Anyone who follows education nationally knows that TUSD's problems with desegregation aren't unique. You find segregated schools across the country in places where, like Tucson, there is enough of an ethnic mix to create schools with diverse student populations. The question is, what are effective ways to get more children of different races and ethnicities attending the same schools? TUSD has a court-ordered plan to increase desegregation which includes attracting Anglo students to magnet schools in predominantly Hispanic areas. It hasn't worked out well. Recriminations fly in all directions.
For me, one of the most troubling questions is, can Anglo parents with middle class incomes be convinced to send their children to schools with a majority of Hispanic children, many of whom come from families at the poverty level?
A study out of New York indicates how difficult the problem of desegregating schools is. New York is known to have some of the most segregated public schools in the country. Part of that has to do with living patterns, of course, with people separated geographically by race, ethnicity and income. But according to a study by the Center for New York City Affairs, even when geography isn't a factor, school segregation often persists.
“We see a lot of areas where income is more mixed, and ethnicity is more mixed, but the schools are not,” said Nicole Mader, an education policy analyst at the center.The study cites a school where the neighborhood's average income is $69,000 and 37 percent of the people living there are African American or Hispanic. Yet the school is 96 percent African American and Hispanic, and the average income of the school's families is $36,000.
The analysts’ maps provide stark evidence of something many New Yorkers know intuitively: Middle-class families, often white, are happy to live in areas where their neighbors are less well-off and are a different color; this is the very tide of gentrification. But they are less willing to send their children to schools where most of their classmates are likely to be poor and either black or Hispanic.
This impulse creates pockets of extremes. More affluent families cluster in schools with reputations for good academics. Many middle-class families zoned for high-poverty schools send their children to charter schools or gifted and talented programs, rather than to a local school.
We've been wrestling with integrating schools since the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. We've tried a variety of approaches with mixed results, at best. Sixty-one years later, it's hard to see much progress. Tried, tested solutions are hard to find.