Most Challenging Form of Integration

The power of socioeconomic integration isn’t a new one. On the 58th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, The New York Times put together a debate asking, 

“How can we integrate public schools when neighborhoods have become more segregated… What other options and solutions are out there for providing a quality education for all children?”

Among the big ideas discussed in these articles, several debaters write on the importance of socioeconomic integration. Richard Kahlenberg, the editor of "The Future of School Integration: Socioeconomic Diversity as an Education Reform Strategy,” argues that the public cannot ignore how well low-income students perform in more socioeconomically diverse schools. He states:

While the news media routinely shower attention on high-poverty schools that work, research shows that middle-class schools are 22 times more likely to be high performing than high-poverty schools. 

Poor children can learn to high levels, but they are much more likely to do so if they are surrounded by peers with big dreams, a community of parents who are in a position to volunteer in class and know how to hold school officials accountable and talented teachers with high expectations.”

In other words, reformers must consider the context of neighborhoods when they want to change education. The learning atmosphere is not only affected by what happens inside the classroom walls.

But the real question is how do we get the rich and poor to live close together? Sure, it’s better for different income levels to live in close proximity, but what can we do to help that happen? Experiments like Move to Opportunity show the positive effects of this type of integration, but the execution of such a project is expensive and unsustainable at a larger scale. We can’t just evacuate low-income neighborhoods. And, when poorer families move into a neighborhood, higher income families are more likely to leave. Even more unlikely is the idea that financially-secure families would choose neighborhoods with higher crime, worse schools, and lower property values. Unless, of course, there are positive incentives that outweigh the negatives.

Richard Kahlenberg makes the argument that we need better zoning laws, and maybe that’s true too. But here’s another idea. Geographically targeting low-income neighborhoods with private school scholarships would create equal education opportunity for those in poorer neighborhoods. It would also incentivize socioeconomic integration for families who are more financially secure. Read more to learn how we can build thriving neighborhoods together.