Why we must shed old fears of changing school boundaries to help poor and minority kids

Jay Matthews:

Educators and community leaders who wanted to help low-income students no longer tried to move them into better schools. Instead, they focused on improving schools in impoverished neighborhoods. Their work has been at the center of my reporting. They have had successes, but news of their progress has spread slowly.

Ignoring the segregated state of our education systemhas led some people to assume it is a natural situation — that perhaps there’s nothing wrong with students attending schools full of other students who look like themselves.

The lines that divide: School district boundaries often stymie integration

Nothing challenges such thinking more effectively than a new study by Tomás Monarrez and Carina Chien of the Urban Institute, titled “Dividing Lines: Racially Unequal School Boundaries in US Public School Systems.”

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Most of us probably don’t know — like I didn’t, before reading the think tank’s report — that if you study the history of school boundaries that divide neighborhoods by income and ethnicity, many reflect the redlining maps issued by a federal agency, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), in the 1930s and 1940s. Scholars disagree over whether President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who founded the agency as a New Deal initiative, can be blamed for making neighborhoods look bad on those maps, but there is little doubt that labeling some areas as “hazardous” for mortgage loans hurt the local schools.

Monarrez and Chien say they found more than 2,000 pairs of neighboring public schools that “are vastly different in terms of the racial and ethnic composition of the population living on either side of the boundary.”

Full report.

Madison has not addressed boundaries for decades. Yet, we recently expanded our least diverse schools, despite space in nearby facilities.