School Segregation Is Increasingly Socioeconomic In Nature

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New research from Duke University documents a trend in North Carolina schools that is also unfolding nationwide: the increasing segregation of public school students by socioeconomic status. From the university’s website:

“According to a study conducted by the Sanford School of Public Policy, the economic imbalance in North Carolina’s schools is rising, even as racial inequity and de facto segregation have begun to level off after years of growth. Both types of disparity, however, prove detrimental to the educational experience, negatively affecting quality and creating disparate curriculums in the state. ‘The biggest concern that you have is that schools serving disadvantaged kids have difficulty recruiting and retaining great teachers,’ said study co-author Jacob Vigdor, professor of public policy and economics.

The study found that schools with high proportions of non-white or low-income students are more likely to have teachers with fewer years of experience and lower scores on teaching exams, and less likely to employ teachers who are National Board certified or graduates of competitive colleges. An additional weakness of economically and racially unequal schools stems from the social environment, said co-author Charles Clotfelter, professor of public policy.

‘Someone who is in a school that is drastically different from the norm will have an experience that is separate from that of most people their age,’ Clotfelter says. ‘They’ll be isolated from the mainstream.’”

In another news article reporting on this study, Clotfelter further elaborates on this point: “When you have schools that are very different, you have children who are getting different educational experiences,” he said. “Race is important, but economic disparities are looming to become of supreme importance.” (Read more here.)

This study reminded me of a conversation I had recently with two friends who’d gone to public schools. Although they both acknowledged that they were “tracked” into a demanding, college-preparatory curriculum that was different from what most of their classmates were studying, they felt that it was nonetheless important that their schools had racial and socioeconomic diversity, that they were all “in the same building” even if not in the same classes. Do you agree? Please share your thoughts.

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2 Responses to “School Segregation Is Increasingly Socioeconomic In Nature”

  1. Don Davis says:

    There are several questions that come to mind when evaluating these sort of findings.
    1. How are teachers evaluated? Is it on the basis of standardized test scores – this is often used as metric and is highly problematic. Does anyone really believe that teachers at high performing schools with 100% passing rates will have the same rates if transfered to a ‘low’ performing school?

    2. It’s very common (and also recommendable) for teachers to teach in neighborhoods they come from. Students from low SES neighborhoods are often not accepted and certainly can’t afford more ‘prestigious’ universities as frequently as students from more affluent neighborhoods. Oh and as far as teachers from affluent backgrounds teaching in low SES schools. Really? We know relevance and sense of belonging is important. Though some teachers from more affluent backgrounds may be able to perform quite well in such environments, it could cause serious problems reifying perceptions of not belonging and “school is for others” for many students who already feel disconnected. Also, what child needs to be looked down upon as a charity project? http://www.theonion.com/articles/my-year-volunteering-as-a-teacher-helped-educate-a,28803/

    3. This is all a bit misleading and does a disservice to many of the hardworking teachers in low SES schools. I’ve taught and supervised in low SES and more affluent schools. The more affluent schools had the higher test scores, but I was far from being amazed at the quality of instruction.

  2. Yes, I do think that it’s valuable to have diversity within the same school building. In my public elementary school growing up, we had a classroom of developmentally disabled kids right next to mine. Although we weren’t in the same classes, I did have opportunities to connect with these folks, and I think it was valuable to learn that it was very possible to find ways to connect and have a relationship with people different from myself.

    I also would add that I did some substitute teaching in Boston Public Schools during my grad school days. We definitely had tracking there, and I taught Advanced classes frequently. I also had times when I taught classes where the ability level was incredibly broad–there would be three or four kids who were always way ahead of the pack and three or four who never seemed to get the time and attention they needed. As a result, I’m always skeptical when people are opposed to tracking.

    So I am definitely in favor of tracking within classes but also believe that a school that has a broad array of kids–racially, socioeconomically, developmentally, etc.–can definitely be a good thing.

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