American public schools are largely segregated by race and income: The National Center for Education Statistics cites that 52 percent of black students and 58 percent of Latino students attend schools at which 75 percent or more of students are minorities. This perpetual divide reflects segregated housing patterns across our country, among other factors. Why should we care, and what should we do about it?
The United States is rapidly becoming a majority-minority country. Learning certain skill sets is imperative in order to live and work successfully with people who look different from ourselves, and it is critical that we begin to deliberately prepare our young people for this reality. Effectiveness in our colleges and universities, our workplaces, and in public leadership will require it. These skills are already a precondition for effective international work in our increasingly global economy. The benefits of integrated schools go well beyond the "appreciation of diversity" that most people settle for. Simply celebrating diversity is no longer sufficient.
Integrated schools can better prepare all students for post-secondary-school success. According to a recent Century Foundation study, "Low-income students attending more affluent schools scored almost two years ahead of low-income students in high-poverty schools. Indeed, low-income students given a chance to attend more affluent schools performed more than half a year better, on average, than middle-income students who attend high-poverty schools."
All students—minority, white, high-income and low-income—are far better prepared to succeed in college when they have been given the opportunity to learn and work with diverse peers. Many high school graduates of DSST Public Schools, the network of integrated charter schools I run, self-report an elevated level of confidence when they step on a college campus after having gone to high school with students from all races and economic backgrounds.
So what can educators do to create more integrated schools? I challenge us to do two things: First, recognize the problem. Start educating colleagues, parents, civic leaders and policy-makers about the mounting challenge segregated schools pose to our country. This discussion needs to influence urban planning and government policies that often get in the way of creating integrated schools. Many federal and state policies inhibit, not help, the creation of such schools. We must plan and create communities where people live, work, play, and go to school in multiracial and mixed-income environments in order to strengthen the fabric of our country and build a stronger future.
Second, we need to diversify our school models. High-performing charter schools have been successful in changing the paradigm from "if" we can educate all kids to "how" we can do it at scale. Our models need to reflect a changing America and an understanding that our urgency to close the achievement gap can be enhanced by our collective commitment to end segregation. We need to put as many resources into opening high-performing, economically and racially integrated public schools as we do into schools that focus solely on low-income students. There needs to be room for both models in the education reform movement. Without this larger focus, we run the risk of not fully realizing the true purposes of public education in America.