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What is a “Good” School?


In the endless discussions about schooling since too many LGM commenters will not admit that their actions in securing the “best” education, housing, and other privileges are part of a white supremacist system that only replicates inequality for future generations, one thing that constantly gets discussed is the question of what is a “good” school? Is it necessary for your child to go to a school with AP Physics and AP Chinese to succeed in higher education and in life? The answer is absolutely not, as, among other things, I went to a high school in the early 90s that offered nearly nothing and I’ve done just fine, although anecdote is not data, etc. But in any case, what if instead of securing all the AP classes for your kid, your child might do even better if they simply went to school with poor kids and kids of color who are also not wealthy? There’s at least some evidence for this point:

On average, students in socioeconomically and racially diverse schools—regardless of a student’s own economic status—have stronger academic outcomes than students in schools with concentrated poverty

Students in integrated schools have higher average test scores. On the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) given to fourth graders in math, for example, low-income students attending more affluent schools scored roughly two years of learning ahead of low-income students in high-poverty schools.1 Controlling carefully for students’ family background, another study found that students in mixed-income schools showed 30 percent more growth in test scores over their four years in high school than peers with similar socioeconomic backgrounds in schools with concentrated poverty.2

Students in integrated schools are more likely to enroll in college. When comparing students with similar socioeconomic backgrounds, those students at more affluent schools are 68 percent more likely to enroll at a four-year college than their peers at high-poverty schools.3

Students in integrated schools are less likely to drop out. Dropout rates are significantly higher for students in segregated, high-poverty schools than for students in integrated schools.4 During the height of desegregation in the 1970s and 1980s, dropout rates decreased for minority students, with the greatest decline in dropout rates occurring in districts that had undergone the largest reductions in school segregation.5

Integrated schools help to reduce racial achievement gaps. In fact, the racial achievement gap in K–12 education closed more rapidly during the peak years of school desegregation in the 1970s and 1980s than it has overall in the decades that followed—when many desegregation policies were dismantled.6 More recently, black and Latino students had smaller achievement gaps with white students on the 2007 and 2009 NAEP when they were less likely to be stuck in high-poverty school environments.7 The gap in SAT scores between black and white students continues to be larger in segregated districts, and one study showed that change from complete segregation to complete integration in a district could reduce as much as one quarter of the current SAT score disparity.8 A recent study from Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis confirmed that school segregation is one of the most significant drivers of the racial achievement gap.9

Integrated classrooms encourage critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity. We know that diverse classrooms, in which students learn cooperatively alongside those whose perspectives and backgrounds are different from their own, are beneficial to all students—including middle-class white students—because these environments promote creativity, motivation, deeper learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.10


Attending a diverse school can help reduce racial bias and counter stereotypes. Children are at risk of developing stereotypes about racial groups if they live in and are educated in racially isolated settings. By contrast, when school settings include students from multiple racial groups, students become more comfortable with people of other races, which leads to a dramatic decrease in discriminatory attitudes and prejudices.11

Students who attend integrated schools are more likely to seek out integrated settings later in life. Integrated schools encourage relationships and friendships across group lines. According to one study, students who attend racially diverse high schools are more likely to live in diverse neighborhoods five years after graduation.12

Integrated classrooms can improve students’ satisfaction and intellectual self-confidence. Research on diversity at the college level shows that when students have positive experiences interacting with students of other backgrounds and view the campus racial and cultural climate as affirming, they emerge with greater confidence in their own academic abilities.13

At least to me, these seem like outright positive educational outcomes. And I doubt anyone here really disagrees, at least in theory. But even if you have secured this for your child, as the nation’s parents rapidly resegregate, it’s abundantly clear that most white parents have not and do not see value in this. The question is what do we do to combat the white supremacy at the heart of American parenting and how do we push back on a rather narrow and inherently racist and classist definition of what makes up a “good” school?

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