Response to Washington Post article: The unexpected explanation for why school segregation spiked

Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that University of Southern California and Stanford University academics released a study that reveals a significant increase in segregation among schools since the late 1980s, particularly in large school districts with high numbers of Black students. This report comes just a week shy of the 70th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education historic ruling. We wholeheartedly agree that policy changes like school choice and the lifting of school integration obligations by the courts contribute in most circumstances to increases in racial and socioeconomic school segregation.

Intentional policy changes that support stable racial integration and that have community buy-in are critical to establishing integrated schools. While the work of the Community Coalition on Race is focused on a single school district, we believe it is instructive for creating broader change. Counties and states need to be intentional in many of the same ways we have been, such as developing school funding formulas that support integration, examining county residential patterns and addressing desegregation beyond local borders. The Coalition through its Schools Committee has always made the case for integrated schools and classrooms for two main reasons: racial integration and equity in our schools benefit all children, and integrated schools support the sustainability of residential racial integration and vice-versa. Since the 1980s, the South Orange/Maplewood School District (SOMSD) has attempted many times to integrate schools and classrooms.

Those attempts to racially balance schools -- redrawing attendance zones, changes in school configurations, and pairing schools with majority Black and white populations -- were unstable and risky.

Currently, our middle and high schools are integrated at the macro level based on the diversity of the district overall, but classroom-level integration remains a challenge. Some improvements in classroom integration in middle and high schools have resulted from changes in academic tracking and developing policies that specifically address equity and access in those schools.

However, the elementary schools have not been stably integrated throughout the district because of residential patterns and a general community proclivity toward maintaining neighborhood schools. Even though the Coalition’s recent demographic studies show that most neighborhoods increased in integration levels over the last decade, we needed an elementary school attendance policy that would continually reinforce stable racial integration in schools and neighborhoods.

After more than 25 years of advocating to integrate schools and classrooms at every level and to close the racial academic achievement gap by creating equitable educational opportunities, SOMSD is finally poised to complete the very basic goal of integrated elementary schools. Each year since 2020, the school district has followed an Intentional Integration Initiative in which students are assigned to elementary schools based on algorithms that support integration (note that the United States Supreme Court ‘Parents Involved’ case from 2007 disallows for assignments based on race: this is sadly one of the very policy decisions that have contributed to the increase in school segregation).

Integration, though, is only half the battle. Equitable treatment of all students is essential to the success of integrated schools. A diverse teaching staff, anti-racist and anti-bias educational practices, equitable access to all opportunities within the schools and in after-school programs, and a community that is ready to address the missteps—these are essential components to true inclusion and maintaining racial integration.

In light of these recent findings, we urge you to support our ongoing efforts to foster integrated and equitable educational environments. It takes community commitment to meet these goals. Join us in advocating for policies and practices that promote racial integration and equity in education. Your support matters—whether it's through volunteering, advocating for inclusive policies, or making a donation to organizations working towards these goals.

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