This post was submitted by Jennifer Holladay, who lives in Denver and also authored the foreword to Lessons in Integration: Realizing the Promise of Racial Integration in Schools, edited by Erica Frankenberg and Gary Orfield (University of Virginia Press, 2007.)
When third grade CSAP scores for reading were released last week, they revealed much more than students’ proficiency levels. They showed, yet again, that white and more affluent children tend to be concentrated in a certain kind of school, while children of color and those who live in poverty tend to be congregated in another.
The three schools that tied for first place — Bromwell Elementary, Polaris at Ebert Elementary School, and Steck Elementary School — each possess one of the district’s lowest poverty rates (just 8, 9 and 12 percent, respectively, when 73 percent of students in the district qualify for free or reduced lunch). Their student populations also are overwhelmingly white (more than 75 percent white, in a district where fewer than 20 percent of students are.)
On the flip side, the two schools that tied for last place, Barrett Elementary and Place Bridge Academy, are what researchers sometimes categorize as “apartheid schools” — schools that are virtually all “non-white” and where poverty abounds.
Of course, the segregation within Denver Public Schools is no secret. In 2006, the Civil Rights Project, then at Harvard and now at UCLA, released a scathing indictment of the problem within DPS in its report, The End of Keyes: Resegregation Trends and Achievement in the Denver Public Schools. That so many of our students have been, and are, trapped in racially and socioeconomically segregated schools remains cause for concern. After all, research has proven time and again that separate schools are inherently unequal, in terms of students’ educational outcomes and life opportunities.
Still, here in Denver, much of the talk — and action — around school reform seemingly accepts segregation as a permissible norm. That the West Prep and KIPP schools demonstrate success in high-poverty, racially-isolated environments, for example, too often deflects attention away from the fundamental purpose of integrated schooling: Opening the financial, social and political assets bound up in white, middle-class children on the larger, societal stage. (It’s easy to forget, too, that integrated schooling produces meaningful “pro-social” outcomes for students, such as increasing their capacity to thrive in diverse workplaces later in life.)
Looking at demographics for DPS, few schools are what researchers would consider “integrated”- possessing sizable white populations and at least two additional racial or ethnic groups represented in large numbers, with an ultimate mix of about 50 percent white and 50 percent “of color.” This is due, in part, to the reality that white families, especially those with class privilege, disproportionately opt out of public schools. It also relates to housing segregation, which remains pronounced. The situation further reflects a collective lack of political and moral will.
Still, there are a handful of schools holding onto the promise of integrated schooling in Denver: Odyssey Charter Elementary School, Lincoln Elementary and Highline Academy Charter School, the K-8 that my daughter attends, among them. At these three schools, third grade students scored at least 30 percentage points above the district average in reading, placing their schools among the top 10 in DPS on this measure.
Therein lies a lesson many failed to recognize with the release of the third grade, reading CSAP scores last week: A handful of schools that are comparatively white and affluent boasted the top scores, but pocketed among the top performers also are schools that afford increased access and opportunity through purposefully integrated environments.
I, for one, hope this can be a lesson observed, if not finally learned.
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