Increased enrollment does not guarantee an increase in academic performance
Since the historic May 17, 1954 decision of Brown versus the Board of Education, Topeka, KS, there has been an ongoing controversy about school desegregation. The purpose of this ruling was to give equal access to high-quality education to all students. But, there are still unanswered questions. What elements determine the level of quality? What factors are necessary to ensure the instruction received is high-quality? Why aren’t all schools offering a superior educational experience for all children? What happens to the young people who remain in schools that are performing poorly?
The recently released summary of the Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation & Education Policy study conducted on school segregation confirmed that schools are not segregated based on their boundaries; rather, it is due to residential patterns. People will reside where they desire; and if the choice is to live in an area with others who share their culture and/or ethnicity, they are free to exercise this option and they are doing so. The purpose of the study was to explore how Indiana’s demographic shifts were affecting the demographics of Indiana schools.
So, here we are…the key findings of the IU study are quite simple:
Dr. Dan Lichter, a professor at Cornell University and the director of the Cornell Population Center went a few steps further than the IU study and conducted a study, but on segregation and neighborhoods in the United States in 2015. His findings determined that neighborhood segregation (micro-segregation) is in fact declining; however, it is increasing overall in cities and suburban communities (macro-segregation).
A quick review of Indiana’s population map by zip code confirms the findings of Dr. Lichter. According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, 62% of all African Americans in Indiana (African Americans are only 9% of the Indiana population) can be found in just two counties-Lake County and Marion County. Certain cities in Indiana, such as Gary, Fort Wayne, Evansville and Indianapolis have multiple zip codes in which the African American population is greater than 50%. It might be rather difficult to desegregate schools in which the population of the city is overwhelmingly African American.
To not necessarily desegregate, but assure African American students had equal access to high-quality programming, as reported by the Chalkbeat last month, the Indianapolis Public School system has adjusted its enrollment policy for admissions to high-performing magnet schools to increase minority enrollment and it appears to be working. Multiple lotteries will be offered in January, March and April and 50% of the seats at these high-performing schools will be reserved for the later lotteries so people of color can have a fair shot at admission because they usually apply late, according to IPS. Let me be clear. What is working is that the enrollment of minorities is increasing, not the performance.
With the current plan of IPS, perhaps we will have more minorities will have greater access, but is that the answer for achieving greater academic gains for these students? With the overrepresentation of Blacks, especially Black boys, in special needs and the low presence of African Americans in Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) or Gifted & Talented (GT) programs, it is doubtful that there will be a significant increase or improvement in academic performance. Much attention has been given to the academic needs of the students, but without consideration of the impact of certain other factors on their academic growth:
Certainly, more African Americans are receiving high school diplomas today than they were before the Brown ruling; however, the question of the quality of education remains when college remediation statistics are reviewed. The Center for American progress reports that 56% of African Americans and 45% of Latinos enrolled in college take at least one remedial course.
Changing enrollment policies may seem like an answer; however, it will take more than a student of color sitting in a seat at a high-performing school to see academic improvement. As we think about those who teach our students of color-greater than 80% of public school educators and administrators are White-we must insist on improved and more frequent cultural competency training for all educators which include focusing on cultural intelligence and racial literacy, training for strategies that infuse the African American culture into the curriculum, a greater understanding of the African American dialect and even a willingness of educators in urban districts to engage in difficult racial conversations in an effort to transform perceptions.
So, we can remain loyal to the study of segregation and the fight for integrated schools, but the evidence continues to demonstrate these efforts are misplaced and somewhat futile since residential patterns cannot be dictated. In an ideal world, busing students, redrawing the lines of school districts and changing enrollment policies should not be necessary if the goal is to properly educate all children. We need to begin by implementing improved teacher preparation programs that include cultural competency for all teachers and the recruitment of more minority teachers. The fact remains that all children in every school deserves a quality education and anything less should be considered shameful.
Tamiko Jordan has worked in the field of education as a K-12 Spanish teacher, a principal and an educational consultant for the past 20 years. She has also served as an executive in youth development and is the founder of Beyond the Gap.