What If School Integration Isn’t The Key To Education Equity? – Forbes – DC Initiative on Racial Equity
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It’s assumed that Black kids who go to integrated schools will benefit from greater resources, but … [+] the evidence is unclear—and other interventions might be more effective.


Would integration boost outcomes for the most vulnerable students, as many assume? Or would it be more effective to change standard classroom practices that hold those students back no matter who their schoolmates are?

Public schools have become increasingly segregated since the 1970s, if you measure that by how isolated non-white and poorer students are from their white and more affluent peers. In 2018, for example, 40% of Black students attended a school where 90% of more of their peers were also students of color. A recent report from the Urban Institute traces that situation to government redlining practices in the New Deal era, which labeled black neighborhoods “hazardous” for mortgage loans.

The report urges a simple solution to at least part of this injustice: Shift school boundary zones slightly within districts so that neighboring schools become more integrated. Changes to school boundaries have been contentious in the past. But, the report’s author says, things are different now, and fears of “white flight” are exaggerated.

But even in politically liberal communities, the issue has stirred opposition. In Minneapolis, boundary changes have prompted home sales and an exodus to charter or suburban schools. In Maryland’s Montgomery County, a study of possible shifts was enough to produce heated debates.

Even if families within a school district do embrace boundary changes, it’s been estimated that would reduce overall segregation by only about a third. To do more, authorities would need to cross the lines dividing urban and suburban districts. That would require overcoming serious legal obstacles.

Some have resorted to shaming “nice white parents,” as the title of an influential podcast series has it, charging them with hypocrisy if they profess a belief in integration but send their kids to predominantly white schools.

Both the advocacy for boundary changes and the shaming rest on the conviction that integration has improved outcomes for Black students in the past. The study that is cited most frequently was done by economist Rucker C. Johnson, who examined school integration efforts in the 1970s and 1980s. Black students who attended integrated and well-funded schools, he found, were significantly more likely to attend good colleges, earn more money, and enjoy better health as adults, while their chances of incarceration were significantly reduced.

But other research has questioned those findings. Recently, for example, four economists analyzed data on Black adults who were between the ages of 25 and 65 in 1979-80. They found that Black students who attended predominantly white high schools had better outcomes, but those who attended high schools where the races were more or less equally balanced completed fewer years of education than those at predominantly Black schools. The share of white students made no difference to Black adult rates of employment or home ownership.

What’s to be made of all this? A few points:

·    Both of these studies are based on data that is more than 40 years old.

All sorts of things could have changed since then, so it would be better to rely on more recent research.

·        More recent research, alas, also goes in both directions.

Some has found benefits, but it’s hard to separate family factors from the influence of schools. A 2018 st

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