This week, The Century Foundation announced The Bridges Collaborative, a grassroots effort to improve racial and socioeconomic integration and equity that involves 56 organizations, including 27 school districts of various sizes, geographies and student demographics.
Several charter schools and housing organizations will work with the school districts to build support for integration efforts and serve as a resource center for successful approaches.
Strategies already used by schools to promote diverse student populations include establishing magnet schools and open enrollment programs, adopting new feeder school patterns and building new schools designed to be diverse.
Equal educational opportunities between students of color and White students have not been achieved even six decades after the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, say the initiative's creators. The initiative comes as COVID-19 and heightened awareness of racial injustices have highlighted disparate impacts on students of color.
Even though there is growing support to have students attend schools with peers from different social, economic and racial backgrounds, progress on this front has stalled, and it is often difficult for local communities to work in isolation toward these goals, said the collaborative’s creators.
“Historically, successful social movements and civil rights advances are only achieved when you bring together people from different backgrounds, to share challenges and successes, in a broad-based, multi-racial, multi-class coalition,” wrote Bridges Collaborative Director Stefan Lallinger in an email. Lallinger is also the grandson of Louis Redding, a member of the legal team that argued the Brown case in favor of school desegregation.
Some of the activities the collaborative is planning include opportunities for students from different types of schools to interact digitally during the pandemic; presentations from school integration experts; dissemination of tools for integration efforts; and the development of policy recommendations at the federal and state levels.
The percentage of K-12 public schools that had a majority enrollment of Black or Hispanic students from families with low-incomes rose from 9% in 2000-01 to 16% in 2013-14, according to a 2016 report from the Government Accountability Office. GAO’s analysis also found that schools with larger populations of Black or Hispanic students from families with low-incomes offered disproportionately fewer math, science, and college preparatory courses, compared with other schools.
Additionally, research published this year by the Economic Policy Institute, using data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, shows math performance outcomes from 2017 were lower for students attending high-poverty schools with higher enrollments of students of color, compared to performances of students attending mostly White and low-poverty schools.
Proponents of racial and socioeconomic diversity in schools say students who attend diverse schools perform better academically and can experience other benefits, such as reduced racial prejudice. Last month, the U.S.House of Representatives passed H.R. 2369, the Strength in Diversity Act, that would provide federal funding for voluntary local efforts to increase diversity in schools.
The collaborative plans to look beyond practices that only place diverse groups of children in the same building, and will examine how well students of different backgrounds are served when they are included in mixed settings, Lallinger wrote. “Integration doesn’t mean pro-forma diversity; it means true inclusion, equity, culturally competent education, and staff who reflect the student body, among other things,” Lallinger wrote.
Among the school districts working with The Bridges Collaborative are the Los Angeles Unified School District in Los Angeles, California; New Haven Public Schools in New Haven, Connecticut; and the school choice and parental options office of Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Miami, Florida. The collaborative will meet virtually for the first time Oct. 15 and 16. Two sessions will be open to the public.