Getting To The Head Of The Class

Carl Chancellor and Richard D. Kahlenberg argue that when it comes to education, economic segregation is worse than racial segregation:

African American children benefited from desegregation, researchers found, not because there was a benefit associated with being in classrooms with white students per se, but because white students, on average, came from more economically and educationally advantaged backgrounds. All-black schools that included the sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers and teachers alongside the offspring of less-advantaged parents often provided excellent educational environments because the economic, not racial, mix drives academic strength.

The solution, they say, is school choice:

School officials today emphasize public school choice – magnet schools and charter schools – to accomplish integration, having long rejected the idea of compulsory busing that gave families no say in the matter. In Hartford, Connecticut, for example, magnet schools with special themes or pedagogical approaches often have long waiting lists of white middle-class suburban families who are seeking a strong, integrated environment.

While many charter schools further segregate students, some are consciously seeking to bring students of different economic and racial groups together. The Denver School of Science and Technology, for example, uses a lottery weighted by income or geography to ensure a healthy economic mix in its seven middle schools and high schools. …

Today, more than eighty school districts, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Raleigh, North Carolina, to Champaign, Illinois, promote socioeconomic integration, almost always relying on choice. These districts educate more than four million students nationally.

But as Sara Neufeld notes, charter schools around the country are struggling with a separate problem – teacher turnover:

Since the “no excuses” movement began in the mid-1990s, its schools developed a reputation for attracting teachers who are young, idealistic and often white, available to families around the clock until they leave after a few years. Sometimes they’re ready to have children of their own or move on to more lucrative career prospects; other times they’re just tired. The phenomenon has been blasted for depriving students of stable adult relationships and creating mistrust in minority neighborhoods when white teachers serving black and Hispanic students come and go. So now the focus is sustainability.