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How important is school integration?
Fill out a survey for the boundary study by May 29
Should DC’s system of school boundaries and lottery preferences favor mixing students up to create more diverse groups, racially and economically? Or not? Should it encourage students to attend the schools nearest their homes? How important is having certainty about where someone will go, versus more alternatives in a lottery?
I’d love to know what you think. So do the people running DC’s Boundary and Student Assignment Study, and they have an online survey to help choose a set of guiding principles. The advisory committee, on which I’m the Ward 2 representative, will be meeting next week and trying to decide on the principles as well.
The potential guiding principles are (in alphabetical order):
By-right neighborhood schools
Predictability and continuity
Racial and ethnic diversity
System of choice
I hope you can fill out the survey before Monday, May 29 when it closes. It’s valuable to get as many perspectives as possible (not that I think posting here on my little newsletter will reach a huge number of people or anything).
I’ve been trying to understand education professionals’ and advocates’ views on these, and will post deeper dives into a few. I don’t want to bias people about them (and I’m not sure myself what is best), so I’ll try to present some questions to ponder and present various viewpoints.
What is our goal on school integration?
One way that educators have sought to pursue equity is through integration. A Century Foundation briefing paper provided to the committee leads off by saying, “Integrating schools is a key part of creating a well-rounded, high-quality education that prepares students to thrive in a diverse world.”
The document explains: “Research shows that when students go to a school with people from all kinds of different backgrounds, they get a better, more well-rounded education. … Students in socioeconomically and racially diverse schools have higher average test scores and graduation rates than peers of similar backgrounds attending schools with concentrated poverty.”
Some DC education activists have argued, however, given the District’s highly segregated housing patterns (a persistent legacy of segregation and redlining), integration efforts have often meant long commutes by Black and brown families from east of the Anacostia river to Northwest schools. The traveling students and their families must spend much more time en route. And, the neighborhood schools are left with fewer students and often consequently fewer resources.
They worry about pushing a narrative that families must leave their neighborhoods to access a good education, fostering disinvestment in that very education. And they have expressed a feeling that, in communities where almost all families are Black, going to a school that reflects the community can be empowering rather than harmful — provided the school is not underfunded.
One Black community leader said to me, take a school like Duke Ellington, DC’s magnet arts school which is in Burleith (next to Georgetown). Rather than thinking about how people from Ward 8 to can go to Ellington, how about having a school like Ellington in Ward 8, she asked?
I love that my kids’ friends are all races and various levels of income, because it teaches them a little less to live in a “bubble.” When I first started digging into education advocacy, therefore, I figured we should try to set explicit goals to integrate schools, like Brooklyn’s School District 15 did (with the help of one of the same consultants working on this study, WXY Studio, by the way). That plan aimed to make all middle schools in the area, which included expensive neighborhoods like Park Slope and Cobble Hill and lower-income ones like Red Hook and Sunset Park, all enroll 40% to 75% students in categories such as being lower-income or English language learners.
However, Black education leaders I’ve spoken to are less concerned about integration. One argued that white families benefit more from being around people different from themselves because in our society, “whiteness is standard. I grew up in all-Black schools and had more literacy in white experiences, because I lived in America.”
(It’s very important to note that even though I just cited a Brooklyn integration policy that focused on income and then an activist talking about race, the two are not at all the same. DC has plenty of middle class and upper middle class Black residents, and this region has even more; on a 2015 list of the top ten richest Black communities in the US, half were in Prince George’s County. (Though not DC.) DC’s Black community is fairly typical of or surpasses other urban areas in terms of the number with college degrees. Where DC is a huge outlier, instead, is that very few white residents over 25 lack college degrees1 — 11%.)
Instead of trying to shuffle people around to integrate schools, activists from east of the river argue that DC needs to ensure their schools have all the same opportunities and programs as schools farther west. As their schools have lost enrollment, they’ve also lost funding and cut programming, which advocates say then exacerbates families leaving.
Even if DC doesn’t explicitly aim for greater integration and pursues equity in other ways, it also can recognize the ways existing policies may create more segregation. For instance, a 2020 report for the DC Auditor found that when students transfer schools between 2016 and 2018, non-at-risk students transferred to schools with 5.5% to 8.3% fewer at-risk students.2
Some DC charter and DCPS schools now have a preference for at-risk students, whose effect largely is to ensure those students don’t get shut out of the lottery. The DC Policy Center found (before the preference existed) that at-risk students matched just 4% of the time at charter schools with “long waitlists and low percentages of at-risk students,” versus 10% for everyone. Plus, many at-risk families don’t or can’t plan so far ahead to apply in February for school in September, another argument for setting aside seats.
DC also has some diverse (racially and socioeconomically) schools today, particularly along the north-south centerline of the city. As demographics change, do these schools want to retain their existing diversity? How do growing numbers of white families in some neighborhoods become part of schools without making Black or Latino or other communities feel the school is no longer for them? Those are separate challenge from the question of how to best serve neighborhoods east of the river and give families safe and effective schools without long commutes.
Give the study team your opinion about priorities… and post a comment or drop me a line to let me know what you think!
These educational attainment statistics use the population over 25 because many younger people simply haven’t gotten their degree yet. Elementary school age kids, for instance, obviously shouldn’t count in such a statistic. The 11% statistic is from the 2012 American Community Survey.