Opinion
Equity & Diversity Opinion

Offer Choices; Stop Segregating by Race & Class

By Ray Salazar — August 21, 2014 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

While education conversations buzz nationally with talk about white students becoming the minority in U.S. public schools this fall, many urban educators keep thinking, “White students have not been the majority in my school for a long time.”

Ray Salazar

In many urban districts, minority students still attend schools with mostly minority students. In New York, a 2010 study found more than half of New York’s black and Latino students were in schools with a white enrollment of less than 10 percent. According to New York’s enrollment data, since 2006, white student enrollment hovered around 15 percent. In Chicago, since the late 1980s, white students made up only 8 percent to 13 percent of the district’s population. However, while the percentage of white students in Chicago’s public schools remains low, their enrollment in the city’s top schools, is comparable to or higher than minority students'—sometimes over 30 percent.

The headlines of decreasing white student enrollment solidify what I consistently criticize in education reporting recently: Education journalism, many times, is pseudo-news.

In January, Education Week reported that Illinois would be one of a dozen states where minority students outnumber whites. Yet, for the last five years at least, black and Hispanic students in the Chicago public schools made up over 80 percent of the student population.

As the demographic stories flood our newsfeed this school year, policymakers and educators must remember that, despite this national shift, schools in urban districts remain segregated by class and race. The decrease in white student enrollment does not signal increased diversity in urban schools or greater opportunity for low-income, minority students.

To truly improve the education opportunities for low-income, minority students—who make up the largest population in urban areas—policymakers need to stop assigning students to schools based on home addresses. If families choose to, they should be able to apply by lottery to attend any neighborhood school in their district with open seats.

When districts require students to attend the school in their attendance area, a family’s relocation, for whatever reason, likely results in a school transfer. In 2005, near-poor students had a mobility rate of 45 percent and poor students 55 percent, according to publications by the National Housing Conference and Center for Housing Policy. In 2009, when unemployment rates doubled to 10 percent, this mobility rate probably increased. In Chicago, mobility rates of students are estimated at 19 percent.

When students can have access to schools closer to a parent’s job, a caretaker’s home, a safer neighborhood, or a school easily accessible to public transportation, low-income students stand a better chance of stability—at least in school. Relationships between staff, students, and families solidify. Connections among students become profound.

Neighborhoods often change quickly in urban areas, forcing families to relocate. When schools remain strict about attendance boundaries, students must unfortunately transfer and struggle to re-establish themselves in a new context with each move.

Abundant gentrification in urban areas, after all, contributes to this unstable student enrollment. On Chicago’s North side neighborhood of Humboldt Park, in what used to be a predominately low-income Latino community, the teen population dropped by 62 percent between 2000 and 2010. In 2010, Clemente’s ZIP code of 60622 had about 1,700 teens. In 2000, 4,500 potential high school students lived there. Condos in the neighborhood high school attendance boundaries create few residential options for low-income and middle-class families when the median home sale price is now around $299,000.

For my children, the neighborhood school across the street was not an option, in large part, because we don’t have a caretaker who can pick them up at dismissal. Through a lottery, we enrolled at a charter school with a schedule that is a better match for our work schedule. We’re gratified with the educational experiences our 4th and 1st graders receive.

We don’t know what we’ll do for high school. The neighborhood public high school my children should attend based on our address (Hubbard High School) has tightly enrolled about 1,600 students for decades (I graduated from there; I taught there). According to data released by Chicago Public Radio, over 2,000 students live in the school’s attendance area. Families in our 60629 ZIP code must look for other high school options because of the long-time overlooked overcrowding in our area.

If district leaders erase attendance boundaries, schools also have the opportunity to redefine themselves as places that offer a specific educational experience. Neighborhood schools currently have the pressure of having to provide all-encompassing educational programs with diminishing funding. It’s an impossible challenge. This forces a school’s mission statement to remain eloquent in theory, but ordinary in practice. Overwhelmed schools end up simply “providing an education.” Any school can claim to do that.

Schools need the opportunity to define themselves with education programs that provide students with focused, well-supported experiences that remove the pressure of having to do it all. More importantly, low-income, minority families deserve the right to decide where their children should go to school.

Ray Salazar is an English teacher in the Chicago public schools and writes about education and Latino issues at The White Rhino on ChicagoNow.com. Follow him @WhiteRhinoRay.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in OpEducation 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.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Reported Essay What the Indian Caste System Taught Me About Racism in American Schools
Born and raised in India, reporter Eesha Pendharkar isn’t convinced that America’s anti-racist efforts are enough to make students of color feel like they belong.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Reported Essay Our Student Homeless Numbers Are Staggering. Schools Can Be a Bridge to a Solution
The pandemic has only made the student homelessness situation more volatile. Schools don’t have to go it alone.
5 min read
Conceptual illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity How Have the Debates Over Critical Race Theory Affected You? Share Your Story
We want to hear how new constraints on teaching about racism have affected your schools.
1 min read
Illustrations.
Mary Hassdyk for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion When Educational Equity Descends Into Educational Nihilism
Schools need to buckle down to engage and educate kids—not lower (or eliminate) expectations in the name of “equity.”
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty