The value of school integration | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The value of school integration

Posted By on Tue, Mar 22, 2011 at 6:15 AM

The New York Times' Bob Herbert plunges into a subject mentioned here the other day — the ill effects of segregating students not only by race and ethnicity but by economic class. Whatever the law, economics, housing patterns and other factors have resegregated many schools. These separate schools are "inherently unequal," no less than in 1954.

“Ninety-five percent of education reform is about trying to make separate schools for rich and poor work, but there is very little evidence that you can have success when you pack all the low-income students into one particular school,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who specializes in education issues.

The current obsession with firing teachers, attacking unions and creating ever more charter schools has done very little to improve the academic outcomes of poor black and Latino students. Nothing has brought about gains on the scale that is needed.

If you really want to improve the education of poor children, you have to get them away from learning environments that are smothered by poverty. This is being done in some places, with impressive results. An important study conducted by the Century Foundation in Montgomery County, Md., showed that low-income students who happened to be enrolled in affluent elementary schools did much better than similarly low-income students in higher-poverty schools in the county.

The study, released last October, found that “over a period of five to seven years, children in public housing who attended the school district’s most advantaged schools (as measured by either subsidized lunch status or the district’s own criteria) far outperformed in math and reading those children in public housing who attended the district’s least-advantaged public schools.”

This brings us right back to the same old problems, unfortunately. Parents want their kids to go to school with people like themselves, a standard not only — not even necessarily — meaning skin color. (Though Herbert thinks, with good reason, that a lot of the problem is still about race.)

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