Education Law Prof Blog: Integration As Mainstream Policy and Conversation Getting Closer and Closer

Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox, and Diana Cordova-Cobo have released a new report, How Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms Can Benefit All Students, through The Century Foundation.  Their introduction states:

A growing number of parents, university officials, and employers want our elementary and secondary schools to better prepare students for our increasingly racially and ethnically diverse society and the global economy. But for reasons we cannot explain, the demands of this large segment of Americans have yet to resonate with most of our federal, state, or local policymakers. Instead, over the past forty years, these policy makers have completely ignored issues of racial segregation while focusing almost exclusively on high-stakes accountability, even as our schools have become increasingly segregated and unequal.

This report argues that, as our K–12 student population becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, the time is right for our political leaders to pay more attention to the evidence, intuition, and common sense that supports the importance of racially and ethnically diverse educational settings to prepare the next generation. It highlights in particular the large body of research that demonstrates the important educational benefits—cognitive, social, and emotional—for all students who interact with classmates from different backgrounds, cultures, and orientations to the world. This research legitimizes the intuition of millions of Americans who recognize that, as the nation becomes more racially and ethnically complex, our schools should reflect that diversity and tap into the benefits of these more diverse schools to better educate all our students for the twenty-first century.

The advocates of racially integrated schools understand that much of the recent racial tension and unrest in this nation—from Ferguson to Baltimore to Staten Island—may well have been avoided if more children had attended schools that taught them to address implicit biases related to racial, ethnic, and cultural differences. This report supports this argument beyond any reasonable doubt.

In the forward to the report, Richard Kahlenberg emphasizes how timely and important the report is to moving forward an integration agenda:

Today, however, school integration—using new, more legally and politically palatable approaches—is getting a second look as an educational reform strategy.

For one thing, policymakers and scholars across the political spectrum are beginning to realize that ignoring the social science research on the negative effects of concentrated school poverty is not working to close large achievement gaps between races and economic groups. Diane Ravitch and Michelle Rhee—who represent opposite ends of our polarized debates over education reform—have both recently advocated new measures to promote school integration to raise the achievement of disadvantaged students.

What can give integration real political momentum, however, are not the documented benefits to low-income students, but the emerging recognition that middle- and upper-class students benefit in diverse classrooms.

Kahlenberg is not just blowing smoke.  On Monday, Edweek reported that Secretary of Education, John King, and President Obama and proposing that Congress allocate new funding to help schools increase integration.  Alyson Klein writes:

Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. has been talking a lot about ensuring that schools are diverse, as a means to ensure equity and boost student achievement.

And now it seems he's hoping to put some new money where his rhetoric is. The Obama administration's final budget, slated to be released Tuesday, is expected to ask for $120 million for a new competitive-grant program—called "Stronger Together"—that would help districts—or groups of districts—tackle the sticky issue of making schools more socio-economically integrated, sources say. Grantees could either use the money for planning grants, or they could move right into implementing ideas.

Moreover, this movement is not random.  As emphasized on this blog over the past two years, the has been a slowly growing chorus supporting and calling for school integration, and the chorus is not just among civil rights advocates.  It has been media at the highest levels--The New York Times and NPR.  See here and here for example.