Will America Ever Have Integrated Schools?

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All else being equal, I think it would be better if public schools were integrated. I find the individual and societal rationales for increasing integration to be very compelling.

However, I do not understand how America will achieve integrated public schools in the next few decades.

If others see a realistic path to integration, I’d love to better understand these arguments.


Here is why I am skeptical that we will achieve school integration over the next few decades:

White Families Don’t Want to be in the Minority: As recent research demonstrates, white families want to send their children to schools where they aren’t a signficant minority. Most major urban education systems are 75%+ minority, so the math simply doesn’t work. You can’t scale schools with significant white enrollment when white families only make up a small minority of students.

White Families Won’t Send Their Children to Poor Neighborhoods: I’m skeptical that, at scale, white families will bus their children into poor neighborhoods. This means integrated schools can only really be located in either gentrifying or wealthier neighborhoods. It seems (rightfully) unfeasible that cities will stop operating schools in poor neighborhoods – yet having schools operate in poor neighborhoods will prevent integration.


In short:

  1. If your policy solutions goes against the desires of the vast majority of white people; and
  2. You need white people to participate in your solution; and
  3. Even if you get your policy passed, white people can escape the policy through moving to a nearby town or opting-out of the public system; then
  4. You’re in for a long, hard battle.


All of this being said, I spend most of time working on a strategy that most people think will not scale, so I’m very sympathetic to reformers trying to change the world against tough odds.

But if you’re trying to change the world you need to be able to tell a story of how you might succeed – and, to date, I haven’t been able to understand this story for school integration.

But this might simply be my own ignorance. If anyone can point me to writings that better tell the strategy story, I’ll eagerly dig in.

3 thoughts on “Will America Ever Have Integrated Schools?

  1. Matthew Levey

    WRT “white families do not want to be in the minority” I’ve argued there are many non-minority families who opt out as their kids turn 5. If the public options were stronger they would stay. ​ The denominator is not fixed. Data gathered for my (Brooklyn) charter application. shows that 4,100 kids leave our district on becoming eligible for Kindergarten. According to another study 52% of the kids not attending NYC DOE schools in 2010 were white kids (elem and middle school).

    There are also families choosing independent schools, who on the margins, might elect public if it were more appealing. So are we set at 75% minority, or could we see a shift to 65%, and does that matter?

    Housing cost is a confounding factor that may drive families of kids away. So maybe I’m overstating the case?

  2. Pingback: America already has integrated schools — here’s how we can have more – One Good Question

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