Opinion

There’s one education reform proven to work on a national scale, so why aren’t we trying it?

Children board a school bus in 1978 after the start of Seattle's voluntary school desegregation program, which was the first major city in the U.S. to desegregate the school voluntarily.

Children board a school bus in 1978 after the start of Seattle’s voluntary school desegregation program, which was the first major city in the U.S. to desegregate voluntarily.

In the fight over how to close the racial achievement gap in education, you rarely hear about the only policy that’s ever worked on a national scale: desegregation.

Reformers push school choice and tougher teacher evaluations. Unions demand higher pay and more focus on out-of-school problems like poverty. But desegregation is perhaps the biggest success story in the history of American education.

During the 1980s, when desegregation was in full effect – with forced busing in some cities and less dramatic strategies elsewhere – the black-white achievement gap on the National Assessment for Educational Progress shrunk faster than it ever has before or since.

When black students went to schools with white ones, they were able to access good teachers, principals and guidance counselors, updated textbooks and more advanced classes. Desegregation broke up concentrated poverty in segregated schools that had been forced to educate the toughest kids with the fewest resources.

With these new opportunities – including access to the social and career networks white kids took for granted – research found that black students not only did better on tests, they earned higher degrees and got better jobs. White students, meanwhile, didn’t suffer any negative consequences from attending integrated schools – and studies found they became more open-minded and less prejudiced.

So, with New York City public school students returning next month,* the question is: Why isn’t more being done to bring students of different races together in the most racially and ethnically diverse city in the country, one where the public schools have had little success closing a huge racial achievement gap?

Read more here.

*Correction: We have corrected this editorial to reflect that the first day of public school in New York City is in a few weeks, on Sept. 9.

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Sarah Garland

Sarah Garland is the executive editor of The Hechinger Report. She started out in journalism reporting on murders and mayhem in New York City for… See Archive

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