Divided We Fail (Part 2)-Overcoming the Obstacles

So what about the obvious political, logistical and financial obstacles to achieving better income integration in our public schools. Thankfully, we can draw upon the practical experience of more than 80 school boards in the U.S.  that have successfully undertaken this approach over the past 3 decades.

Again, from the Century Foundation task force report on the Common School, “We acknowledge there are serious obstacles to integration and recommend a series of policies to overcome each:

1)To Overcome Logistical Challenges–the geographical separation of low-income and middle-class children–we recommend, first, a policy of public school choice, accompanied by fairness guidelines. School officials then honor those choices with an eye to promoting integrated schools, a system now successfully employed in Cambridge, Mass.; Montclair, New Jersey; and elsewhere. We also strongly advocate inclusionary zoning policies of the kind used in Montgomery County, Maryland, and a number of other communities to promote economic housing integration. So long as 75 percent of American students are assigned to neighborhood public schools, housing policy is school policy, and educators ignore that reality at their peril.

2)To Overcome the Political Challenges–the concerns middle-class families may have with integration–we point to the the large body of evidence that suggests middle-class students perform successfully in integrated settings and that all children benefit from exposure to diversity. We advocate using proven incentives to lure low-income and middle-class families to integrated settings through choice rather than coercion.

3)To Overcome Financial Obstacles to Integration–the fact that middle-class families are unlikely to send their children to schools in poor neighborhoods unless those schools are well-funded–we advocate coupling new investment with integration in a manner that avoids the old integration versus spending debate. Either approach alone is likely to fail: we reject the view that integration can occur without education spending, just as surely as we reject that spending without integration is sufficient. Low-income schools are caught in a vicious cycle: significant school improvement is unlikely to occur without a strong middle-class presence in the school; but financial investments must be made to lure middle-class families in the first place. We advocate taking both issues on at once: investing in schools–modernizing school facilities, reducing class sizes, improving teacher training–but in tandem with conscious policies to promote integration. More generous education spending is not a substitute for integration: it is a pre-requisite.”