Monday, July 21, 2008

New York Times Magazine: The Next Kind of Integration

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled certain types of racial integration unconstitutional. An article in Sunday's New York Times Magazine, "The Next Kind of Integration," looks at how some schools are adjusting to a class-based system of integration. The story is full of powerful data and information on how integration impacts kids from both low-income and middle class families.

"If Congress were to revise No Child Left Behind to encourage more transfers of poor students to middle-class schools, would poor students drag down their better-off peers? In the end, the prospects of class-based integration will probably rise or fall on the answer to this question. Socioeconomic integration may be good for the have-nots, but if the haves think their kids are paying too great a price, they will kill it off at the polls. Richard Kahlenberg argues that the key is to ensure there is a solidly middle-class majority at as many schools as possible. That majority will then set the tone, he argues. Kahlenberg says that more research is needed to pin down the percentage of middle-class kids that a school needs to have to serve all its students well. Maybe a school can go as high as 50 percent low-income without losing ground."

Read the story? Share your thoughts.


  1. Interesting article. It is one of the few mass market articles to really get in to the difference between race and class. The Kansas City model sounds a bit like the zones people have been tossing around for SF (using census data to draw the zones.) I would be interested to hear how individual children are assigned schools. Is it a lottery similar to SF, or does KC just assign your kid a school?

  2. Very interesting article. 7:08, good question, although I think the city in question is Louisville, KY.

    Obviously the recent strategy in SF has been try to persuade middle class and white parents to try the public schools--especially given the high level of white flight at work here that means white kids are 23% of the kid population but only 9% of the district population.

    I do wonder how parents would react to being assigned within a zone that would guarantee percentages of low-income versus above-low-income. I know we hear a lot of complaints now about folks not getting their lottery choices and also about the uncertainty of the lottery, but how would folks react to having more limited options--and to those options being much more integrated, economically speaking, than Clarendon? Would the white/middle class flight continue, or ease, given that the uncertainty factor would go away?

    That said, I think it would be a great step if we could create schools that are economically integrated.

  3. Economic Class is a taboo issue in United States-- After all, the myth is that we live in an egalitarian society. In contrast, race is an overblown issue.

    Here in San Francisco, we do have class-based public school admissions. You're not allowed to state your race on the application forms for public schools, but you have to state how much education the child's mother has and whether she is a native English speaker. That is one way to uncover a person's economic class.

    The Suburbanites (the lost tribe) will never tolerate school integration along class lines. For example, parents in the Palo Alto school district did not want kids from East Palo Alto coming into their schools. Class-based integration would have the same consequences that race-based integration had in the 1970s. That is, parents would push their kids into private and parochial schools.

    By the way, one of the main reasons parents in San Francisco send their children to private school is to keep them away from immigrants and working-class children. Race has nothing to do with it.

    These parents think that immigrant children will slow down their kids. When, in reality, the reverse is quite often the case. Immigrants are often much more ambitious than natives, and so their children do well educationally. This is not only true among Asian immigrants, but among the growing number of middle-class Latin Americans with a university education that work in this country.

  4. The thing that I think would not fly here is the really interesting part about what Louisville has done - they identified their lowest-income area, which also happened to roughly correspond with the neighborhoods where people of color live, and called it Area A. Then they said that every school should have no fewer than 15 percent and no more than 50 percent of its kids from Area A-- which basically means busing because children in low-income neighborhoods will have to go to school out of their neighborhood in order to keep their concentrations down WITHIN their neighborhood.

    This probably goes down pretty easy with people in middle-class neighborhoods, but I wonder how the parents in Area A feel about it.

    From the article it does seem like the school district has done a good job laying the groundwork and building support for the plan before implementing it (something our district never seems to bother to do, with ANY plan), and of course they've grandfathered existing families. But there isn't any detail about how the system actually works, so I wonder if it's really as revolutionary as the article claims.

  5. I don't disagree with your point about class, 2:35, but I don't think our lottery is a class-based admissions process. Or rather, it takes class into account only for the oversubbed, popular schools, but allows school choice for the unpopular ones. Our schools are economically integrated *only* to the extent that the schools have a large and economically diverse applicant pool.

