Operationalizing Diversity

I recently linked to Richard Kahlenberg’s argument for socioeconomic integration in schools as an evidence-based method for harnessing diversity and building resiliency. Sounds great! But what’s next?

In a post on Education Next, Alexander Russo investigates charter schools that are already actively seeking to build environments of inclusion and diversity.

At Community Roots charter school, for example, Russo discovers that building an inclusive community “doesn’t end at the classroom door. Community Roots schedules play dates—for parents. Four times a year, mixed-income groups of parents in each class get together, either at the park or in one of their homes or on some sort of field trip.”

Russo writes that schools actively seeking to build such diverse communities are “schools that educators can imagine spending an entire career at, or even sending their own kids to.”

However, he notes that running such schools is also “enormously difficult to pull off,” and furthermore that “careful design, highly skilled teaching, and a degree of compromise among teachers and parents who come from different cultures and professional backgrounds are all required.”

If we acknowledge that the great endeavor of education is incredibly complex, then it is hardly surprising that doing it well, and creating an environment that deliberately cultivates diversity, is difficult work. But let me simply say here that seeking to do it well in a segregated environment of high poverty is that much more difficult. If running an effective inclusive school seems to be a “high-wire act,” as Russo observes, then running an effective segregated school in a toxic environment is something akin to walking on water.

The greatest difficulty in promoting socioeconomically integrated charter schools may be in getting middle class families to see the value in sending their children to them. Part of this seems to be attributable to the need to cater to a middle class parents’ desire for “progressive” pedagogy. As Russo notes, “Only a few diverse charter schools, like Rhode Island’s Blackstone Valley Prep, have been able to attract middle-class families without using progressive elements, either superficially to help promote diversity or structurally as part of the core pedagogical vision.”

Sometimes I think constructivist pedagogies are appealing to some parents simply because they sound good. But if that’s the game that a school has to play to build inclusive communities, then so be it. Project-based learning, hands on learning, exploratory learning, interdisciplinary astral plane extrapalatory mind expansion . . . Whatever. The reality is that so long as the teachers know their content, and the school promotes inclusive, positive environments focused on building character and domain-specific knowledge, then we’re going somewhere good, by whatever name one chooses to call it.

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