The Integration Report, issue 5

March 10, 2008

The recently approved diversity plans in Iowa (see TIR, issue 4) raise an important issue in the discussion of post-Seattle/Louisville student assignment. As school districts around the country seek to maintain their voluntary racial integration plans, one notion growing in popularity is that socioeconomic status (SES) can be used as a means to maintain racially desegregated schools. As this idea gains ground in many communities, TIR decided it would be valuable to examine whether income-based student assignment policies can produce levels of racial integration similar to those established under prior desegregation plans. SES is, of course, not the only available alternative. School districts can use race directly or as part of a multi-dimensional strategy that considers test scores, neighborhood representation, ELL status and/or a myriad of other variables.

SES has long been established as a critical factor in predicting academic success for individual students and for schools.1 There is strong evidence that students from high-poverty households face many educational challenges, including a lack of access to material resources like books and computers at home and less frequent contact with early literacy skills that promote vocabulary development.2 Schools of concentrated poverty are often hard-pressed to overcome these challenges in the pursuit of equal educational opportunity.

In light of these research findings, the point can certainly be made that SES diversity stands on its own merit. On the other hand, the academic and social benefits of integration by race consistently point towards enduring societal effects for students that were products of such schools (i.e. better educational and occupational outcomes). Some of these effects, such as learning to live and work effectively in multiracial settings, cannot, by their very definition, be accomplished in racially segregated schools regardless of their SES diversity.3

It is widely accepted that race and class are highly correlated in the United States. For this reason, some researchers suggest that SES integration could serve as a proxy for racial integration.4 A number of complicating factors make this an incorrect assumption for many districts. First, although race and class are highly interconnected, this relationship varies from place-to-place, and in no metropolitan or rural area are they perfectly correlated.5 Studies show that SES integration is more likely to produce racial integration in regions with large income disparities that are also tied with race.6 An analysis of data from SES desegregation studies shows, however, that these plans are unable to desegregate racially segregated, nonwhite, middle-class areas, which often have inferior schools. A desegregation plan that would send black or Latino families, specifically those who had just achieved lower middle class status, back to schools with many poor minority students would be problematic. Further complicating the issue, a recent article in the New York Times suggests that the negative social stigma for students who receive free and reduced-price lunch (particularly in high school) raises real issues for districts attempting to use subsidized meals as a basis for student assignment by SES.7

The degree to which residential segregation dictates school assignment policies is a second factor that plays a crucial role in determining whether SES integration will produce racially diverse schools. Studies of housing patterns across the United States suggest that black residential segregation remains high across all socioeconomic levels.8 For example, research from the Boston area found that a black family making $60,000/year was more likely to live in a neighborhood with higher poverty and lower educational attainment than a white family making $30,000/year.9 As a result, neighborhood assignment plans that consider geographic proximity to school, in addition to income, are apt to yield SES-integrated school environments still highly segregated by race. Arbitrary boundary lines between school districts further reinforce residential and school segregation.10 An examination of 89 of the 100 largest school districts in the U.S. highlighted these very issues. Findings suggested that SES integration – as measured by the percent of students receiving free and reduced-price lunch – would not produce substantial racial integration in those areas.11 Specific policies can help a district mitigate the effects of residential segregation, like free access to transportation for all students coupled with a system of managed choice. Absent such measures, students under an income-based assignment policy tend to end up attending schools near their homes in racially segregated neighborhoods.12

In conclusion, while SES integration may produce academic and social gains distinct from the documented benefits of racial diversity, research suggests that income-based student assignment does not necessarily create or maintain racially integrated schools. In our ongoing examination of the various plans being developed around the country, we have highlighted many districts currently in the process of adopting some measure of SES as part of their revised plans. Using SES as a basis for student assignment without also considering some measure of race or ethnicity will not guarantee continued racial integration. In fact, the resegregation of the San Francisco Unified School District13 is a case study that will be examined in the next issue of TIR. Before approving a new diversity plan, districts should carefully examine their demographic contexts in order to determine which factor or combination of factors best maintains racial diversity.

For next time…
The latest research suggests that certain poverty and income indicators work better than others if districts decide to use SES as a factor in their student assignment policies. The next issue of TIR will highlight the pros and cons of each of these poverty indicators, in addition to examining other strategies that may help to improve racial integration under SES assignment policies.

