disintegration

In most U.S. cities, neighborhoods have grown more integrated. Their schools haven’t.

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Sold signs can be seen on many of the homes in Stapleton on August 1, 2018, in Denver, Colorado.

Between 1990 and 2015, Seattle’s neighborhoods saw a notable decline in racial segregation.

It would make sense, then, to think that the city’s public schools had also become more integrated. Not so.

In fact, they were headed in the opposite direction. In 1990, only 3 percent of schools were intensely segregated — that is, at least 90 percent of students were nonwhite — but by 2015, that number had spiked to 17 percent.

That’s not entirely surprising. During that time, a high-profile Supreme Court case made it more difficult for Seattle to integrate its schools by race. But new research looking at America’s 100 largest cities shows that the diverging trends in Seattle — neighborhoods growing more diverse, as their schools grow more segregated — is not an anomaly.

The analysis finds that, between 1990 and 2015, 72 percent of U.S. cities saw their neighborhoods grow less racially segregated, by one measure. Sixty-two percent saw their schools grow more segregated over that same period.

“There is this incredibly striking trend,” said Ryan Coughlan, a professor at Guttman Community College, CUNY, who conducted the research. “It raises all kinds of alarm bells and questions as to what that’s about.”

Most cities did not see schools segregate as much as Seattle did. And 27 cities, like Durham, North Carolina and Memphis, Tennessee, saw both their schools and neighborhoods grow less segregated in concert over that 25-year period. But overall, the study finds that integrating neighborhoods didn’t predict integrating schools in those same cities.

The analysis has significant limits, particularly when looking at single cities. It uses one of several possible ways to measure segregation: the degree to which the racial breakdown of students in individual schools or neighborhoods mirror the demographics of the rest of the district or city. In most cases, charter schools are not included. That makes the data less useful in places like Detroit, where charters now enroll half the city’s students.

The big-picture trend matters, though. More integrated schools have long been shown to improve academic outcomes for low-income students and students of color. Living in a more integrated neighborhood has also been linked to long-run benefits for younger kids.

“Because of the connections between integration and educational opportunities, the dramatic increase in school segregation alongside the decrease in neighborhood segregation requires the immediate attention of school leaders, policymakers, and the public as a whole,” Coughlan wrote.

What’s behind those trends?

The analysis, published last month in the peer-reviewed Peabody Journal of Education, can’t say why that’s happening. The end of many legal desegregation orders during that time likely played a role. Coughlan also hypothesizes that the rapid increase in school choice, through charter schools and other means, had something to with it.

“These are 100 different urban areas with very different circumstances,” Coughlan said.

The paper’s starting point is 1990, before the first charter school law passed in the U.S. Since then, school choice has rapidly grown, through charters and other means.

In Seattle, though, charter schools are almost certainly not the cause of its increase in school segregation, since the city has very few.

Another city that saw a major spike in school segregation along with a modest decline in neighborhood segregation is Charlotte. Like Seattle, it’s seen a resegregation of schools in the wake of high-profile court cases.

Charlotte also has a number of charter schools; there and elsewhere in North Carolina, other research has found that charters have likely exacerbated segregation. (Coughlan’s Charlotte data does not include charter schools.) Nationally, research has shown that charters either exacerbate school segregation or have no effect on it.

“The broader literature at this point I think shows that charter schools do not integrate schools,” said Ann Owens, a sociologist at the University of Southern California who studies segregation.

Other research has shown that the existence of different school options can promote neighborhood integration (also described as gentrification). That could help explain Coughlan’s results, with a family’s ability to opt out of a neighborhood school encouraging their move to a neighborhood they wouldn’t otherwise have considered.

The disconnect between housing and schooling trends has important implications. For one, it means that divided neighborhoods shouldn’t be used as an excuse to do nothing about divided schools, said Tomas Monarrez, a researcher at the Urban Institute who has studied school boundaries.

“Neighborhood segregation is the result of a long, long history of discriminatory policies both on the part of private agents and the federal government,” he said. “School systems have gotten to ride that and say segregation’s not our fault.”

Instead, he argued, school leaders should be taking affirmative steps to integrate schools, and recognize that they may have to continually adjust their policies. “School attendance boundaries don’t have to replicate neighborhood segregation,” Monarrez said. “You can gerrymander school attendance boundaries to decrease it.”

City-by-city data

You can look up how residential and school segregation changed in your city from 1990 to 2015 below. Keep in mind that a city and its corresponding school district do not always overlap perfectly — the school data for Indianapolis, for example, includes just the Indianapolis Public Schools, the city’s central district but one of 11 districts in the city.

Segregation, here, means the degree to which the demographics of students in individual schools mirror the rest of the city’s public school students. This captures whether different groups of students are spread evenly across schools in a city, but it doesn’t say much about cities where virtually all students are students of color. Most segregation occurs between rather than within school districts.

Source: “Divergent Trends in Neighborhood and School Segregation in the Age of School Choice,” Peabody Journal of Education.

on the air

De Blasio: No decision yet on ‘Chief Integration Officer’ or other diversity recommendations

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
At a September 2018 press conference at M.S. 51 in Park Slope, Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza approved an integration plan for District 15 middle schools.

