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Integrated Schools or School Choice?

Over the past week, WFPL’s Jess Clark shared a 5-part series on a proposed student assignment plan and what it could mean for Kentucky’s Jefferson County Public Schools’ legacy of integration, as well as the district’s future.

The proposal would allow West End students an option to stay in their neighborhood. It highlights complicated truths: it will almost certainly resegregate the school district and undo a decades-long commitment to integration. But it also means more convenience for students who are burdened with the logistics, travel time and disconnection from their school community. 

The five part series includes:

  1. Once An Integration Model, Louisville’s Schools Risk Resegregating To Offer Choice
  2. JCPS Graduates Reflect On Integrating: ‘We Can’t Let It Get Like That Again’
  3. JCPS’s Integration Equation: Has It Paid Off?
  4. Can JCPS Proposal Bring Equity? Segregated Elementary Schools Raise Questions
  5. Diversity Or Choice: Pollio Says JCPS Has A Decision To Make

Here Is What School Integration in America Looks Like Today

Halley Potter and Michelle Burris, The Century Foundation |

The Century Foundation has compiled the most comprehensive inventory to date of school integration efforts across the country. Combining new research with federal datasets, they identified school districts and charter schools that consider racial and/or socioeconomic diversity in their student assignment or admissions policies, as well as those with legal instruments in place to address segregation.

Meaning that they are subject to a desegregation order or voluntary agreement with a federal or state court or agency, which may or may not have translated into changes in student assignment.

Their research identified a total of 907 school districts and charter schools or networks, including:

  • 185 districts and charters that consider race and/or socioeconomic status in their student assignment or admissions policies; and
  • an additional 722 districts and charters that are subject to a legal desegregation order or voluntary agreement.

The states with the most districts making efforts to integrate schools are California, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Iowa and Minnesota.

Schools are still segregated, and black children are paying a price

Emma García, Economic Policy Institute |

Well over six decades after the Supreme Court declared “separate but equal” schools to be unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education, schools remain heavily segregated by race and ethnicity.

What are the consequences of this lack of progress in integrating schools for black children?

  • It depresses education outcomes for black students; as shown in this report, it lowers their standardized test scores.
  • It widens performance gaps between white and black students.
  • It reflects and bolsters segregation by economic status, with black students being more likely than white students to attend high-poverty schools.
  • It means that the promise of integration and equal opportunities for all black students remains an ideal rather than a reality.

In contrast, when black students have the opportunity  to attend schools with lower concentrations of poverty and larger shares of white students they perform better, on average, on standardized tests.

Data show that only about one in eight white students (12.9%) attends a school where a majority of students are black, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian. (We refer to this group collectively as students of color hereafter.) In contrast, nearly seven in 10 black children (69.2%) attend such schools.

Black children face a very high probability of ending up in a school where a majority of their peers are both poor and students of color. While less than 1 in 10 white students (8.4%) attend high-poverty schools with a high share of students of color, six in 10 black students (60.0%) do.

In contrast, about a fourth of white students (23.5%) attend schools where most of their peers are white and not poor, while only 3.1 percent of black children attend such schools.

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