Legally speaking, American public schools must be integrated, meaning that no student is turned away based on skin color. Once upon a time, simple integration was seen as the answer to the problem of minority students receiving an education that was far inferior to the education provided to white students. Over the years, though, the idea of integration as a way to level the playing field and improve racial equality in America has proven to be easier said than done. Today, since so many neighborhoods are still separated by race and economics, many schools reflect these divides. Unfortunately, these divides have resulted in most of our worst-performing schools being located in poorer, largely minority neighborhoods. This lack of diversity and still-lopsided playing field in terms of public education is a problem that we must find a way to remedy or risk falling further behind the rest of the world in terms of the ability of our young people to succeed in an increasingly diverse world where quality education is critical, as is the ability to confidently face a world where we’ll meet and work with people from all races and economic backgrounds.
The first step in correcting the problem is acknowledging it. The focus can’t be only on a school’s demographics; it also needs to be on academic quality. In other words, just saying that a school has a racially-diverse student body isn’t enough. Instead, focus needs to be on making sure that all children have access to a high-quality public education. Too often, the best performing schools are in mostly-white, higher-income neighborhoods. There is absolutely no reason that the United States should not commit whatever resources are necessary to ensure that all public schools offer the same quality of education. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that higher-income white students are any more likely to achieve academic success than lower-income minority students. The reason that so many test scores seem to say otherwise is due to the quality of the schools, not the ability of the students.
Many argue that redrawing school districts to force a more diverse student body is the solution. Again, though, this won’t benefit all students. Any minority students sent to higher performing schools will surely benefit, but those left at or sent to lower-performing schools will remain below par or quickly get there. Many charter schools, including some in racially diverse and lower-income areas, have proven that race and financial class don’t have to be factors that affect a student’s chances to learn and succeed in school.
Finding ways to make all public schools racially diverse and first-class in terms of education offered is the best, maybe the only, way to ever really level the playing field for all Americans. Additionally, students of all races who come from racially-diverse, high-performing schools tend to have an easier time adjusting to college or university life, as colleges and universities tend to be very racially and culturally diverse. Those who go straight to the workforce from high school also benefit because they are already completely comfortable with the racial diversity that they’ll face “in the real world.”
In short, if we want an America where every child has an equal opportunity at academic success, we need to find a way to ensure that no school is allowed to offer its students a lesser-quality education simply because those students are not white and/or come from low-income households.