Among the concrete suggestions that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s diversity task force made when it delivered its report earlier this month was one for a new executive at the city education department.

But de Blasio hasn’t yet decided whether to hire a “Chief Integration Officer,” the mayor said Friday during his weekly appearance on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show. The radio show marked at least the third time since the School Diversity Advisory Group released its report Feb. 12 that de Blasio publicly said he planned to review the recommendations, without committing to any of them.

“Chancellor [Richard] Carranza and I are going to meet with the task force. I’m looking forward to carefully reviewing what they’ve come up with,” de Blasio said. He added, “I’m not ready to say yet what specific actions we’ll take.”

The comments echo similar ones he made last week during a weather briefing and at a press conference kicking off parent council elections.

But de Blasio signaled that he could take up at least some of the recommendations, which include setting local integration targets and adding ethnic studies courses. “Obviously, you know, I named them,” he said about the task force. “I wanted to see them do this work.”

The mayor also said again that changes could be coming to the city’s screened schools, which choose students on the basis of grades and test scores in a practice that has contributed to extreme academic and racial segregation. In September, also to Brian Lehrer, de Blasio said the city was “in the process of coming up with a series of changes around the screened schools.”

On Friday, more than five months later, he suggested that that process remained in the future. “We’re going to be reevaluating the whole approach to screened schools,” he said.

Here’s a list of five things the city could do to tackle screening. And here’s Lehrer’s entire exchange with de Blasio from Friday morning:

Lehrer: Also, on education, your school desegregation task force issued its report last week. I was going to ask you about that last Friday but then the Amazon deal broke down and that kind of took over from everything else for a few days. And your task force recommended among other things every school see if its population represents the district-wide and borough-wide population, and it recommended you name a Chief Integration Officer for the school system. Will you or Chancellor Carranza order that all schools take that inventory and will you appoint a Chief Integration Officer?

Mayor: We’re going to – Chancellor Carranza and I are going to meet with the task force. I’m looking forward to carefully reviewing what they’ve come up with. Obviously, you know, I named them. I wanted to see them do this work. I’m not ready to say yet what specific actions we’ll take until we have that meeting to have a chance to really to think about. I do think what’s important here is to recognize we are in a much stronger place today than fine years ago because we have found a variety of ways to encourage diversity, to integrate our schools better, that many of which are grassroots based and therefore I think the ones that will work the best.

Look at what happened in School District 1 in Manhattan, District 3 in the West Side of Manhattan – 1 is Lower Manhattan – District 15 Brownsville, Brooklyn, where the solutions came from the grassroots. And this is what we want to replicate. We’re working with a number of other districts to do that.

While we’re working on the big citywide issues, obviously I put forward the idea to Albany of changing admissions for the specialized high schools which I think are one of our worst examples of segregation that can be fixed straight away by better policies. And I think the proposal we put forward would do that and would end the overreliance on a single standardized test.

We’re going to be re-evaluating the whole approach to screened schools. There’s a lot going on but in terms of what the next steps will be I want to really sit down with the task force and talk it through with them.

Sorting the Students

New Memphis charter school guidelines would help decide if there are too many schools in a single neighborhood

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Children at Riverview walk home from school. (2015)

Shelby County Schools is developing guidelines that would determine if a neighborhood has too many charter schools, addressing a longtime concern of school board members.

The charter school guidelines, called the Educational Priorities Document/Rubric in a proposed district policy on charter schools, would also prioritize what the district wants charter schools to focus on, such as early literacy.

Board members would be able to systematically slow the growth of charter schools in Memphis, which has swelled to 54 since the state legislature approved their creation in 2002.

“We need to defend ourselves through policy if we’re not expanding in Frayser,” for example, said board member Kevin Woods about the neighborhood during a meeting on the proposed policy Thursday afternoon. “We shouldn’t let another day go by that it’s not addressed in policy.”

The district’s charter school office has used a prototype of the guidelines to inform board members about the number of schools in neighborhoods and how they were doing. But the information was never used to make final decisions. (See appendix here.)

The state does not require districts to determine if there are too many schools in a neighborhood when considering charter school applications. (See map of schools by type in Memphis.)

But as more students choose charter schools, district buildings are left with fewer students and more overhead costs, school board members have said. Plus, a portion of state funding follows every child that enrolls in charter schools, which are run by nonprofits. About 14 percent of Shelby County Schools students attend a charter school.

The policy comes more than a year after charter and district leaders came up with compromises on thorny issues such as charters leasing district buildings and paying for district oversight, and the process for revoking charters. Former superintendent Dorsey Hopson urged the school board to come up with a policy to address neighborhood saturation over the summer when the board approved its latest round of charters.

“No surprise, we have too many schools in Memphis,” Hopson said in August. “If you got 12 schools in a three-mile radius… and all of them are underenrolled, we’re not serving kids well.”

The proposed policy is due for the second of three readings with some changes during the school board’s March meeting, said board member Miska Clay Bibbs.