    The Louisville and Wake County, North Carolina strategies cited in the article seem much more directed at ensuring that economic integration (and to some extent in Louisville, racial integration) actually occurs. The article doesn't go into detail, but I got the impression this means some kind of school zoning across neighborhoods reflecting different economic classes.

    In San Francisco, this might mean pairing Noe Valley and Vis Valley, or maybe some larger swaths like Bernal/Noe and BVHP/Vis Valley. There might be some choice involved within a zone, but no school would be allowed to have more or less than a certain % of kids that were low-income.

    My guess is that such a system would create less choice but somewhat more certainty in terms of school assignment. I think it would also assign middle class kids to schools with a somewhat higher % of kids that are low-income than many here might feel comfortable with....that is, the schools would not look like Clarendon, but more like Sunnyside. There would be a critical mass of middle class families, but they would not be the dominant force.

    Would parents on this blog tolerate that? Would the certainty of assignment ease the middle class flight, as some have suggested in touting neighborhood zoning assignment? I don't know. I hope so, if we went to that system. I would be nervous, though.

  6. 2:59, presumably it also means busing kids into Area A from more middle class neighborhoods, as there will not be enough space for them with the kids from Area A coming in....unless they just plan to demolish some schools and build new ones only in the middle class neighborhoods.

    Agree with you on the point about building community support for any plan.

  7. "but no school would be allowed to have more or less than a certain % of kids that were low-income."

    sorry, obviously I meant: *no* more or less than a certain % of kids that were low-income.

  8. 2:35, I liked your post, except I must take strong issues with your two statements:


    "Economic Class is a taboo issue in United States-- After all, the myth is that we live in an egalitarian society. In contrast, race is an overblown issue."

    Not only is economic class NOT a taboo issue, it's the number one issue about which our entire society is obsessed. And openly, too. Our whole value system has morphed into a money obsession. Real estate, cars, jobs, exotic vacations, the stock market, money money money. And where you fit in, in the pecking order.

    The upside of this obsession is that most people want their kids to go to a good school in order to get ahead in life, but often that boils down to money, a high paying career. The downside of the obsesssion is, we believe that if something is free (schools, libraries, parks, healthcare) it's worthless.

    It's a sickness that didn't exist 30, 40, or 50 years ago. We all wanted to keep up with the Jones, but we weren't willing to throw our culture and good citizenship out the window. Nowadays, we seem to be. And we're quite open about it.


    "By the way, one of the main reasons parents in San Francisco send their children to private school is to keep them away from immigrants and working-class children. Race has nothing to do with it."

    No. Actually, I'm sending my kid to a private school because of the nightmare entrance policy of the SFUSD. I didn't get into any of my choices in any round. I'm on a waiting list, and not expecting anything. Mainly, though, I have to say that I chose a very diverse private school I could find. Any decent private school worth its salt must offer diversity, otherwise, it can't be that good a school.

    And I have to disagree with the immigrant working class comment. Anybody would send their kid to an inner city well funded gorgeous well staffed high scoring gem of a school in the inner city where most of the kids went on to college...if such a thing existed.

    The schools in this city are plenty fine. They lack middle and upper class white people. If there were more middle upper class white people attending, they'd only improve.

    I honestly believe it's not about the immigrants, or even race. It's about quality and results, and that can only happen when EVERYBODY is a part of it.

    A democracy can't last unless EVERYBODY is involved in the process. Schools are no different.

  9. "A democracy can't last unless EVERYBODY is involved in the process. Schools are no different."

    Couldn't agree more. That's why we ALL need to make a commitment to our public schools.

    It's the old New England model that did so well for our country, folks. You go to the school with the people in your community--whether rich or poor--and you learn to sympathize with them and like them.

  10. @5:01, I like your comment about class and status and how our commitments to the larger community seem to have eroded over the years. I'm also sorry that you did not get a public school choice you wanted in the lottery (and glad you have backup!).

