of integrated schools for white children are often overlooked. Racially diverse schools create academic and social benefits to white children that better prepare them for the multicultural world in which they will live and work by developing their cross-cultural competence skills. “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.”
Public education is the foundation of a strong democracy. A well-educated, well-informed populace creates a strong nation. As noted by the Equity and Excellence Commission, if the United States had closed the gap between its educational achievement levels and those of better-performing nations, U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2008 could have been $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion or higher. This figure represents 9 to 16 percent of GDP. We cannot continue to relegate some of our nation’s children, often our most vulnerable, to receive sub-par education while others amass resources and opportunities at their expense.
In 1994, five rural school districts sued the state over this issue of sub-par education. This case, called Leandro, argued that these rural counties could not raise enough tax dollars to provide their students a quality education as compared to wealthier counties. In 1997, the North Carolina Supreme Court in Leandro v State ruled unanimously in the case that the state’s children have a fundamental right to “the opportunity to receive a sound basic education.” In 2017, both sides in the Leandro case agreed to have an independent consultant appointed to make recommendations on how to ensure quality education for every child in North Carolina. That same year, Governor Roy Cooper created the Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education. The purpose of the committee was to look at the three key areas highlighted in the original Leandro ruling. Governor Cooper’s Commission has been developing recommendations since then to ensure North Carolina is meeting its constitutional duty. Leandro continues to influence the discussion regarding equitable access to education. In 2018, the State Board of Education asked to be removed from the case. The court ruled that the constitutional obligations regarding education are the responsibility of only the State: “The SBE has failed to present convincing evidence that either the impact or effect of these changes and reforms have moved the state nearer to providing children the fundamental right guaranteed by our state constitution,” Superior Court Judge David Lee wrote in his court order.
The Judge ordered that an independent company, WestEd, complete a study and submit final recommendations to the parties and the Court within twelve months, or by March 31, 2019. WestEd developed a specific plan to improve North Carolina’s education system and delivered its report to Judge David Lee. The contents of the report have not been made public and it is not clear when that might happen. The Commission also delivered a draft recommendations report on June 25, 2019 that includes a recommendation to change the way charters are funded. As charter schools continue to grow, this issue will become more important. Many public education advocates believe that the Leandro requirements are not being met and is further threatened by the privatization and resegregation of our schools. No certain date has been determined on when Lee will release a consent order outlining how the state can meet its obligation to the state’s public school children. Getting the North Carolina General Assembly members to fund the order will be the next hurdle.
A Brief History of Segregation in the United States
When looking at segregated schools across North Carolina and the US today, it is important to consider their history. Below are a few important highlights from BROWN V. BOARD: Timeline of School Integration in the U.S.:
- 1947 In a precursor to the Brown case, Westminster School Dist. v. Mendez, a federal appeals court strikes down segregated schooling for Mexican American and white students.
- 1954 In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education overturns Plessy and declares that separate schools are “inherently unequal.” The Court delays deciding on how to implement the decision and asks for another round of arguments. The Court rules that the federal government is under the same duty as the states and must desegregate the Washington, D.C. schools. (Bolling v. Sharpe)
- 1955 In Brown II, the Supreme Court orders the lower federal courts to require desegregation “with all deliberate speed.”
- February 25, 1956 Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia issued the call for “Massive Resistance” — a collection of laws passed in response to the Brown decision that aggressively tried to forestall and prevent school integration.
- July 1956 NC legislators adopted the Pearsall Plan which included an amendment to excuse students who might have to attend a court-ordered integrated public school. The plan also pledged the state to pay private school tuition grants to parents whose children were assigned to integrated public schools. NC schools would not fully integrate until forced to do so in 1971.
- 1969 The Supreme Court declares the “all deliberate speed” standard is no longer constitutionally permissible and orders the immediate desegregation of Mississippi schools. (Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education)
- 1971 The Court approves busing, magnet schools, compensatory education and other tools as appropriate remedies to overcome the role of residential segregation in perpetuating racially segregated schools. (Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education)
- 1974 The Supreme Court blocks metropolitan-wide desegregation plans as a means to desegregate urban schools with high minority populations. (Milliken v. Bradley) As a result, Brown will not have a substantial impact on many racially isolated urban districts.
- 1974 Anti-busing movement, or more accurately an anti-integration movement, comes to a head in 1974 in Boston. Although Northern parents had for years been resisting integrating schools, the beginning of forced busing on September 12 was met with massive protests.
- 1986 For the first time, a federal court finds that once a school district meets the Green factors, it can be released from its desegregation plan and returned to local control. (Riddick v. School Board of the City of Norfolk, Virginia). Green factors were used to determine if a desegregation plan was acceptable bases on ratio of black to white students and faculty along with equality in facilities, transportation and extracurricular activities.
