Socioeconomic Integration Equals Better Academic Outcomes

I have written before (“Integration, Inclusion, and Interconnectedness“) how the ecological principle of biodiversity can apply to a school ecosystem. In that post, I hypothesized that the greater the connections are between diverse constituents, the stronger and more resilient a community will be.

So when I picked up the latest issue of American Educator and read Richard Kahlenberg’s article “From All Walks of Life: New Hope for School Integration,” it made immediate sense to me given the perspective of a school as an ecosystem. Kahlenberg references research and case studies to demonstrate that socioeconomic integration results in better academic outcomes for students who are disadvantaged by poverty.

He argues for policies that seek economic integration in school districts and schools, rather than interventions targeted at schools that serve large majorities of low income students. This can be perplexing for advocates of the poor, Kahlenberg notes, because they worry that “policies seeking to break up concentrations of poverty send the insulting signal that “poor kids can’t learn,” even though precisely the opposite is true: it is because poor kids can learn that it’s important to provide them with the right educational environment” (Bold added). And the right educational environment is one that is inclusive, integrated, and interconnected. One of the central tenets of a school as an ecosystem is the critical impact of the school’s environment on the learning of children.

I strongly urge you to read the entire article through, but here’s a few tidbits that I highlighted on my copy:

  • “In 2010, a reanalysis of Coleman’s data using a more sophisticated statistical technique found that the social class of the school matters even more to student achievement than does the SES of the family.”
  • One interesting question raised. . . is to what extent students benefited from living in more-advantaged neighborhoods, compared with attending more-advantaged schools. It finds that roughly two-thirds of the benefit comes from the school, and one-third from the neighborhood. This suggests there may be considerable value in programs that integrate at the school level alone, though greater benefits clearly accrue from integration at both the neighborhood and school levels.”
  • “Although the media shower tremendous attention on high-poverty public schools and charter schools that have positive results, district leaders know that it is extremely difficult to make high-poverty schools work on a systemwide, long-term basis.”
  • “public school choice is a far more popular way to promote integration than compulsory assignment.”
  • “the study of Montgomery County found that low-income students assigned to low-poverty schools generally were tracked into lower reading and math groups and still performed substantially higher in math than low-income students assigned to higher-poverty schools with lots of extra educational programs.”
  • “At bottom, the central flaw with Duncan’s move-the-adults strategy [in reference to Arne Duncan’s school turnaround attempts in Chicago] is that it unnecessarily treats socioeconomic segregation as acceptable, thereby condemning children to very difficult learning environments.”
  • “Polls consistently find that teachers care more about “work environment” than they do about salary.”
  • the major problem with American schools is not teachers or their unions, but poverty and economic segregation.”
Key takeaway is that even if we can’t come up with deft housing policies to break up concentrated areas of poverty, at the very least, we must seek to better integrate schools themselves, thus providing an opportunity for students living in poverty to benefit from more diverse relationships in a positive school environment.
I see this benefit every day, as I am fortunate enough to work in a public school that has some degree of  diversity in its student body.

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