For part 1 on integration, please visit this blog post.
In this podcast published by This American Life, Chana Joffe-Walt discusses the Hartford, CT school system. In contrast to school districts like the Normandy School District, which was reluctant to integrate, the Hartford school system actively seeks to integrate schools. Rather than forcing white students to attend schools with minority students, however, the Hartford system attempts to market their magnet schools in a way that makes white parents want to send their children to the magnet schools.
Enid Rey is the chief marketer for Hartford magnet schools. Her job is to sell the perks of attending the various magnet schools (think arts magnet, environmental sciences magnet, classical magnet, etc.) to parents of white children. All the magnet schools provide free pre-K and have the money and resources for facilities that most public schools in the area cannot afford. For instance, the environmental sciences magnet has a community room, outdoor gardens, and even a butterfly vivarium.
Even with all the resources provided by these magnet schools, many white families are reluctant to send their children to magnet schools because they are located in the scary part of Hartford. Generally speaking, the white parents who ultimately choose to send their children to Hartford magnet schools do so because “their kid was bullied, or there was too much standardized testing, or the other parents seemed annoying” at their neighborhood schools. One of the most powerful marketing tools available is when the parent of a white child attending a magnet school speaks highly of the magnet school to fellow white neighbors. Through the efforts of people like Rey, Hartford went from 11% integration in 2007 to almost 50% in 2015.
The city parents, on the other hand, are not being courted. In fact, Hartford students have to enter a lottery to attend the magnet schools. In the fall of 2014, more than 4,000 Hartford students (about 50% of those who applied) did not win a magnet seat. Students who cannot lottery into magnet schools are forced to attend the local public schools, which are inferior. 80% of magnet school students pass state tests, whereas less than 40% of Hartford public school kids pass state tests.
It is not ideal to have 50% of Hartford kids still attending inferior schools. However, civil rights lawyer John Brittain believes that in time, 100% of Hartford kids will be in integrated magnet schools. According to Brittain, once white people are no longer the majority in America, more white parents will send their children to integrated schools because “whites will perceive in their self interest that it’s important for their children to grow up in an integrated setting.”
Having mostly learned about teaching and learning at a classroom level in my education class, I have found it valuable to learn more about education from a different perspective. As it turns out, much of education is influenced by much more than how a single teacher interacts with her students. For one, the makeup of the student population is a key factor in determining the quality of education that students receive at a given school. Simply put, schools with white students tend to be higher quality. Given that integration is so effective at increasing test scores and closing the achievement gap, I find it disheartening that integration is often overlooked as a potential solution to the widening achievement gap.