- 1988 School integration reaches its all-time high; almost 45% of black students in the United States are attending majority-white schools.
- 1991 After being released from a court order, the Oklahoma City school system abandons its desegregation efforts and returns to neighborhood schools. Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell
- 2000 A study by Harvard’s Civil Rights Project finds that schools were more segregated in 2000 than in 1970 when busing for desegregation began.
- 2007 In Parents Involved, the Supreme Court declared race-based attendance policies unconstitutional and finds voluntary school integration plans unconstitutional, paving the way for contemporary school segregation to escalate.
- 2019 A UCLA study finds white and Latinix students are the most segregated groups. White students, on average, attend a school in which 69% of the students are white, while Latinix students attend a school in which 55% of the students are Latinix. Segregation for black students is rising in all parts of the U.S. Black students, who account for 15% of enrollment, as they did in 1970, are in schools that average 47% black students.
Unintended Consequences of Brown v Board
Resistance to integration resulted in often brutal confrontations and the closure of many schools, including whole districts. “This resistance was codified during the 1950s and 1960s by Southern state legislatures, who enacted as many as 450 laws and resolutions attempting to thwart public school desegregation.” In her book Cutting School, Nowlie Rooks explains, “an unintended consequence of Brown v Board was the loss of several thousand black and brown teachers. A loss from which we have never fully recovered”. As schools were consolidated, black students were bused to white schools, white teachers were put in charge of integrated classrooms, and black teachers were demoted to substitute status or fired—often on the basis of newly-instituted, often biased, testing and accreditation requirements. These unintended consequences continue to be felt today as evidenced by the lack of teachers of color in many schools.
Segregation in North Carolina
In North Carolina, a growing number of public schools are becoming racially and economically isolated. Privatization measures, like the increasing number of charter schools, are contributing to this trend. In North Carolina, as in other areas of the country, the majority of charter schools are racially isolated and serve lower proportions of low-income students. A 2017 study by UCLA, demonstrated charter schools are more segregated than traditional public schools and the share of minority charter students has declined over time. In addition, the study suggested that burgeoning numbers of charters drive increasing amounts of segregation in traditional public schools, as middle class, mostly white students leave their district schools. A report by Helen Ladd, John Holbein and Charles Clotfelter of Duke looked at the demographics of students enrolled in North Carolina Charter schools from 1999-2012. The report found that charter schools were “increasingly serving the interests of relatively able white students in racially imbalanced schools”. The study showed that during the time frame studied:
- The share of students in predominantly white charters nearly doubled from 24.2% to 47.1%.
- The share of minority students in charters decreased overall, but became more concentrated in schools that were more than 90% minority.
Charters are not the only drivers of segregation, however. School assignment plans, district borders, parental choice, as well as demographic shifts contribute as well. A 2018 report, Stymied by Segregation, by Kris Nordstrom shows that in North Carolina:
- Some North Carolina counties have become more segregated in the last 10 years: Pitt, Nash-Rocky Mount, Wake, Gilford, Harnett, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
- In 2006-2007 there were 433 racially isolated schools, by 2016-2017 there were 579 such schools.
- In 2006-07, there were 295 schools where more than 75 percent of the students were persons of color and from low-income families. By 2016-17, there were 476 such schools.
- In 2006-07, 13 percent of North Carolina’s traditional schools were isolated by both race and income, compared to 19 percent in 2016-17.
- North Carolina’s growing share of racially and economically isolated schools has outpaced the demographic increase in the share of low-income students of color.
- Between 2006-2007 and 2016-2017, students of color became less likely to interact with white students in 108 of 115 districts.
- In 72 percent of the counties with at least one charter school, charter schools increase the degree of racial segregation in the district as measured by the racial dissimilarity index.
- The percentage of white students in Franklin County traditional public schools is 47 percent. In both of the two charter schools in the same county, the percentage of white students is near 80 percent.
Segregation in schools and communities has negative impacts for all groups. A report out of Chicago shows “Economic and racial segregation has strangled opportunities for millions of people. Disinvestment has devastated entire city neighborhoods and suburban villages, towns and cities. Lack of diversity also hurts affluent communities, where limited housing options often mean that young people cannot afford to return when starting their own families, retirees cannot afford to stay and valued employees are priced out.”
Students in high poverty schools are more likely to underperform than their peers in better financed schools. As this report notes, “The gap in student achievement between low- and high-income students has grown. A large part of this expanding achievement gap is explained by the increasing segregation of schools.” North Carolina must re-commit to one strong system of equitable, diverse, integrated, free public schools and to eliminating poverty in all of our communities. This is crucial to the future of both our local and state economies.
