I went to a GSU lecture Thursday by Amy Stuart Wells, director of the Center for Understanding Race and Education at Columbia University. She spoke about her research on school resegregation – which she is expanding now to include Atlanta — and her recent book “Both Sides Now,” in which she interviewed students in six towns who experienced school desegregation.
It turns out that black and Latino families in search of more affordable housing and backyard decks are flocking to the suburbs. White families in quest of crown molding and vintage claw-foot tubs are relocating to the cities. A national snapshot of metro migration shows that the moving vans of white and minority families are heading in different directions.
So are their children.
As America’s metropolitan areas embrace new residential patterns, one variable isn’t changing: Racial segregation in neighborhoods and schools. While the South once led the nation in integrating its schools, it now has become the pace setter in the resegregation of classrooms, largely as a result of housing trends.
Today, prevailing public policy insists that it doesn’t matter whether black, white and Hispanic students attend the same schools, only whether they attend good schools.
But isn’t it a daunting challenge to create a “good” school in a racially isolated learning environment where many children are dealing with poverty, a lack of health care, poor nutrition, housing evictions and job losses?
(According to 2009 Kids Count Data, 35 percent of African-American children and 27 percent of Latino children live in poverty, compared to 11 percent of white children. Many of those low-income children now live in suburbs; in 2006, there were 1 million more poor people living in suburbs than cities.)
In interviewing students on the front lines of desegregation, Wells found that they thought they were being prepared for the real world, which they saw as an “ever-more-integrated society.”
But they graduated high school in 1980 to discover that while they were extolled to be color-blind, much of the country still saw the world in black and white. And while they appreciate attending desegregated schools, their own kids now attend less diverse schools.
Most middle-class parents understand how low-income students benefit by transferring to higher achieving schools than they would otherwise encounter in their neighborhoods. However, middle-class parents remain leery of the research that shows their children don’t pay an academic price for sitting alongside less-affluent peers.
Wells says the solution may come from the past. Many magnet and theme school choice programs — such as those in DeKalb County — initially began to spur diversity. Wells wants to see expanded pubic school choice including transfer programs that permit students to go outside their districts since much of the segregation today is across districts rather than within single districts.
I doubt that we will see that anytime soon as I don’t think high performing districts like Fayette would see any value in allowing transfers from Clayton.
I just don’t think anyone is worried about integration any more. A while back I wrote a long piece on this issue that began with this question: Are segregated classrooms more acceptable when they are by choice rather than law?
I think the answer for a lot of people is “yes.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog