Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chancellor Gilbert

The Failure to Desegregate

Susan Eaton and Steven Rivkin ask: Is Desegregation Dead? in their article in Education Next.

Hard to believe we still have separate and unequal schools. Schools with a high percentage of students of color often have a high percentage of low-income students. When the needs of many of these families and students are not met outside of school, the problems become a part of the school. In a school where almost all students and families face these same challenges, the burden is much heavier. I've certainly seen this first hand. It becomes a never-ending and impossible triage.

Eaton makes two important points:
1. Diverse schools committed to equal opportunity hold vast, often untapped potential, but it is up to teachers, parents, administrators, and other sectors of society to harness it. When diverse schools institute rigid academic tracking that places students of color in low-level classes or employ harsh discipline policies that exclude students rather than providing support, they are not truly integrated. The success of today’s diversity movement hinges on our ability to move diverse schools closer to true integration.

Increasing linguistic and cultural diversity enriches our society. A modern integration movement must incorporate immigrant students and English language learners. The sharp segregation of these groups from mainstream opportunity limits their chances for social mobility and encourages prejudice against them.

2. Educators have long testified and research has long demonstrated that schools with large shares of economically disadvantaged children become overwhelmed with challenges that interfere with education. Racially segregated high-poverty schools tend to be overrun with social problems, have a hard time finding and retaining good teachers, are associated with high dropout rates, and are less effective than diverse schools at intervening in problems outside of school that undermine learning. In a longitudinal study of dropout rates, researcher Argun Saatcioglu concluded, “desegregated schools likely played a more effective role in counterbalancing student-level nonschool problems than did segregated ones.” Generally, racially and economically diverse schools have been far more successful than segregated ones in improving achievement, graduating students of color, and sending kids to college. There are some successful high-poverty schools, certainly, but hardly enough to make “separate but equal” our education policy.