Friday, May 16, 2014

Brown vs. Board of Education, Today: Imaginary Boundaries as Roadblocks to School Integration


 By Katelyn Silva, Chief Communications Officer, Rhode Island Mayoral Academies

May 17 marks the 60th anniversary of the milestone decision on Brown vs. the Board of Education that made school segregation unlawful. Despite the progress made in between, starting in the 1980’s, our schools began moving backwards towards resegregation. This is despite having a population that is increasingly racially and ethnically diverse.

Here in Rhode Island, our urban core communities—Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket, Newport and Woonsocket—are 79 percent non-white, while the remaining communities are only 13 percent. The five urban core communities also have the highest percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced priced lunch (FRL).

The fact is that while legal segregation is a thing of the past, de facto segregation is on the rise, mainly because real estate values still largely determine the quality of education provided in many communities.

In 2000, Samuel Issacharoff, Reiss Professor of Constitutional Law at NYU Law School, lamented to the New York Times, “Fifty years after Brown vs. Board of Education, there is still no non-coercive mechanism for racial integration that has evolved in this country.” Responding in 2003 in the journal Principal Leadership, High Tech High founder Larry Rosenstock proposed a potential solution:

“Building small schools of choice, which intentionally bring together students of diverse races, ethnicities and classes, may be one of the only effective ways to ensure that all students receive a high quality, truly integrated educational experience.”

A decade after that provocation, we have numerous examples of charter school networks that have done precisely what Rosenstock suggested, including High Tech High itself, Denver School of Science and Technology, Citizens of the World charter schools, Summit Public Schools, EL Haynes, Rhode Island’s own Blackstone Valley Prep and others, as recently documented by The Century Foundation.

Research from the National Coalition on School Diversity suggests that racially and socioeconomically diverse schools work for everyone.  Findings show that students from lower income backgrounds who attend racially and socioeconomically diverse schools are more likely to achieve better test scores and higher grades, and to persist through high school and college when compared with students who attend schools with great numbers of disadvantaged or non-white youth (or both).

Studies also suggest significant advantages for white, non-low-income students in diverse schools. These students show greater critical thinking, problem-solving  and community engagement skills, which are important to successful completion of college, and success in life and the global economy. Students from diverse schools are also more likely to reside in desegregated neighborhoods as adults.

Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy takes the research to heart and implements it through its model of intentional socioeconomic and racial diversity. BVP serves four distinct urban and suburban districts: Cumberland, Central Falls, Pawtucket, and Lincoln. Each of these four districts in isolation serves highly segregated groups of students, but through the BVP charter network, the student population becomes highly integrated.  


%White
%Non-White
%FRL
Central Falls
9
91
81
Cumberland
83
17
24
Lincoln
90
10
27
Pawtucket
34
66
78

BVP’s enrollment from these communities yields a student population that is 63 percent low-income/37 percent not (based on free and reduced-lunch numbers); and 61 percent students of color/39 percent not.  


%White
%Non-White
%FRL
Central Falls
9
91
81
Cumberland
83
17
24
Lincoln
90
10
27
Pawtucket
34
66
78




BVP
39
61
62

The model is working. BVP has the highest 8th grade math scores on NECAP in the state; higher than the wealthier and highly segregated districts of East Greenwich and Barrington. Latino BVP students in 8th grade score 57 points higher than the state average.

Rhode Island parents have taken notice. More than 1900 families applied for 173 seats at BVP this year. Many of the remaining 1700+ will be educationally straightjacketed by their zip code.  Their children’s classrooms will be mostly homogenous. They will be taught Brown vs. the Board of Education, but they will not experience its impact.

The simmer of segregation’s injustice may be hushed, but the ramifications are loud. A segregated society still means an unequal society, one that results in poverty, prejudice, and social stratification.

We are not going to get to truly integrated schools with good intentions and small nods towards progress, but with system-wide innovation and community will. Imaginary boundaries cannot be what separate our children from the benefits of learning side by side. However, until we stop putting up phantom walls to school choice, multi-district education, and policies on integration, we will never see the seeds of Brown vs. the Board of Education fully blossom.

2 comments:

  1. My sister, in from California, visited BVP for the first time ever yesterday - after listening to 3rd grade scholars present to her personally about the books they read and the diaramas they made, this is what she said. "You can't tell at all which of these kids are of means and which are not. They are so cute. They came across so confidently." I'd say that we are having success in our mission. Thanks Katelyn for being part of it all.

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  2. It is a privilege to be able to work with the students, parents, teachers, and staff of BVP. All are inspirational.

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