In recent decades American schools have been becoming more segregated. What can be done about it? A recent report by researchers at the Graduate School of Education (GSE) found that most parents support the idea of racially and economically integrated schools for their children, but parents who have a wider range of choice tend to make decisions that leave more segregated schools in their wake. Published by Making Caring Common, a project of the Ed School, the report was written by Ph.D. student Eric Torres and Richard Weissbourd, senior lecturer on education. The Gazette talked to Weissbourd and Torres about their report, and how parents and school districts could do more to help further school integration.
Eric Torres and Richard Weissbourd
GAZETTE: You conducted a national survey of more than 2,500 American parents about school integration and found good news and bad news. What findings struck you most?
TORRES: The good news is that a lot of parents across different demographic groups are saying they want integrated schools for their children; they say they want integration in principle. But that obviously leads into some of the bad news, which is that they aren’t prioritizing integration in the values they look for in a school. While things like academic achievement or a school’s academic performance, safety, and enrichment activities tend to rank pretty high, the levels of integration of a school tend to be lower on their list of priorities.
WEISSBOURD: I was struck by the breadth of support for integration. It’s across demographic groups, political affiliation; it’s across Republicans and Democrats and across race and ethnicities. The breadth of the support was greater than I imagined, but the depth of the support was less than I imagined it would be. What is concerning to me is that people do want integration, but they rank it low compared to other factors, including enrichment activities, transportation, discipline, and a whole set of other things.
GAZETTE: Why do parents prioritize other factors rather than school integration?
WEISSBOURD: One of the things we want to emphasize is that these are very hard decisions. Most parents we talked to are well-meaning and really want to send their kids to integrated schools, but there are several things that get in the way. One is that sometimes in the district there are not good choices for them. Another thing that gets in the way is misinformation. White, advantaged parents hear about schools within their bubble, and that bubble may have misinformation. They tend not to talk to parents who are different from them. They sometimes rely on websites that have average scores on standardized tests, which are not good indicators of school quality. Parents also appear to be prone to different biases. For example, many white, advantaged parents appear to make a judgment about a school’s quality based on the number of other white, advantaged parents who are at that school. They’re reluctant to have their kids be a minority in the school, but somebody has to be a minority. This is a puzzle with lots of pieces, and what we’re trying to figure out is why, if parents say they want integration, schools are becoming more segregated.