Home > Uncategorized > Do Poor and Minority Parents Want Socio-Economic and Racial Diversity or Equal Opportunity?

Do Poor and Minority Parents Want Socio-Economic and Racial Diversity or Equal Opportunity?

The question posed in the title of this posed emerged after reading two thought provoking articles this morning, both of which offered NYC’s tepid efforts at integration as exemplary.

Americans Oppose School Segregation in Theory- But Not in Practice” Perpetual Baffour’s post in The Nation, describes the two year battle to integrate a public school on the Upper West Side, a contentious effort profiled in earlier posts on this blog. Ms. Baffour’s post includes some heartbreaking quotes from affluent parents who philosophically support integration but don’t want to see it happen in their back yard because they fear for their child’s safety… and a decline in their property values:

 ….affluent parents… may feel territorial over the high-flying success of their school. And property values, neighborhood identity, and a sense of safety feel as though they are at stake.

“A school belongs to the neighborhood where it resides,” said one parent at PS 199.

“It’s not that I don’t want my children to go to school in a mixed school,” said another. “But at the same time we want the best for our children. We want the best for our property value.”

But, as Ms. Baffour notes, it is not only the affluent who have misgivings. In focus groups she conducted in Baltimore and Washington she found that parents of economically disadvantaged white children did not seek to enroll their children in more affluent schools:

For instance, low-income white parents spoke of being looked down upon by the “rich kids.” As one parent put it: “They don’t want us there, so why should we go there?” They pictured affluent families throwing lavish birthday parties, showering the higher-income kids with fancy cars and expensive gifts, making their own children feel insecure.

Having recently read several articles from progressive New York City pundits chastising Mayor De Blasio’s lukewarm effort to integrate schools, it was somewhat surprising to see a progressive national publication posting an article that concluded with paragraphs singling out his efforts as praiseworthy:

The New York City Department of Education recently unveiled its citywide plan for integration, pledging to increase diversity across their entire public-school system.

These changes are promising. Despite rapidly changing demographics in this country, school diversity has barely kept pace, and research shows that all students perform better academically and socially when they learn in diverse classrooms.

Many Americans do believe the time is ripe for change, but it remains to be seen whether all Americans will embrace this change when it arrives in their own communities.

Our Schools Are Becoming More Segregated. Do Parents Care?“, Maureen Downey’s recent op ed article for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, tills the same ground as Ms. Baffour and comes to the same ambiguous conclusion. Her opening paragraphs set the stage:

The resegregation of public schools in the South troubles academics, civil rights activists and researchers. It’s been on the agenda of every major education conference or seminar I’ve attended in the last three years.

However, it doesn’t seem to be on the minds of parents.

Parents worry about whether class sizes are too large, whether math and science courses are advanced enough and whether their kids are competitive for Georgia Tech or the University of Georgia. They don’t seem to fret about whether their child sits next to a child of a different race or ethnicity — and fewer students do, a byproduct of growing residential segregation and school choice programs.

Yes, parents endorse diversity in principle, but not enough to pester the school board or push for rezoning to achieve racial balance.

Her piece is not an apologia for those who want to see schools segregated. Rather, like Ms. Baffour, she describes the conundrum that results when parents’ actions do not match their intentions. She draws extensively from a Penn State University study by researcher Erica Frankenberg, an Alabama native who studies segregation.

In a recent study, Pennsylvania State University looked at the decisions of public school students transferring to charter schools when given the option of schools with different racial compositions. The finding: Black and Latino students tended to choose charters more racially isolated than the public schools they left….

Among the report’s conclusions and warnings:

•From 1954 to 1988 there was an increase in the interracial contact between whites and black students in the South as a result of court-ordered integration. However, resegregation began to re-emerge in 1990.

•The South has a small but rapidly growing share of charter schools, which in the region—as in the country—are even more segregated for black students than the traditional public schools.

Private schools represent about 7 percent of the region’s enrollment and are disproportionately white. In some states, including Georgia, legislatures have provide subsidies to private schools through the tax system. (Georgia’s tax-credit scholarship allows taxpayers to donate money to a private school for student scholarships in exchange for a state income tax credit. The program diverts $58 million a year in income tax from state coffers to private school scholarships.)

The days of court-ordered mandatory reassignment are over; today’s integration efforts almost always involve carefully designed school choice

Ms. Frankenberg does not believe that diversity and quality need to be trade-offs, but she also flags an important underlying factor:

Parents may not place a premium on classroom diversity because most accountability measures don’t. “We’ve narrowed this understanding of what a good school is to something measured only by test scores.” said Frankenberg.

And Ms. Frankenberg, like Ms. Baffour, sees NYC’s efforts as heartening:

Frankenberg sees some communities resisting segregation, citing the new diversity efforts n New York City where white students represent only 15 percent of the public school enrollment, yet a third attend majority white schools. Those diversity policies have been enabled in part by increased flexibility granted from the federal government.

In the end, though, Ms. Frankenberg, and presumably the op ed writer Maureen Downey, draws the same conclusion as Perpetual Baffour:

While New York and Massachusetts are using this new flexibility to further diversity, the easing of federal oversight could go the other way in some states. “Flexibility might be good for those states,” said Frankenberg, “but is it good for states where diversity is not necessarily on the table?”

Editorialists away from NYC see De Blasio’s incremental approach as the way forward. But if research shows that integration benefits both races and everyone on the socio-economic spectrum and the majority of voters view resegregation unfavorably, bemoan the economic divide, and find the current divisiveness in our politics distasteful, it seems that our nation would benefit from schools that are socio-economically and racially diverse. The question is, can anyone develop a plan to make that happen?

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