No, the Evidence Does Not Support Racial ‘Affinity Spaces’ in Schools

Rick Hess:

In schooling, proponents of even suspect pedagogies and practices tend to insist that their preferred approach is “evidence-based.” This seems to be the case, yet again, in the debates swirling around “anti-racist” education. I’ve encountered many claims I find unconvincing, especially when they’re advanced by impassioned advocates who don’t seem to have thought all that much about what constitutes credible evidence. (For more on how I think about evidence, check out my Educational Leadership piecefrom earlier in the spring.)

This has been particularly noticeable when it comes to racial “affinity spaces” and the whole notion that public school systems should be comfortable separating students by race and ethnicity in order to address sensitive issues. Supporters routinely assert that there’s evidence to justify this practice, despite a startling lack of research actually supporting it (more on that in a moment).

For instance, Madison West High School, in Madison, Wisc., has hosted discussions in which students and parents were segregated into groups based on their race. This spring, after one such exercise, the local NBC affiliate published “Experts explain effects of affinity groups,” in which a district spokesperson, the high school principal, and a University of Wisconsin sociology professor all echoed the district’s contention that this is “a well established method.”