Education Opinion

What Constitutes a “Diverse” School--Let’s Get Real (and Maybe Ditch the Euphemisms While We’re At It?)

By Sara Mead — October 15, 2012 1 min read
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I appreciate what Mike Petrilli’s trying to do in starting a conversation about the choices middle-class parents who settle in urban areas make around public education for their kids. Education policy debates tend to focus on issues of social justice for underserved low-income kids--as they should. But we also know that the long-term well-being of our cities depends on creating communities that can attract, retain, and support middle- and working-class families, as well as singles, young couples, the extraordinarily wealthy and very poor--and that is largely contingent on having a stock of urban schools to which middle class families are willing to send their kids. That’s one of the reasons I work on education reform issues in D.C.

But.....I feel like there’s a big elephant in the room in this Washington Post story about Petrilli’s book and personal/family education decisions. Piney Branch, the school being held up as the “diverse” and more urban alternative, has 33% low-income students. That’s actually a lower percentage of low-income students than the national average. Nationally, 44% of children under age 18 live in low-income families, and over half of 4th graders are eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch. Nor is Piney Branch exactly an example of urban school failure: 93% of its 3rd graders were proficient in reading in 2011, and 92% proficient in math--both rates exceeding the Maryland state average.

None of this is to pick on Petrilli (although the Post could have presented the information about Piney Branch with a bit more context). Rather, if we are going to have honest conversations about diversity, integration, and segregation in public education, we all need to be honest and well-informed about what the demographics of our nation’s children actually look like.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.