- With school segregation a persistent challenge in New York City and many urban districts, a new study of an effort to integrate schools based on students’ socioeconomic status shows such a plan doesn’t reduce overall segregation in a district, but it can significantly change school experiences for students who would have attended a majority-minority school.
- The study, appearing in the American Educational Research Journal, focuses on the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) in North Carolina, which during the 2000s concentrated its magnet schools in majority-minority schools and in neighborhood schools where minority students would make up more than 75% of enrollment. This strategy “effectively ensured that advantaged families would not only enroll their children in these schools, but compete to do so,” the research team wrote.
- Under a traditional residential-based assignment plan, the average black student in the WCPSS, which includes Raleigh, would have attended a school with a white student population of 14%, the researchers write. But under the socioeconomic-based assignment plan, the average black student attended a school in which 38% of students were white. “As advantaged students enter what would otherwise be relatively disadvantaged schooling contexts, they may bring with them additional resources — educational, social and financial — that could improve the educational experiences for all students at the school,” the authors write.
A 2016 report from The Century Foundation estimated that 100 school districts and charter schools are pursuing socioeconomic integration plans, and the number could be even higher now. “The case for pursuing these policies is powerful: low-income students in mixed-income schools are as much as two years ahead of low-income students in high-poverty schools,” the report said, “and diversity benefits middle-class students as emerging research has shown that being in diverse learning environments can make students smarter.”
In addition to strategically placing the magnet schools, WCPSS also placed year-round schools in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods and required families to apply to attend these schools. District leaders also reassigned some students away from their neighborhood schools in order to have buildings in which no more than 40% of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and no more than 25% were performing below grade level.
The authors of the study, led by Deven Carlson, a political science professor at the University of Oklahoma, suggest that district leaders “must be willing to use multiple policy levers” and that they should consider how each lever helps them achieve those integration goals.
WCPSS leaders also minimized involuntary school reassignments among more-advantaged families, likely to make the policy politically palatable across the district. But that approach can mean the burden of integrating schools continues to fall on disadvantaged students and families, the authors write, adding that there are both “tradeoffs and constraints” when implementing any socioeconomic-raced integration plan. They add that more research on these policies is needed, especially related to the impact on student outcomes.