The New York Times has an article in the Metropolitan section that illustrates this point nicely.
The piece is first an exercise in shoddy journalism. It begins by suggesting that New York City is one of "the most segregated" school systems in the country. There are no statistics to back this up, or any more specific measure of segregation. The author quotes critics of the system (who include Gary Orfield of UCLA and Diane Ravitch) who fault the city for not making integration more of a priority. Indeed, the NYT reporter swallows their criticisms whole, asserting that "decades of research studies show that children perform better in integrated schools." Again no numbers, no citations of any studies. Who performs better? On what tests? Under what circumstances? The evidence for the educational benefits of diversity is, at best, inconclusive, but you would never find that out from reading this several thousand word treatise.
It is nice to see at least that schools chancellor Dennis Walcott offers a sensible answer to these critics. "I am focused on having high-quality schools in all neighborhoods. That's the ultimate civil rights policy." And there is no acknowledgment in the piece that kids in some of the city's high-performing charter schools are outperforming peers across the city despite the fact that they are almost entirely made up of minority kids.
The article goes on to talk about how some magnet schools in the city are fighting this segregation trend. These schools receive federal dollars to adopt some kind of "theme" that will supposedly attract students from outside of the district. At PS 257, which is in a predominantly Hispanic district, they have used their money for a music program. They have managed to attract from outside the district 4 white kids and 3 Asian kids in a kindergarten class of 100. Parents are presumably supposed to be impressed with the school's "tirelessly chirpy assistant principal . . . a former club promoter who designed the school's [music] program." His goal is to "make school fun."
And what about the academics? Well, there is a minor issue. The school is being investigated by the Education Department over accusations of cheating on the New York State exams. It turns out that a number of students' scores "plummeted when they reached middle school."
The reporter says it is not clear whether this investigation will have any effect on parent interest in the school. And the principal says he was unaware of these accusations. If the parents don't start to wonder about the school because of this investigation, that is a problem. And if they don't start to wonder about a school whose principal is unaware of this investigation, that is also a problem.
The administrators (and the reporter) can't get over the fact that more parents don't care about diversity. A principal of one of the other magnet schools complains that not enough white parents from other neighborhoods are considering her school. "They don't come to a school that's basically a Hispanic school because it's like everybody else -- they're looking for a school that looks like them." Again, the reporter does not ask for the evidence to support this assertion. Are white parents unwilling to send their kids to high-performing schools because they are too diverse? Perhaps not. The same principal goes on to add "a lot of [white parents] are looking for gifted and talented programs." Well that sounds a little more understandable than just saying I want the kids at the school to look like my kid.
1 thought on ““High-quality schools in all neighborhoods” trumps diversity any day”
There is indeed little or no evidence that “diversity” has educational benefits. See this Supreme Court amicus brief on behalf of David Armor and Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom: http://www.thernstrom.com/pdf/Amicus_Brief.pdf
See also the Thernstroms’ book, No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning.