integration: part 1

The achievement gap between well-off students and socioeconomically disadvantaged students is a well-known problem. That is, people agree that the problem exists. However, there haven’t been many successful attempts at reducing the achievement gap. In the first podcast of the two-part series “The Problem We All Live”, Nikole Hannah-Jones talks about one particularly effective solution that has been shown to reduce the achievement gap: desegregation.

Normandy High School in Missouri is a low-performing school whose student population is made up entirely of black children from low income families. The education that students receive from Normandy High School is not the best. In fact, in January of 2013, the Normandy School District lost its accreditation, which “accidentally” resulted in desegregation.

The transfer law in Missouri allows students in unaccredited districts the right to transfer to a nearby accredited one for free. The students in Normandy School District were given the option to transfer to Francis Howell, a school located roughly 30 miles from Normandy with a student population that was 85% white. About 25% of Normandy High School students ended up transferring to Francis Howell, which began the integration process. Students who transferred from the Normandy School District finally had the opportunity to receive a quality education and to work with a more diverse set of peers.

The last time integration had been court ordered in Missouri schools was during a 16-year window that ended in 1999. At schools that were not affected by white flight, test scores for black students rose, and these students were more likely to graduate and attend college. Integration was successfully narrowing the achievement gap, but “when it proved difficult, as we knew it would be, we said integration failed instead of the truth, which is that it was working.” As a result, attempts at integration were largely abandoned.

Within a year, the accidental integration in Normandy came to an end when Missouri decided to rename Normandy School District as Normandy Schools Collaborative and gave it a non-accredited status (as opposed to unaccredited status). The transfer law no longer applied, which meant that students who had transferred to schools like Francis Howell would no longer be able to continue at their schools for free. Students and their parents were devastated.

State legislators and the governor of Missouri agree that it is detrimental for Normandy kids to attend schools that aren’t accredited. Their proposed solutions include charter schools, virtual school programs, and teacher coaches from wealthier districts. They are doing as much as they can to keep Normandy students from leaving the district. In other words, they are avoiding the one solution that has worked in the past and that is continuing to work today—integration.

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