Factors Contributing to Segregated Schools
The privatization movement which includes vouchers, charter schools and educational savings accounts has gained momentum across the nation and North Carolina since 2013. Often labeled “school choice,” proponents of privatization argue that business-like competition will improve schools for everyone but this has not shown to be true. However, data do show that while charters and vouchers do not improve school performance, they do contribute to an increase in segregated schools. In her research paper The New White Flight, Professor Erika Wilson (UNC School of Law) notes: “The first wave of school choice was rooted in southern white resistance to Brown v. Board of Education.” White resistance led many dual-system states to establish vouchers and tuition grants for white students to allow them to attend segregated private schools at a time when public schools were ordered to desegregate. We can see evidence of these origins continue today. In the 2010-11 school year nearly 90 percent of North Carolina’s K-12 students were attending a traditional public school. Now that figure hovers just below 80 percent. After the charter cap was lifted in 2011, charter school growth increased rapidly and more than 200 charters will be operating statewide by 2020.
Under the guise of choice, parents can opt out of local schools, which many advocates believe have been intentionally underfunded and unfairly evaluated and portrayed as failing in recent years to motivate parents to move away from locally controlled schools while siphoning money to the hugely profitable charter school industry. Well-meaning parents, motivated by the universal desire to provide the best education possible for their children may not realize the impact of their choices and the tradeoffs they make when they leave the public school system.
In 2018, HB 514 allowed majority white suburbs of Charlotte, to create their own charter schools. Further, they will be permitted to restrict access to local residents and will likely exacerbate segregation. In the budget amendments, a related provision allowed local municipalities to use (and raise) property taxes to fund schools. Irv Joyner, an attorney and the Legal Redress Chair for the North Carolina NAACP had this to say: “Clearly, this is an effort to go back to the 1900s with Jim Crow where these enclaves for whites are being allowed to be set up.”
School voucher programs transfer public funds to private and faith-based schools. Vouchers provide upfront dollars that families can use toward paying the tuition of a private school. One of the shortcomings of school vouchers is that they increase segregation in private schools along racial, religious, and socioeconomic lines. The amount of the voucher is often not enough to cover the full tuition at private schools. Families with more limited means cannot make up the difference in tuition and are effectively barred from attending private schools. Before vouchers were started in 2013, private school enrollment was declining in the state. In the 2018-2019 school year, 9,651 students received Opportunity Scholarships (vouchers). There were 405 private schools with recipients enrolled. The total cost of these scholarships was $37.9 million.
Disparity in School Discipline Contributes to Segregated Schools
Research shows that black and brown students face greater rates of suspension, expulsion and arrest than their white classmates. The majority of teaching staff is white and research shows that white teachers of black students punish these students for misbehavior two to four times as frequently as teachers who were the same race as their students. In light of these realities, families of color in some districts seek schools with teaching staff and a student body that is representative of their children. ‘Black flight’ is a term used to define the phenomenon in certain school districts where impacted families of color are “continuously moving and relocating to different districts in Illinois, searching for a place where their child would not be subjected to excessive school discipline.” This trend causes further isolation for students of color.
Segregated Neighborhoods and School Boundaries
In many areas, years of policies redlining areas have resulted in concentrations of minority residents. Richard Rothstein author of the book, The Color of Law A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America points out: “Until the last quarter of the twentieth century, racially explicit policies of federal, state and local governments defined where whites and African Americans should live. Today’s residential segregation in the North, South, Midwest and West is not the unintended consequence of individual choices and of otherwise well-meaning law or regulation but of unhidden public policy that explicitly segregated every metropolitan area in the United States.” Integration requires the buy in and support of all voters. Kris Nordstrom suggests that policies at the state level need to be implemented to put affordable housing in areas where ‘good schools’ exist. A recent article details the difficulty of rapidly growing cities around the nation to accommodate or even in many cases meaningfully debate affordable housing: “Most of the existing density restrictions contributing to the housing crisis in cities were in fact put in place as a result of lobbying efforts by homeowners seeking to preserve their home values.”
A study of New York City shows “a small but growing segment of middle-class, mostly white families are choosing to enroll their children in their neighborhood public elementary schools, thus increasing the diversity in those schools.” However, the overall trend (see Pearman’s research) is for white, affluent families to move into a low-income, urban neighborhoods and then not choose their neighborhood schools but a charter or private school.
