NSBA study finds diversity benefits for all students

A study from the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education finds that far too many students still attend segregated schools. However, “School Segregation Then and Now” reports that schools with more diversity also have more potential to help students toward greater academic and social success.

According to the study, the composition of school populations matters for improving outcomes for students and their communities, and, in the bigger picture, the long-term stability and prosperity of our nation. The positive effects of diversity should be encouraged and education policymakers can and should advance their efforts to purpose-fully increase diversity.

“We know integrated schools are the best environment for learning academics and the social skills students need to prosper in a diverse society,” said NSBA Executive Director and CEO Thomas J. Gentzel. “That’s a powerful argument to continue working diligently to ease the racial and socioeconomic isolation of students in our public education system.”

In its examination of school segregation across the nation, the Center for Public Education study found:

  • Shifting demographics have changed how often students of different races attend the same schools.
  • Despite progress, many students are still racially isolated. About 15 percent of African American and Latino students attend schools that are less than one percent white.
  • Low-income African American and Latino students are far more likely to attend schools of concentrated poverty than low-income white students.
  • Due to demographic patterns and legal precedents, efforts to integrate schools are often limited within district boundaries.

“Segregation mostly occurs because of demographic differences between states and between school districts within states, which can limit the options for diversifying locally,” said CPE Director Patte Barth. “Yet there are communities that have found solutions.”

Although efforts to diversify schools con-front significant obstacles, NSBA noted that school leaders operating within school district boundaries have tools at their disposal. Even if school leaders want to integrate their schools, their policy levers are often limited to their own district boundaries due to demographic patterns and legal precedents. Nonetheless, the positive effects on individual students and society as a whole should not be overlooked, and so the effort is worth it.

  • Consider race and socioeconomic status in setting diversity goals, not just one or the other. While the two are correlated, they are not the same.
  • Be prepared to articulate and document the educational benefits of adopting a student assignment plan that makes diversity a centerpiece.
  • Community input and buy-in are essential to the success of any large-scale policy change, especially one that addresses students’ school assignments.
  • Families should have some level of choice in a new school assignment plan, but choice should also be limited to reduce the possibility of increasing segregation.
  • For districts that are somewhat homogenous in racial make-up, it may be necessary for district leaders to work with other districts in their metropolitan area in order to achieve diversity.

Certainly, addressing any remedies requires serious community input, the study emphasizes. “Any policy that addresses students’ school assignments can be controversial, as the school busing plans of the 1970s and 1980s made clear. Providing families with some level of choice may also aid in the success of new school assignment plans,” NSBA noted.

“Our message is that local, state, and federal policymakers, as well as local community members, cannot accept that segregated schools are inevitable or the norm,” Gentzel said. “It’s true that, for some communities, the obstacles to integration can seem daunting. But, for the vast majority, if a community has the determination to improve the diversity of its schools, progress can be made. Given the potential impact on students and our nation, they need to act.”

The CPE study can be accessed at www.centerforpubliceducation.org/segregation.

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