    I'm wondering--if we had some kind of economically integrated neighborhood zone system that guaranteed your kid a spot in one of several schools, would that have worked better for you? I agree with you that many of our schools are plenty fine. If the economic segregation were evened out, though, there might be, as poster @3:01 suggests, fewer schools that look like Clarendon in terms of income breakdown, and also fewer schools that look like John Muir or Malcolm X, and more schools that look like Sunnyside or Paul Revere, with fairly large low-income groups and a significant, but not even close to majority, middle-income set at each school as well. Would that be acceptable to you?

    I obviously don't know which schools you applied to through the lottery, whether they were immersion or other special programs, or why the schools that were ultimately available in Open Enrollment were unacceptable to seems at this point that the ones that are left with spots are concentrated high-poverty schools, which I concede would be quite challenging, but there was also Rosa Parks JBBP and a few others with more middle class families on site already, for a few days anyway....

    I'm not trying to put you on the defensive, just trying to understand what makes a school fall below the line of "acceptable" for folks here (understanding that location and afterschool issues play into it for many).

    The article in the NYTimes Magazine mentions that the Louisville folks knew they had to keep the levels of middle class folks at a certain level to prevent middle class flight, and were also seeking the right mix to reap the greatest success for all. I'm mainly wondering, for here in SF, what is the right mix to get middle class folks to stay involved? Is it even a mix that we can guarantee, given the high numbers of low-income kids in the district and the high levels of middle class kids already not attending district schools?

  11. The article was interesting in its comparison of the North Carolina model and the Louisville model. North Carolina does not even factor in race, mainly because race and economic class track each other so closely, but in Louisville there is a significant population of low-income white folk. So they are trying integration by economic class + a little bit of racial factoring, but not by individual, rather by neighborhood zones. In other words, they are designing assignment zones to take into account significant racial segregation by neighborhood and are trying to mix it up a bit, along with the major focus on economic class.

    This would be very interesting in San Francisco. I'm thinking of our very large and diverse Asian community (with significant differences across ethnicity, e.g., Japanese vs. Chinese vs. Korean vs. Vietnamese and Cambodian). There are plenty of low-income Chinese immigrant kids with high educational achievement. Plenty of middle-class Chinese kids too. I wonder how Superintendent Garcia--who does seem to be making rumblings about neighborhood assignment zones and reversing segregation--would approach the topic of racial integration in a way that pushes economic integration and educational achievement mixing. And how he and the Board of Ed would try to make it work with the Supreme Court decision and Justice Kennedy's perspective in particular.

  12. I am looking for recommendations for private schools in SF and Marin that are more open to accepting children with challenges. Not necessarily a child who needs a "special needs" school, but one who has some minor delays and developmental challenges. Thank you.

  13. A couple that come to mind that are definitely "regular" schools are Kittredge and Presidio Hill. Laurel School also is probably worth a look depending on the issue but they are more of a special needs school(good for kids who need a structure, predictability, and are easily overstimulated.) I don't know Marin schools at all.

  14. There are many good public schools in middle class neighborhoods now. Forget Clarendon and Rooftop. Within the center of SF there are the following schools that have either "arrived" or about to, becuase more middle class families have looked at other public schools: Miraloma, McKinley, Grattan - and not too far away - Jefferson, Alice Fong Yu, West Portal. New Traditions can possibly be put on this list. And extend further you have Peabody and Sutro. I believe that parents are showing their willingness to look farther afield, or maybe look in their own neighborhoods???

  15. to 10:50 pm: check out Live Oak. They accomdate learning differences and expressive language delays.

  16. 9:49 Unfortunately, the schools you list as middle class are also totally oversubscribed and almost as hard to get into as rooftop and clarenden.

    2:35 Your post was hilarious! Thanks for the laugh!

  17. Did anyone else read this article? I thought it was interesting that studies have shown tracking basically negates any advantage of mixing socioeconomically advantaged kids with disadvantaged ones.

    So if you're sending your kids to schools that track by ability, you might as well be sending them private for all the good it does the other kids. (I know, I know, the school gets federal money for all the kids who attend public but not for those that attend private), but otherwise, no advantage or lifting up of the disadvantaged. Interesting.

  18. That's why schools like SF Commuinity (K-8) and James Lick Middle are working so hard at integrated classrooms with differentiated instruction.