Measuring diversity without holding schools accountable won’t bring about integration
There’s an adage many researchers and policy wonks live by: What gets measured, gets done. The saying suggests that measuring something enhances your ability to achieve it — except, of course, when you’re talking about integrated schools. We’ve quantified, studied and assessed the importance of diversity in schools, but it’s something we haven’t come close to achieving.
While housing segregation strongly influences the composition of the student body, even in diverse cities, low-income black and brown students are increasingly becoming concentrated in certain schools. This is a result of middle-income, largely white families choosing to cluster (read: segregate) in middle- and upper-income schools and neighborhoods in their pursuit of a good education for their kids. “Income segregation creates districts of concentrated poverty or affluence, but high-income black families may be less likely than high-income white families to live in the affluent districts created by income segregation,” according to 2018 research published by the American Sociological Association.
Herein lies the problem that thwarts efforts to find and create quality schools. Given that students’ test scores rise in conjunction with how much money their parents make, a wealthy school with high test scores is too often automatically deemed good. This assumption is not warranted: Wealthier families are putting more of their discretionary money into educational activities like test prep, which do increase students’ scores but, the wealth inflates what we believe teachers, curriculum and culture from inside the school are adding to students’ academic growth. Schools are good when teachers bring the best out of their students — regardless of their economic backgrounds — with a rigorous curriculum and engaging arts and sports programs. By conflating test scores, and therefore income, with quality, parents are justifying their desire to self-segregate as looking out for the interest of their children. But segregation is clearly not the way to create a good school.