Century Foundation Report Highlights Race, Income Policy Progress


Race and income have been cited as causes of US public schools becoming more segregated. But a rising number of districts and charter schools are working to develop a balance among the pupils in their schools, says the Century Foundation.

The Century Foundation is a left-leaning, progressive think tank located in New York City and Washington, D.C.. It was founded in 1919 to examine issues such as civil liberties, the press, and campaign finance.

The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton reports that researchers found 91 school districts including Chicago Public Schools and Washington, D.C., along with charter school chains, that are using specific actions in an attempt to create more balance.

Tools such as magnet schools, changing school attendance zones, and weighted lotteries are being used to ensure more balance between students of color and white students and between affluent children and those from low-income families.

The 91 entities that are making attempts at balancing and diversifying public schools is over double the number that were trying to do so in 2007, according to Century Foundation fellow Halley Potter, who is also one of the report’s authors.

The methods being used are far different from the forced busing measures that were attempted in the early years of desegregation. Some schools are concentrating on integrating students from differing financial standings, not from different races. Potter adds, however, the two are linked in a seemingly unresolvable way.

“Part of the growth of these socioeconomic strategies is a reflection of the legal environment for racial desegregation, which just continues to get trickier,” she said. “Communities serious about tackling integration find that these tools are the best way.”

Public Schools in America are more segregated now than they were in the 1970s. Over one-third of all Latino and black students are in schools that are over 90% non-white, reports the Century Foundation. In excess of one-third of white students are in schools that are almost entirely white.

Additionally, research has shown that children from low-income families, a group that is chiefly made up of Latinos and African-Americans, can perform better academically when they are enrolled in schools that are not attended by predominantly poor students.

New York City has established a law to ascertain schools’ diversity levels and to address controversies concerning school-zone changes. The law comes in the wake of a 2014 report that showed the city was home to one of the most segregated school systems in the US, writes Monica Disare for Chalkbeat.

In November, NYC released a pilot program that it hopes will increase diversity at seven of elementary schools. The program allowed these schools to alter their admission requirements to ensure a diverse mix of students would be enrolled.

Potter says the best action is to focus on socioeconomic integration. The next sound method is rezoning, because redrawing the lines, if socioeconomic makeup is carefully considered, will create a more balanced diversity in schools.

Weighted lotteries have also been useful in balancing diversity and are being used in 16 districts. Families are asked to rank the schools they would like their children to attend by preference, and students are then assigned to schools based on preference and formulas that are created to ensure diversity, reports The74′s Matt Barnum.

Districts that are concentrating on integration are not going to be able to do enough to stop the growing segregation alone. One school’s efforts depend on what all the other school districts are doing and how those schools’ enrollment policies trend. Increased residential segregation and expanding clusters of poverty in US neighborhoods complicate the issue.

Potter said, “To really combat that we would need to see this taken to an even greater scale.”