Over five decades following the Brown v. Board decision, schools across the nation are still struggling to combat the persistent segregation of schools based on race and class. Black and Hispanic students are facing increasing isolation in both public and charter schools and with race-based integration efforts limited by the Supreme Court’s Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007) decision, districts and charter schools have turned to socioeconomic based assignment policies as a middle ground in integrating American schools.
Using data provided by the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) – the largest school district in North Carolina with more than 160,000 students – and the U.S. Census Bureau, these researchers hoped to discover what, if any, impact these policies had on integration and peer achievement in Wake County.
Key Takeaways | Socioeconomic-Based School Assignment Policy and Racial Segregation Levels
Integration has no negative impact on White students but provides numerous social outcome improvements for students of color, including educational achievement, attainment, and later life earnings.
When implementing socioeconomic assignment policies, a neighborhood school that would ordinarily be 76.5 percent Black saw its percentage of Black students decrease to 57.9 percent. However, these effects were far less drastic in schools that had a smaller percentage of black students at baseline. Similar trends are visible among Hispanic students, but to a lesser degree.
Researchers used three measures of segregation to determine the effectiveness of socioeconomic assignment policies across WCPSS: evenness, exposure, and isolation. All three measures demonstrated only marginal impacts on the level of segregation at the district level.
Segregation as evenness analyzes how the populations are distributed across districts, or more simply, the proportion of students that would have to be reassigned in order to have balance in schools. The report found that there was little movement across the district, with only 10 percent of students needing to be reassigned, establishing that socioeconomic assignment polices did not significantly reallocate student enrollment and thus did not meaningfully curb segregation.
Segregation as exposure considers the proportion of White students a student of color will be exposed to in their schools. Under socioeconomic integration policies, Black and Hispanic students saw a slight increase in exposure from 2003 to 2010.
Segregation as Isolation measures the extent to which students of color are only exposed to one another. On average, the socioeconomic-based assignment policy produced small declines in isolation for Black students, particularly in the early years of the policy and a similar, but even smaller, change for other racial/ethnic groups.
When the analysis is limited to students assigned to base schools with a large proportion of students of color, the impact becomes more pronounced.
For both Black and Hispanic students from high-minority schools, their exposure to White students increased due to socioeconomic assignment policies. On average, the White population of their assigned schools was 5 to 6 percent higher than their neighborhood schools from 2003-2010, as shown below.
In contrast to the results from the entire district, for students in majority-minority neighborhood schools, socioeconomic-based assignment policy reduced the racial and ethnic isolation of both Black and Hispanic students.
Students who were reassigned from majority minority schools experienced increased exposure to peers with higher levels of achievement than in their neighborhood schools.
As was the case with WCPSS, school districts must contend with political realities that may constrain their ability to implement socio-economic based assignment policies.
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