“We were really curious to see what that relationship looked like at the national level,” said Pearman, now a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. When he and student, Walker Swain, looked at national data, a pattern emerged. The ability to opt out of the neighborhood school increased the likelihood that a mostly black or Hispanic neighborhood would see an influx of wealthier residents. ”As school choice expands, the likelihood that low-income communities of color experience gentrification increases,” Pearman said.
In other areas, like Durham, the results are also less than promising. One researcher found as of 2016 only 18 percent of Durham Public School students were white. Meanwhile, four Durham charter schools are 54-67 percent white. Essentially, since the growth of charter schools beginning in the 2007-08 school year, approximately 1200 white students have disappeared from Durham Public Schools. Research by Helen Ladd at Duke University on white parents in the state found that “a 20 percent black population was the threshold that white parents preferred.” Other studies have found that: “As school choice expands, the likelihood that low-income communities of color experience gentrification increases. The effects were substantial: a predominantly non-white neighborhood’s chance of gentrification more than doubles, jumping from 18 percent to 40 percent when magnet and charter schools are available.” A study of Charlotte schools in 2018 showed that housing prices increased in neighborhoods when parents were given the choice to opt out of Title I schools. Charters and vouchers serve a vehicle that allows families to opt out of neighborhood schools, instead of investing in their community schools. As Barnum notes: “The finding that wealthier families are more open to entering racially segregated neighborhoods if they can avoid the local schools isn’t necessarily surprising.” While the same school choice programs that contribute to segregation can encourage residential integration, it still leaves a community disconnecting with its schools. Having integration in one but not the other harms the long-term residents. The very “intent” of school choice is actually producing a counter, negative impact on failing schools. Yet, it should be noted, that privatization does not have to exacerbate segregation if individual families did not make these choices. Affluent families could enter “disinvested” areas and work to support and strengthen the local schools.
Gifted and Talented Programs/Segregation Within Schools
Placing students in classes/tracks based on whether or not they are identified as gifted and/or talented can segregate populations within a school and give an inaccurate representation of diversity. One study found “that gifted admissions standards favor middle-class children, many of them white or Asian.” Because whites continue to be overwhelmingly represented in the teaching field, children of color may not be selected for these programs at the same rate. A study from Vanderbilt looking at the significant lack of black students in the gifted programs found: “When high-achieving black children were taught by a black teacher, they were just as likely to get assigned to a gifted program as similar high-achieving white children.” Students without access to rigorous coursework have a lower probability of gaining entry to selective colleges and universities. Recent work by economist Raj Chetty and colleagues reveals that “the children of the top 1 percent are 77 times more likely to attend Ivy League colleges than the children of those in the lowest income quintile. And low-income students who attend elite universities earn close to what their wealthy classmates earn. Attending an elite institution could narrow the economic inequality gap.”
There is substantial research suggesting that the gifted and talented identification processes have serious shortcomings. To reduce the underrepresentation of diverse learners, educators should ensure equitable identification procedures that consider a variety of “gifts and talents. Some school systems have nine categories of gifted and talented in their work to think more broadly about gifted and talented attributes. Local school boards should periodically re-examine their processes to ensure that all children (at all grade levels) have access to challenging curriculum, courses, and other opportunities to expand their talents and interests.
Reframing of Public Education from a Public Good to Private Entitlement
A recent Washington Post article shows the destructive transition from defining education as a public good, created for the purpose of strengthening our democracy, to a private good where concerns of the individual outweigh the good of all. This often informs the decisions of upper and middle class parents who advocate for school choice. “Affluent white parents can pay for test prep to get their kids into better charter schools. They can move to the suburbs to get into wealthier districts. They can advocate to get their kids into honors classes. You don’t have to stand at the schoolyard door or attack buses anymore. You can just quietly use your money and education to leverage structural inequality in your favor.” It is expected for parents to want the best for their children, but it is not just for them to do so at the expense of others and to the detriment of our overall democratic goals. Somewhere along the way we have lost sight of the original intent of public education. When public dollars are used for the benefit of all students, not just those with the most resources, the system becomes more equitable.
Secession of School Districts
Authors Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, Erica Frankenberg and Sarah Diem have studied school resegregation and secession and note: “The phenomenon of school district secession, or the splintering off whiter, wealthier districts from larger, more diverse ones, first emerged as a component of massive Southern resistance to Brown v. Board of Education. Today, secession is gaining favor as a strategy once again. Since 2000, more than 70 communities have tried to secede — and nearly 50 have succeeded.” The rise in school secessions further segregates schools.
