Believe me, I know that school integration is a heavy lift, and often it feels like an impossible lift. I’ve been engaged in conversations around the topic for more than 30 years in Rochester, where conventional wisdom has it that nothing can be done because there is no support for any further programs to address the isolation of the poorest children in our community. That’s what Urban-Suburban is for, right?
As an aside, CW also once held that the Soviet Union would never fall, that Ronald Reagan could never be elected president, that our state Legislature could never pass an on-time budget, and that the Red Sox would never end the curse of the Bambino. In other words, conventional wisdom—like its kissing cousin, common sense—always holds that something that has not happened will never happen. This is neither wise nor sensible.
So take heart. We may now finally be at a breakthrough point. How so?
Resistance can still be found to particular integration initiatives. As an April story in The Atlantic reported: “Pushback comes both from families at high-performing schools who are happy with the status quo, and from families at struggling neighborhood schools who want them improved instead of turned into a citywide series of magnet programs that might result in their kids trekking across town each morning. ”
There is, the Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg says in the same story, 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.”
As a recent Century Foundation report notes, at least 91 school districts now use socioeconomic status as a factor in assigning students, up from just a couple in 1996, and around 40 in 2007.
It always takes time for political change to catch up with changes in public opinion. Conventional wisdom is hard to reverse even when it’s so clearly wrong. But in Rochester, the new GS4A parent survey (link to it off this page), has shown that today’s parents of school age children do not object to integration at all—when it comes with new and exciting types of curriculum. Huge majorities of both city and suburban parents here now say they want (not just tolerate) much more diverse schools for their children because they believe that when schools look more like the world we live in, they will better prepare children to succeed in that world.
Further evidence that the tide is turning: The Obama administration has proposed incentives to promote socioeconomic diversity as central to turning around failing schools. As a story in Education Week reported earlier this month, while the president’s proposed $120 million for diversity programs was rejected by a Senate panel, “the U.S. Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Transportation sent a letter to state and local leaders …asking that they put their heads together and figure out how to knock down barriers to diversity in housing and schools.
“The education department has also proposed giving projects that seek to improve socioeconomic diversity a leg-up in grant competitions. It has proposed funding projects through the Investing in Innovation program that would focus on diversity.”
This is how change happens. It’s never as quick as we’d like. And it is never easy. But the door is open. And the time is now.