Responding to Rick Kahlenberg on Integration

Written by: MoCoEdBlog Editors

Rick Kahlenberg’s commentary on the Montgomery County school boundaries debate highlights an issue of critical importance to all of us who care about improving disadvantaged children’s odds of success, and of ensuring a thriving democracy. With a student body that is increasingly diverse, not only at the County but at the national level, we have both a moral imperative and self-interest in ensuring all students an enriching, equitable education. As Rick and I wrote recently for the Huffington Post, we also have an opportunity to expose our children to the diversity that is the reality across the globe, and to prepare them to thrive in that world.

Unfortunately, as my colleague Emma Garcia and I report in a paper we co-authored for the Economic Policy Institute and the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, intense segregation in our schools is preventing us from fulfilling that promise. Looking at US 5-year-olds who entered kindergarten in 2010-2011, we find that white students tend to begin school in classes with students who look like them, while the inverse is true for Hispanic and black students; they are surrounded mostly by minority peers. This might not, in itself, pose problems. Very problematic, however, is the associated finding that most of the former group of students also share classrooms with non-poor students, while the majority of children of color have peers who live in poverty. As Rick cogently points out, it isn’t racial concentration that poses the real problem, but rather the concentrated poverty that it masks, but that tends to come with it. Minority children, even those whose parents earn above poverty-line wages, are thus more likely than their white counterparts to be surrounded both in school and at home by adults who are unemployed, not married, and lack social capital and connections, and by students whose parents have on experience navigating the college-going system, fewer resources, and less capacity to navigate and influence their schools.

I join Rick in urging MCPS to complement its other poverty-alleviating policies by using school boundary decisions to attend to issues of racial and income segregation. As a district at the forefront of other policies that may be controversial but are wise, I hope it will lead the way on this one as well.

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