16 July 2007

Desegregation Not All Black and White

San Francisco began considering factors like family income, instead of race, in school assignments when it modified a court-ordered desegregation plan in response to a lawsuit. But school officials have found that the 55,000-student city school district, with Chinese the dominant ethnic group followed by Hispanics, blacks and whites, is resegregrating.

The number of schools where students of a single racial or ethnic group make up 60 percent or more of the population in at least one grade is increasing sharply. In 2005-06, about 50 schools were segregated using that standard as measured by a court-appointed monitor. That was up from 30 schools in the 2001-02 school year, the year before the change, according to court filings.

Many of the dominant race schools are majority Chinese.

From the New York Times (the school district is about one-third Chinese).

Efforts at desegregating by income, rather than race have had mixed success. Raleigh had dramatic success described below. So did Cambridge, Massachussetts (an example always to be doubted on the grounds that it might rely on exceptional circumstances present only when world class Ivy League schools are nearby). Charlotte-Mecklenburg, San Francisco, and San Jose, California, offered more mixed outcomes.

For seven years the district has sought to cap the proportion of low-income students in each of the county’s 143 schools at 40 percent.

To achieve a balance of low- and middle-income children, the district encourages and sometimes requires students to attend schools far from home. Suburban students are attracted to magnet schools in the city; children from the inner city are sometimes bused to middle-class schools at the outer edges of Raleigh and in the suburbs.

The achievement gains have been sharp, and school officials said economic integration was largely responsible. Only 40 percent of black students in grades three through eight in Wake County, where Raleigh is located, scored at grade level on state reading tests in 1995. By the spring of 2006, 82 percent did.

The Bell Policy Center has done research indicating that economic integration improves school performance in Denver schools.

School choice in Denver increases, rather than decreases school segregation. Most black students who use school choice pick just a couple of schools. Most white students who use school choice pick about half a dozen different schools.

By all accounts, parents allowed to choose different schools are happier with their choice than the neighborhood school. But, by co-opting dissatisfied and vocal parents by allowing them to chose new schools for their children, school choice also reduces the political pressure on the district to improve neighborhood schools.

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