A bill passed in June 2018 by the NC General Assembly gave four Mecklenburg County towns the authority to start and run their own charter schools. Many elected officials and community citizens decried this bill as a “secession” bill and based on its potential to resegregate further the Charlotte/Mecklenburg (CMS) school system. Residents from Matthews, Mint Hill, Cornelius and Huntersville had been speaking out against student assignment plans by the school board and this bill allows them to use school choice inside of their city limits to leave CMS. Further, HB514, allows the cities to levy taxes for the charter schools, a change in how taxes raised by cities have been used. Critics warned that authority would: “…politicize education at the schools and make town council elections more political as well.”
What Can Parents/Community Members Do to Support Integration?
- White parents need to talk about the benefits of integrated schools for everyone and support other parents who choose integrated schools.
- Work with legislators at the state and local level to adequately fund public schools, invest in ongoing teacher training to foster racial equity, promote greater diversity in the teacher pipeline and recommit to integrated schools and classrooms.
- Support school board candidates and members of the NC General Assembly who prioritize integrating schools. Key factors that help children in poverty break out of poverty is attending an integrated school, including preschool, along with having parents who earn a livable wage.
- Visit neighborhood schools instead of relying on school grades that don’t indicate school quality. Look beyond the test scores and at the quality of instruction.
- Train teachers in anti-bias education. Students who are taught to understand implicit racial, ethnic, societal and cultural differences are better equipped to deal with the racial/class divide in our country.
- Teach students to understand and challenge prejudice. This leads to greater mutual compassion, respect, and understanding across racial and class lines.
- Support integration efforts through advocacy and coalition building that includes businesses and faith organizations.
- Support efforts to integrate neighborhoods by electing city officials who make affordable housing a priority in all areas of the school district. Integrated communities have integrated schools.
- Advocate for building affordable housing when you build or renovate a new school.
- If your child attends a school with many resources, campaign for your PTA to partner with a less affluent school.
- Lobby for charters to use weighted lotteries to increase diversity
- Support legislation to reinstate the cap on charters instituting a moratorium on new charter schools while the issue of charters and segregation and student academic performance can be studied along with the impact of charters on the overall local public school system.
- Encourage legislators to restore the teacher pipeline, focusing on recruiting teachers of color.
- Advocate for more magnet schools near population centers that have easy access to buses for all families.
- Reward parents with first choices in magnet programs if it helps integrate a school.
- Encourage classroom teachers to teach tolerance and restorative justice practices.
- To improve schools, address poverty. Families who have financial security and health care are often able to send their children to school better prepared than low-income families. We must focus on the well-being of our poor families and help them meet the non-educational needs of their children if we want to help their children be successful in school. The disparity in average schools poverty rates between white and black students’ schools is consistently the single most powerful correlate of achievement gaps.
- To address poverty, expand health care to families without health insurance, expand affordable housing, and pay livable wages. These are the three largest barriers to families being able to thrive and support their children’s education and these barriers have the greatest impact on their children’s school performance.
- Advocate for universal preschool for all children as a part of their public education.
- Teach hard history concerning the legacy of slavery and its continued effects. Our nation has a long history of white supremacy and racism, at the heart of segregation in neighborhoods and schools. If we are to meaningfully change it, we must confront it and work to deal with systemic racism in our schools, workplaces, and communities.
- Believe in and support public education as a public good that every one of “our children” deserves.
Public schools are the foundation of a well-functioning democracy. Ironically, the exodus of white and middle-class families from their local public schools tends to cause the district schools to look more like those schools those families are trying to avoid. Well-meaning parents looking for ‘the best’ opportunities or their children, must consider the wide implications of their choices on our student populations and our society at large, and not overlook research supporting what is “best” for all children is attending diverse, integrated schools.
Individual choices have a systemic impact including maintaining segregation regardless of our motives. Public schools are a public good and we must fight to make sure they serve all students. To ensure educational equity for all children, we must properly support the schools we already have and not seek alternatives that weaken and undermine our public school system. We know that diversifying the socioeconomic and racial make-up of schools allows all children to flourish. Desegregation of our public schools has positive educational effects on students of poverty with no negative effects on affluent students and shows how other cognitive, social, and emotional benefits accrue for all children. Students who interact at school with students from different cultures, backgrounds, and world views are better prepared to live productively in the 21st century. Nancy Gibbs, director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University and a former editor of Time sums it up well: “For if every parent puts his or her child first at all costs, communities degrade, schools can’t function, society becomes ungovernable.” Last, when only 25-30% of our state’s residents have children in public schools, it is critical that everyone, not just parents, believe that public education is a public good; a shared societal benefit that educates our future labor force and leaders. Seeing education as a public good worthy of our support requires us to think not just what is best for my kids but to think of all kids as our kids.