Home > Uncategorized > A Fix for Urban Schools No One Mentions in ANY Strategic Plan: Integration

A Fix for Urban Schools No One Mentions in ANY Strategic Plan: Integration

May 29, 2017

An op ed piece by Carnegie Mellon graduate student Rob Cullen in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette flags an omission from “Expect Great Things”, the latest strategic plan from the Pittsburgh PA Public Schools: integration. In the opening paragraphs of the article Mr. Cullen offers a valid critique of strategic plans in general, noting that they all offer high-minded phrases that no one could disagree with like: “…developing more rigorous curriculum, addressing the racial achievement gap and providing better support for teachers“. As a result, one could read plan after plan in succession or across the country and find no difference in their findings and, in doing so, get a feeling of de ja vu. But Mr. Cullen notes one glaring omission from the Pittsburgh plans, an omission that is likely fond in a majority of urban strategic plans:

But most disappointingly, there was the word that wasn’t mentioned — not in this plan or any other the district has released in recent years. It’s an idea that could be one of the most effective ways to actually achieve the Great Things that PPS says we should expect: integration.

Mr. Cullen then shows that several studies indicate that the strategies and goals outlined in the Pittsburgh Strategic Plan could be readily accomplished through integration:

….one key long-term goal is eliminating racial disparities… (and) a survey of dozens of studies on integration, researchers with the Poverty & Race Research Action Council found, “Students who attend integrated schools perform better on tests in math, science, language, social studies; they take higher-level math and science courses.”

Another goal is ensuring that all Pittsburgh students are equipped with skills to succeed in college, career and life. Again, the PRRAC study found that attending integrated schools leads to students who “hold higher educational aspirations than their otherwise comparable peers” and “increases the likelihood of attending college, particularly for youth from underrepresented minority communities.”

The district wants to attract and retain high-performing teachers; a research brief from Harvard’s Susan Eaton shows that racially integrated schools are more likely to have stable staffs composed of highly qualified teachers….

Employers are increasingly looking for people who are comfortable working in diverse environments, because racial diversity is associated with increased sales revenue, more customers, greater market share and greater relative profits. Students who attend integrated schools have fewer discriminatory attitudes, more cross-racial friendships and better leadership skills than their peers who don’t.

Like most urban areas, Pittsburgh’s integration is internal as well as external. Mr. Cullen notes that while African-Americans make up just 26.1 percent of the city’s population, and 53 percent of its public school students, more than a dozen Pittsburgh schools, over 90 percent of the student body is African-American. And while Pittsburgh schools are 53% African-American, less that 30 minutes away Lower Burrell High School enrolls fewer than 3 percent non-white students.

So with the clear benefits for both black and white students, why is integration not mentioned anywhere in Pittsburgh’s strategic plan? Here’s Mr. Burrell’s take:

…integration is more contentious than simply saying we should eliminate the achievement gap or provide more support for teachers. For many parents, in Pittsburgh “integration” conjures memories of the 1970s and ’80s, when white families fled the district to avoid what they saw as inferior schools and black students were bused long distances to schools where they were often seen as unwelcome outsiders. Even education advocacy groups committed to racial equity, like A+ Public Schools and Great Public Schools Pittsburgh, don’t mention integration as part of their platforms.

Despite the lack of courage on this issue by the “education advocacy groups” in the Pittsburgh region, Mr. Cullen calls on the public schools to take the lead, citing New York City’s Council as an example.

Still, someone needs to have the courage to at least begin a conversation about integration in Pittsburgh Public Schools. A good place to start would be adopting something like New York City’s School Diversity Accountability Act. The legislation requires the city’s Department of Education to issue an annual report on diversity in NYC schools, make diversity a priority in decision-making and commit to having a strategy for overcoming impediments to school diversity.

But as previous posts on this blog illustrate, issuing an annual report on diversity hasn’t changed the racial composition of city schools, though it has provided an opportunity for parents who value integration to hold the city school system’s feet to the fire on the issue. MAYBE the grassroots movement of these parent groups can achieve what top-down solutions like bussing failed to create. One thing is clear to Mr. Cullen, if we ignore integration as part of the solution, nothing will change:

If Pittsburgh school leaders don’t have the courage to start that conversation, around an idea that decades of research have shown can actually help close the achievement gap, then there’s little reason to Expect Great Things. Instead we should expect more of the same.



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