Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
A new report challenges an old concern.
In the first episode of This American Life’s two-part series on school segregation, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones argues what many in the education community already know: school integration works as a solution to the country’s academic inequality problem. Yet apart from a few notable cities, not many have pursued ways to diversify their schools, in part because attempts to do so have—and continue to be—met with immense backlash from white parents.
In the episode, Hannah-Jones examines the enflamed reaction to the integration of Missouri’s languishing all-black Normandy school district with majority-white Francis Howell district. Here’s what one of the Francis Howell parents says at a public meeting with school administrators:
I'm concerned about my children's education and safety. This is not a race issue. This is a commitment to education issue.
The fear among white parents that their kids won’t get as good an education in a highly integrated school is a typical one. But according to a recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics, white student performance doesn’t actually suffer in diverse schools. Here’s how the report puts it:
White student achievement in schools with the highest Black student density did not differ from White student achievement in schools with the lowest density.
The report measured 8th grade math test scores in 2011 for white and black kids in schools with varying diversity, measured as density of black student population. After controlling for socio-economic factors, like income level and parent education level (below, right), the report finds that average scores of white students (in dark green below) at schools with largest share of black kids (60 to 100 percent) weren’t significantly different from ones that were low shares (0 to 20 percent):
In other words, diversity in schools isn’t a detriment to a white student’s education. It can also be a benefit to their social development. That’s what suburban parents living outside Hartford, Connecticut, a city where almost half the kids attend integrated schools, learned when they sent their kids to diverse magnet schools. Here’s reporter Chana Joffe in part two of the This American Life’s school segregation series, quoting some of these parents:
One dad told me, "you won't believe how often my kid comes home and looks something up he heard from a friend. He's so excited by how different everyone is." And another mom told me, "I think it just gives them a deeper understanding of the world around them, which is, you know, what you hope happens in school."