Why pursue school integration?

FAQ and Additional Resources
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What is school integration?

School integration intentionally brings students from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds together as a means to achieving well-resourced, inclusive, and financially stable schools. A large part of our work is defining and offering solutions to counter school segregation - the separation of students by race and class. When we say "integrate", however, we are focused on the ultimate goal of creating socioeconomically and racially diverse schools where all students can thrive.

Why pursue it?

School integration may be one of the most effective, yet underutilized, policies to achieve quality schools. Ample research supports its effectiveness compared to other education policies and yet, in Oakland, it has never been tried on a system-wide level. Instead, school segregation has persistently driven racial inequities in academic, socioemotional, and health resources. 

 

Here are two big reasons why school integration should be pursued:

1. Equitable learning opportunities

School districts that avoid concentrating students of color in high-poverty schools and White students in low-poverty schools are much more likely to overcome racial gaps in learning opportunities.

As researchers at Stanford have demonstrated, racial segregation is "harmful because it concentrates minority students in high-poverty schools, which are, on average, less effective than lower-poverty schools." Long-term studies show that attending desegregated environments helped the adult achievements of Black students when districts focused more on school integration policy in the mid-20th century.

Why high-poverty schools are less effective at providing proper resources to students varies. On average, however, high-poverty schools, compared to integrated settings, tend to ​focus more on narrow curriculum; see higher rates of student mobility and higher teacher turnover; and receive less financial investment and social capital from the school community. 

2. Diversity of thought

Integrated schools increase opportunities for both students and teachers to learn from and empower a diverse set of backgrounds and perspectives.

 

More diverse school settings lead to increased levels of empathy and reduced levels of prejudice in students, as well as a greater likelihood of being part of integrated communities as an adult. More broadly, integrated schools help counter dangerous racial attitude in both children and adults which include assigning superior status to schools that concentrate White students.

As the former Education Secretary John King said, "Students who attend diverse schools will be better prepared to live and work, and be active citizens in today’s world.” 

What are the limits of school integration?

 

We recognize that research on the benefits of school integration can appear mixed, and there are often caveats. Neighborhood segregation, for example, may be a better indicator of students' performance in school. Furthermore, within-school segregation can often hinder any positive effects of integrated schools. Lastly, school integration requires thorough planning and care to avoid past mistakes.

We believe that the research included below, however, proves that school integration may be one of the best ways for school districts to close racial opportunity gaps and ensuring equitable resource distribution. 

What are some caveats to our metrics and approach? 

According to our metrics, each racial group should be exposed to similar levels of poverty to maximize equitable resource distribution. We believe that test scores or other typical school quality measures ignore the fact that Oakland has seldom provided resources and opportunities equitably across racial groups, and socioeconomically integrated schools offer a means to reverse this trend.

 

However, in theory, even with equal exposure to poverty levels, we could still face a "separate but equal" racial system in schools. We believe that such a system is anathema to American society and progressive ideals. Any integration policy in Oakland should therefore also monitor racial exposure. However, since the research states that exposure to poverty is more tightly linked to student opportunities, we make that our immediate focus.

Key Resources

Over the coming months, we will look to incorporate more local voices from Oakland to inform what integrated schools should look like.

 

For more information on the benefits of integrated schools (or the cost of segregated ones), see:

  • Johnson, R. C. (2011). Long-run impacts of school desegregation & school quality on adult attainments. Cambridge, MA. National Bureau of Economic Research. Available at: https://www.nber.org/papers/w16664

A Sample of National Organizations Addressing School Integration