Creative approaches needed to desegregate schools
- In an effort to desegregate schools, the San Antonio Independent School District, with the help of Chief Innovation Officer Mohammed Choudhury, launched the Diverse by Design initiative aimed at openly working to build diverse schools, Education Week reports.
- In addition to meeting transportation needs, some steps the district is taking to improve school integration include building new schools designed around a 50-50 enrollment model based on students' economic backgrounds; redefining measures of poverty or disadvantage by more nuanced parameters; creating better attendance zones or removing attendance zone lines all together; offering specialty academic programs to attract students who have left the system; improving family engagement and community outreach efforts; and seeking out families, if necessary, to improve diversity measures.
- The school district is seeing positive responses to the initiative so far, but the efforts represent only a small part of what needs to be done to improve diversity citywide. Since much of the segregation issues lie in housing patterns, municipalities must also play a role in solving the issue.
Court mandates can only do so much in solving the inherent problems of human nature, and addressing the issues of racial and socioeconomic segregation are no different. Over 60 years after the landmark Brown v. the Board of Education decision, racial segregation in schools still persists because economic and opportunity barriers remain in many communities.
Studies show that diversity plays a positive role in education, not only for minority or disadvantaged students, but for all students. Increasing diversity can help better prepare students for a multicultural world.
In a 2016 study, authors Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox, and Diana Cordova-Cobo of Teachers College Columbia noted that “the benefits of school diversity run in all directions… researchers have documented that students’ exposure to other students who are different from themselves and the novel ideas and challenges that such exposure brings leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.”
The path to true diversity is complicated by a number of factors primarily related to school funding. Housing patterns traditionally are impacted by the desirability of school attendance zones, which in turn means that certain schools have great access to funding from formulas based on property taxes, as well as fund-raising efforts. In some states, such as Pennsylvania, researchers have further argued that school funding is determined more by race than by sheer economic factors.
Families with more access to money also have more options concerning education because they can choose private schools or charter schools without regard to transportation or enrollment issues. Public schools now need to work harder to create academic programs to retain these families, a result that is arguably a positive one benefitting all students in the long run.
But schools cannot address segregation alone. States, counties and municipalities also should play a role in tackling funding and transportation issues that may be throwing up barriers to diversity. However, school leaders can commit to increasing integration and examine efforts working in other districts, such as the San Antonio Independent School District, to see if these ideas can be scaled to their areas.
- Education Week Is There a Path to Desegregated Schools?