Sunday, July 15, 2007

School Diversity Based on Income Segregates Some

New York Times:
San Francisco began considering factors like family income, instead of race, in school assignments when it modified a court-ordered desegregation plan in response to a lawsuit. But school officials have found that the 55,000-student city school district, with Chinese the dominant ethnic group followed by Hispanics, blacks and whites, is resegregrating.

The number of schools where students of a single racial or ethnic group make up 60 percent or more of the population in at least one grade is increasing sharply. In 2005-06, about 50 schools were segregated using that standard as measured by a court-appointed monitor. That was up from 30 schools in the 2001-02 school year, the year before the change, according to court filings.

The San Francisco experience is telling because after the recent United States Supreme Court decision restricting the use of race-based school assignment plans, many districts are expected to switch to economic integration plans like San Francisco’s as a legal way to seek diversity. As many as 40 districts around the country are already experimenting with such plans, according to an analysis by Richard D. Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy research group.

Many of these experiments are modest, involve small districts or have been in place only a few years. But the experiences of these districts show how difficult it can be to balance socioeconomic diversity, racial integration and academic success.

Only a few plans appear to have achieved all three goals. ...

The purpose of such programs is twofold. Since income levels often correlate with race they can be an alternate and legal way to produce racial integration. They also promote achievement gains by putting poorer students in schools that are more likely to have experienced teachers and students with high aspirations, as well as a parent body that can afford to be more involved.

“There is a large body of evidence going back several years,” Mr. Kahlenberg said, “that probably the most important thing you can do to raise the achievement of low-income students is to provide them with middle-class schools.” ...

... [T]he [San Francisco] district switched in 2002-03 to a plan that sought socioeconomic diversity.

Students apply to the schools they want to attend, and the district uses a “diversity index” for assignments when a school is oversubscribed. The index considers the language spoken at home, whether a child qualifies for free lunch or is in public housing, a child’s academic performance and the quality of a child’s prior schools. But it has not resulted in racial integration.

“We were hopeful that the diversity index would work,” said Stuart Biegel, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was the district’s court-appointed monitor. “No one was rooting against it. But it didn’t work.” ...

David Campos, the general counsel to the [San Francisco] school district, said the resegregation was so disappointing that the school board might try to test whether Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s opinion in the recent Supreme Court case left open the possibility of using race if other methods of integration fail.

“We stopped using race at some point,” Mr. Campos said. “And then for a number of years we have tried to use a number of race-neutral factors to achieve racial diversity, which methods haven’t worked. Should the board decide to use race, and they may or may not, we are a very good test case.”

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