If you support neighborhood schools you also (unintentionally) support segregated schools

A reminder: for the foreseeable future, supporting neighborhood schools means de facto supporting segregated schools.

The reason is obvious: neighborhoods in our country are highly segregated.

I think our country would be better if our neighborhoods weren’t segregated, but I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.

So if every kid goes to their neighborhood school, we will have segregated schools.

There are a couple ways out of this.

We could restructure enrollment and bussing rules to avoid segregation, but this would mean that a lot families would have to attend schools outside of their neighborhoods.

And  I don’t think it’s the rich families that are going to send their children to poorer neighborhoods.

So we’ll need to be bussing in low income students into rich neighborhoods. This might be the right thing to do, but that means a lot of low income students won’t be attending their neighborhood schools.

It also means we’ll likely have a lot of white flight, which, while unfortunate, is neither good for integration nor a city’s tax base.

The other option is to create all choice systems and allow schools to preference students in a way that increases socioeconomic integration (this could be done through a unified enrollment algorithm).

For this strategy to be successful, schools will have to proactively create enrollment rules that increased integration, and families will have to proactively choose schools with this mission.

This will obviously be a slower process than forced integration via non-choice bussing systems.

But I think it will be much more durable.

Ultimately, you can’t force people to integrate our current version of segregated schools if they don’t want to. They will either move or kick out the superintendent who forces it. As a country, we rightfully changed the laws that forced segregation, but we’re still left with the fact that many people don’t really want integration, at least not if it involves any bit of giving up of privilege.

So, no, you can’t force integration. But you can give educators the opportunity to say that their school will prioritize integration. And you can make it easier for families to choose these schools.

The road to school integration is not through neighborhood schools. And it’s not through forced enrollment patterns.

The road to school integration is through people actually wanting it, and for government to create open systems that allow these desires to be actualized.

If you do nothing, people will attend their segregated neighborhood schools.

If you force it, they will flee.

If you build it, they might come.

6 thoughts on “If you support neighborhood schools you also (unintentionally) support segregated schools

  1. integratedschls

    Agreed! We need parents to prioritize integration… It’s easy to say that we ‘value diversity’ but quite something else to PRIORITIZE it.

    It’s true that “neighborhood schools” are often a dogwhistle, but in diverse/gentrifying communities, white and/or privileged families eschew the neighborhood schools for the same reason that majority-white/privileged communities love them. There are millions of examples of parents MoreThanWilling to drive or bus their kids across town to the “better” school…

    But you’re right that the top-down, ‘forced integration’ has largely been ineffective. We are 64 years post-Brown v. Board and still segregating and increasingly segregatING. We need to create buy-in from parents. And there are so many reasons that parents could and should WANT to send their kids to integrating schools… Even if they are the “only” white/privileged kid. :)

  2. Brian Beabout

    This is a sensible approach, one taken by most members of the Diverse Charter Schools Coalition (http://diversecharters.org) have advocated. This decentralized approach, while perhaps more “ durable” as you say, would almost certainly be smaller and incomplete.

    That is, a choice-based integration model would only support the number of integrated schools that families are interested in. No more. Thus, we’d have integrated schools as well as segregated schools in the same local educational space (a district, or preferably an inter-district area). Map this over time and you have (maybe) integrated schools, segregated high SES schools, and segregated low SES schools. People have chosen these schools, and it becomes difficult to take those choices away.

    We don’t know if partial integration by choice would give preferable global outcomes to more forced integration via policy. This would be a good research area to pursue.

  3. Macke Raymond

    I like this post a lot and wish like hell I could endorse it. I think the calculus of white /affluent decision maker is not completely represented in this scenario. Policy makers estimate that there is some elasticity of demand that varying degrees of integration may provoke. In other words, a school option with 30% low income or minority may create some degree of demand from affluent and white families, bit when you double that percentage to 60%, the demand is different from the linear estimate you expect. I offer this because I think the elasticity of demand to integration is a lot tighter than we may be willing to acknowledge.

    I seriously hope I can be proved wrong. But all the data I hae seen and studied suggests that familys “stay” — whether in a charter-based choice system or when it’s extended geographically and institutionally — because of an implicit preference for the demogs of the current school, even when the school undergoes strong changes in demography over time. The original impression of “this looks like me” carries forward.

    1. nkingsl

      Macke, it’s good to hear from you. I think you might be right, especially for the median school or median parent. But if government lets the outliers build something, that could change the culture over time. You could also let wealthier schools open up their enrollment for 20-30% of the seats, thereby increasing integration but assuaging fears of losing their super majority. These are really tricky policy and cultural issues, so hard to know, but worth experimenting at the margins.


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