How does school segregation – fueled by property lines, income, and zoning – impact the quality of education of our students? What can we do to better diversify our classrooms?

Though we, as a nation, have made tremendous progress in terms of creating a more inclusive environment when it comes to our education system in terms of racial equality and inclusion, there’s still a long road ahead of us.

More than half of students are in districts considered “racially concentrated,” which is defined as a district that either has more than 75% white students or non-white students. Even more, 2020 data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics’ National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that black students are also in economically segregated schools. Less than one in three white students (31.3%) attend a high-poverty school, compared with more than seven in 10 black students (72.4%).

School segregation is no longer enforced by the outdated – and, more importantly, outlawed – prohibition of students of color and white students from attending the same schools. Instead, there’s a heavy indication that it’s more caused by intentional government policies, including discriminatory housing policies, school district mapping, and funding allocations.

The Connection Between Income & Education

The main explanation behind classroom segregation is linked to the absence of public policies encouraging community integration and a more diversified socioeconomic landscape within a given school district. For example, black and Hispanic students are most likely to live in districts and attend schools where most of the student population is of the same race. While both evenness and exposure measures of segregation are valuable, the recent rise in exposure-based measures of segregation and racial isolation should be of particular concern for policymakers who don’t seem to grasp the essentialness of such.

Income-based school segregation and measures of educational segregation by means of determining one’s living ‘zone’ based on income level have risen in recent decades – and have been further exploited by the coronavirus pandemic.

While increasing income-based educational segregation limits educational opportunities for working- and middle-class students of all races, black and Hispanic students who face “double segregation” by both race and income are most affected.

Impacts of Classroom Segregation

One main criticism of school segregation is that it creates a system where all students receive a lower quality education, as students of color are more likely to attend schools with fewer resources, funding, and less opportunity to learn in diversified/exposure-based classrooms.

Research from the National Coalition on School Diversity (NCSD) found integrated schools offer many advantages — not only to students of ‘lower-income’ families but to all. On average, diversified and inclusive educational institutions function at a higher level, with greater parent involvement, less teacher turnover, and more and better-quality resources.

Students at integrated schools not only achieve at higher levels in virtually all studies of education, but they also benefit in nonacademic ways, including the following:

  • Decreased levels of racial and ethnic prejudice
  • Improved ability to navigate multicultural environments
  • A break in stereotypes and fears about other races and ethnic groups passed down between generations
  • Better overall health and well-being

Steps to Ending Classroom Segregation

Though we understand that things like zoning changes, policy mandates, and complete educational overhauls involve painfully slow processes, it is part of our mission at the Central Alabama Fair Housing Council to continually advocate and provide education, outreach, and resources for those impacted by FHA discrimination – which includes educational discrimination and extends to the rights of our children and families – to ensure fair treatment, justification, and the end of discrimination.

Various leaders in education have pinpointed solutions and measures to help mitigate and put an end to classroom segregation, and to further diversify our classroom spaces, including the following measures:

  • Addressing transportation needs to allow various communities and neighborhoods within or surrounding a district access to an educational institution
  • Building schools using a 50-50 enrollment model based on family income
  • Redrawing attendance zone lines or eliminating them altogether
  • Adding specialized academic programs to encourage enrollment among diverse socioeconomic groups