Demyth-ifying the Road from Brown v Board: A Series on the Role of White Parents in School Segregation - Part 3
Where does that leave us? With over 60 years of school “integration” efforts, all to still be fighting the same fight, just in a different decade?
Well, to start, it’s important to know the role that you’ve been playing when it comes to making schooling decisions for your kiddos, and the role that you could play in the future. As the first two parts of this series has demonstrated, white parents have had a significant role in keeping school segregated while continuing to attain educational benefits and opportunities for their children. The way forward requires an honest reckoning with the reality of where we are, what’s possible, and where you hope to go.
We’ve already covered a lot of context about where things stand today, but let's get even more specific by looking at your child's school - because for better or worse, no matter what your school looks like, there’s work to be done everywhere and intentionality behind boundaries is revealing. The wonderful people at Vox and a UC Berkeley student created an interactive map that allows you to enter your school district and then find out just how intentionally your district has zoned its elementary schools. So take a minute to scroll down ¼ of the page, and see just how well your school district does at drawing its boundaries. And if your district is anything like mine, you’ll see that there’s still so much inequity built into how the school boundaries are drawn.
Before you travel too far down this path however, really consider what an integrated school could look like, and what you’d be willing to do to have your child attend one. Because in truth the boundaries on these maps are only one prong of what keeps schools segregated. Parents with the ability to choose outside of the system (often white parents), keep choosing that route. So even with the burden of integrating schools falling unfairly to students and families of color, they’ll keep chasing a moving target until white parents truly prioritize integrated schools for their kids.
And while there are many reasons why white parents will choose to opt out of doing any heavy lifting in integrating schools, some of the most common ones that I’ve heard, are entirely unsubstantiated. Are you ready for more myths? The idea that a school’s test scores will drop when more kids of color join the student ranks - FALSE! The notion that desegregating classrooms is solely for the benefit of kids of color - FALSE! Thinking that if your school is mostly white, has good test scores, and a fairly homogeneous population that the quality of education is “good” - FALSE! The research is there, integrating classrooms is to the benefit of all kids, not just kids of color.
How do we get to that point, where education serves all kids, and all schools are “good schools?” What would it look like to be unable to predict the racial composition of the student body based on the verbal or testing reputation of a school? What would it mean to have the responsibility of school integration better shared with white parents? Knowing that white parents are absolutely crucial to the success or failure of an integration plan, we can turn our attention to New York, the state that bears the title for having the most segregated schools in the nation. A state, that is now taking bold steps in addressing and reckoning with the longstanding tradition of segregation in their schools.
Parents in two districts in New York City got together and drafted proposals to have the schools in their districts encompassing the upper West Side and Harlem, better integrated. The schools with a predominantly white student population took on more “vulnerable and diverse students,” while the “high-achieving children [enrolled] at low-performing schools.” Parents! And predictably, there were plenty of parents that resisted, and raised some of those same, ill-founded arguments (see above), but not enough to derail the plan. Come September 5th, 2019, the proposal will go into effect, and those two districts will see a shake-up when it comes to their student demographics. For example, P.S.180, in Harlem, will go from a student body that is nearly 70% poor and low-performing to one that is roughly 40% and the school where Bill De Balsio sent his kids will increase their percentage of students who are poor, learning English, or homeless from 33% to 57%.
How New York City is choosing to addressing systemic inequity in their schools could be the start of something great for them. Change is possible, but it doesn’t come easily, because at this point, we’re working to make a system less broken - not fixed. And what works for New York won’t necessarily work for St. Louis in the City or County, or even in rural Missouri. All of these places are made up of different demographics, regional histories, strengths and challenges when it comes to what it will take to make their schools more integrated, equitable and anti-racist.
The kind of change we need takes a lot and no one is saying it’ll be easy. It takes a massive amount of energy, a commitment to be willing to leverage your position, power, and resources in a way that equitably benefits all kids, and likely requires advocating for change in the face of white parents that don’t want these efforts to succeed. However, without this investment, the myths will continue to cycle in perpetuity. We’ll continue to believe that our schools are truly desegregated, or that excellent education is an opportunity for all kids. It’s time to break down those myths and live in the reality of our creation, and to put an end to kids of color paying for those fairy tales.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
Reflect on what choices, intentional or unconscious that you made in choosing your child(ren)’s school.
How does your district fare in drawing equitable school boundaries? Were you surprised? Why or why not?
What do you see your role being to advocate for all children where you are now? What have you done already, and what are your hopes for the future?
What practices can you start taking right now to help your child be a part of a more anti-racist classroom and school?
books for family conversation
Resources for Parents:
INTERACTIVE MAP - Scroll about a ¼ of the way down the page, and find your district - from there, you can go ahead and see how segregation plays out in your school district.
The historical burden of integration unfairly falls to families of color and Webster Groves is making changes that decrease burden by providing all neighborhoods with a neighborhood school. However, this may increase overall segregation in Webster Groves. This conundrum underscores how tied our school segregation is to our housing segregation. Learn more about what’s happening in Webster Groves here.
Picture Books for Family Conversation (Kids Navigating Challenges in School Settings):
The Day You Begin - Jacquline Woodson, and Rafael López (AOC, IOC)
The Name Jar - Yangsook Choi (AOC, IOC)
I’m New Here - Anne Sibley O’Brien
Someone New - Anne Sibley O’Brien
Fall in Line Holden - Daniel W. Vandever (AOC, IOC)
When We Were Alone - David Robertson, Julie Flett (AOC, IOC)
This blog post was written by Rhema Anazonwu, Program Manager for We Stories. We are grateful for her work, perspective and contributions.