integration: part 2

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.

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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.