Unlike every fresh Donal Trump insult, the push to re-integrate American schools has not gone viral. Yet.
Most Rochesterians, like most Americans, have no idea that in numerous think tanks, state houses, and at the U.S. Department of Education, integration—along socioeconomic lines—is a very hot topic. Slowly, policy is catching up to the research.
At GS4A, we hope to place Rochester at the forefront of this essential change to the way we improve public education. (Click the link to our proposal for Breakthrough Schools on this page.)
According to a recent article in The Atlantic, at a panel last month, U.S. Secretary of Education John King (previously the New York State commissioner of education), said that “the need for ‘urgency’ when it comes to making classrooms more socioeconomically and racially diverse is sometimes thwarted by communities who see the current lack of real integration as a fact over which they have no control. That, he argued, is simply not true.”
At the same forum, according to The Atlantic, Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and a champion of school integration, “suggested…that one reason for the lack of momentum is a discrepancy between what science suggests and how politicians act. The consensus of social scientists, he noted, is that socioeconomic and racial integration is one of the best things communities can do for young people to help them succeed in school and in the workforce. But politicians are ‘scared to death of the issue.’ However, Kahlenberg said, he thinks there are signs that change is beginning to happen.”
Kahlenberg, who has supported and helped guide the work of GS4A, noted that at least 91 school districts now use socioeconomic status in assigning students to schools.
Indeed, President Obama has called for a $120 million in grants for the purpose of increasing socioeconomic integration, and GS4A submitted a brief position paper during the USDE’s open comment period on the grant proposals.
In a new blogpost on the Shanker Institute website, Kara Finnigan, associate professor at the University of Rochester and Jennifer Jellison Holme, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, argue that the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) “could be used to reduce segregation is by incorporating diversity into school turnaround strategies. ESSA requires states to intervene in three categories of schools: those graduating less than one-third of their students; the lowest 5 percent of schools receiving Title 1 funds; and schools where subgroups are struggling. States are allowed to set aside up to 7 percent of funds for ‘evidence based’ interventions.”
Finnigan and Holme also note that “another way to address between-district segregation is through inter-district magnet schools, like those implemented in Hartford, Minneapolis, and Omaha. These schools promote diversity by drawing students from multiple districts across a region, and they have been shown to yield improvements in academic achievement for students who participate. ESSA reauthorized and increased funding for the $96 million Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), and for the first time allowed MSAP funding to be used for magnet schools created by a collaboration of multiple school districts (i.e. city and suburban districts joining together). ”
We have a long road yet to journey. But every grant, every initiative, creates opportunities for success—and those successes in ordinary schools, in ordinary communities will slowly build support for the using the power of integration to create new opportunities where few now exist.