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Weigh-In: Do you support class-based integration?

By Lucinda Blumenfeld | September/October 2008

Decades after Brown vs. Board of Education, districts are still struggling to integrate schools. But should race be the only factor? Now, some districts see a mix of social classes as the key to an enriching learning environment. What’s the best way to integrate a school district? You decide.

Sheldon Berman, Pd.D.,
Jefferson County Public Schools,
Louisville, KY

Louisville faces extensive poverty for both blacks and whites, so we organized geographic areas in each school neighborhood called ‘resides zones’ by creating clusters that encompass balance. The result leaves no school with concentrated poverty. Louisville was able to come up with a plan that did it all—the socioeconomic strata are mixed and the racial distribution at every school is within four percent minority to white. Nearly every parent supported integration, and it’s the first time a student assignment plan has been unanimously approved. The one thing we can stand for is hope through a multi-factor system.

Pat Todd
Assignment Director,
Jefferson County Public Schools,
Louisville, KY

Socioeconomic integration both socially and academically prepares students, allowing diversity to begin in the classroom and extend to the football field after school. We’re fortunate that the Louisville board has been very stable and committed to the same vision and high stakes accountability has led to increased pressure on the achievement gap issue.

Del Burns, Ph.D.
Wake County Public Schools, NC

Wake County adopted integration with the intention of raising test scores. It is purely class-based—the aim is to balance schools so that no more than 40 percent of students at each one are deemed low-income. As a result, Wake County’s achievement gap is closing faster than that of any other district in the state. Nevertheless, the community has not been unanimously supportive. The challenge with reassignment will always be changing schools, and student/parent comfort in doing so.

Jack Dale
Fairfax County Public Schools, VA

We do seek to have diverse student bodies. Our students benefit from knowing, interacting, and learning from peers who have a variety of backgrounds. We seek such diversity to better ensure our students possess 21st-century skills and can be leaders in a global economy. But we do not use race. We also do not assign schools in any manner other than establishing attendance boundaries. Our criteria include proximity to schools, preserving neighborhoods, and a reasonable balance of percentage of students eligible for free or reduced meals.

Jan Pratt, Pd.D.
Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction,
Orange County Public Schools, FL

New schools take both racial and economic factors into consideration to ensure schools are appropriately balanced. We undertook two new initiatives: one, to focus on black and Hispanic male achievement, ensuring these students have the scaffolding they need; and two, to create a 'destination college' program beginning in elementary school. As a result, the district is closing the achievement gap—but not fast enough to suit us.

Judy Elliott
Chief Academic Officer,
Los Angeles Unified School District

While I understand the socioeconomic integration of kids, we focus on school leadership and robust instruction. What happens in the classroom makes the difference. We can admire the problem, or we can get the boots on the ground and do something! The sense of urgency [in meeting achievement] is off the charts. I don’t spend time figuring out how to label kids; I spend time figuring out what works. Now schools with 100 percent free/reduced lunch and incredible diversity are beating the odds.

Maria Goodloe-Johnson, Ph.D.
Seattle Public Schools

In Seattle we have segregated neighborhoods. Neighborhood schools reflect and further that segregation. We have to find a strategy somewhere in the middle, not dictated by where you live.

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