Genevieve Siegel-Hawley
The Integration Report

1 Coleman, James S. Equality of Educational Opportunity (COLEMAN) STUDY (EEOS), 1966; Gottlieb, A. (2002). The Case for Socioeconomic School Integration. Denver, CO: The Piton Foundation. Rumberger R. and G. Palardy (2002). Does segregation (still) matter? The impact of student composition on academic achievement in high school. Teachers College Record, 109(9), 1999-2045.
2 U.S. Department of Education. Promising Results, Continuing Challenges: Final Report of the National Assessment of Title I, retrieved on March 3, 2008 at
3 Statement submitted by 553 Social Scientists, in PARENTS INVOLVED IN COMMUNITY SCHOOLS v. SEATTLE SCHOOL DIST. NO. 1 No. 05-908.
4 Kahlenberg, R. (2001). All together now: Creating middle-class schools through public school choice. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
5 Interview with Nicholas Lemman on Testing and Meritocracy (1995). Retrieved on March 6, 2008 at
6 Reardon, Sean, John Yun and Michal Kurlaender (2006). “Implications of Income-based School Assignment Policies for Racial School Segregation”. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 49-75.
7 Pogash, Carol. “Free lunch isn’t cool, so some students go hungry.” New York Times, 1 March 2008, retrieved on March 6, 2008 at
8 Logan, John (October 2002). Separate and Unequal: The Neighborhood Gap for Blacks and Hispanics in Metropolitan America. Albany: NY: Lewis Mumford Center, University of Albany.
9 Logan, J., Oakley, D. and Stowell, J. (2003). Segregation in Neighborhoods and Schools: Impacts on Minority Children in the Boston Region. Albany, NY: Lewis Mumford Center.
10 Orfield, Gary (1996). Metropolitan School Desegregation: Impacts on Metropolitan Society, Minnesota Law Review, 80, 129.
11 Reardon, Yun and Kurlaender, pp. 49-75.
12 Reardon, Yun and Kurlaender, p. 68.
13 Still Looking to the Future: Voluntary K-12 School Integration, p. 57.


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News Summary

Please send us your news
Please send reports, documents, and decisions from your community to The Integration Report, Editor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, at Include web links if they are available.

Judge to hear challenge to desegregation plan
As Jefferson County Public Schools continues to inform the community about its new plans to assign students, a federal judge yesterday agreed to hear a challenge about whether the school district’s temporary desegregation plan for the coming school year illegally uses race to assign students.

JCPS assignment plan again facing hurdles
The Jefferson County Public School’s student assignment proposals are getting nods from around the community, but now it will be tested in the courtroom.

Jeff school staffs wary of changes: Desegregation plan to bring transfers
At last week’s meeting, just before the School Board unanimously approved the order, the focus shifted abruptly from children to adults — or more specifically to the district’s faculty, who also would undergo some considerable changes, should the order be approved by a federal judge next month.

Desegregation order lifted from a school in Brooklyn
A federal judge on Friday lifted a 1974 desegregation order for a Brooklyn middle school, effectively eliminating racial quotas that had been in place at Mark Twain Intermediate School for more than three decades.

Unitary status deadline looms
Parties involved in the revision process of the 2000 desegregation agreement of Jackson-Madison County Schools will review proposed changes to the agreement in a telephone conference with a federal judge on Friday. Friday is the deadline for plaintiffs, the schools and the U.S. Department of Justice to reach an agreement to seek partial unitary status, according to court records.

Magnet plan alive without grant: Title I cash to help convert 4 schools
Despite losing out on a federal desegregation grant designed to pump millions of dollars into four struggling elementary schools, the Jefferson Parish School Board is plowing ahead with its plan to convert those campuses into specialized magnet schools.

Arizona teachers lag in ethnic diversity
As Arizona’s population grows and changes, the ethnic diversity of teachers across the state isn’t matching the demographics in their classrooms. And while many experts see this as an old problem being exacerbated by population growth, some districts are starting new efforts to attract a more diverse pool to the state.

Woman vividly recalls school desegregation as part of Norfolk 17
Like all good teachers do, Patricia Turner starts her story at the beginning: The Massive Resistance and the Norfolk 17.

Desegregation plan draws mixed reaction
School district presents its proposal at forums
Reaction to Jefferson County Public Schools’ proposed student-assignment plan was mixed yesterday at the first of five forums for parents and residents.

Uni High taking diversity seriously
Unlike most public schools, Uni High is selective. Its population isn’t confined to students from one town, but to students from around the area who’ve excelled at tests and grades and essays. The population of this public school doesn’t fully represent the population it’s meant to serve. With that in mind, matching the picture of Champaign County to that of the Uni student population has become a greater priority for staff and students.

Schools of Choice get new entrance criteria: Economic status, not race, now part of consideration
Lafayette Parish schools will use the economic status of students when it comes time to determine who gets into Schools of Choice programs. Schools of Choice – part of a plan that gained the district unitary status after decades under a desegregation order – could no longer just consider race because of a Supreme Court decision.

Hearing today on school redistricting plan in Jefferson
At the heart of the Jefferson Parish school system’s proposed desegregation order lies a simple, utopian goal: to strike a racial balance between black and white students at nearly every school in the system.

Jeff parents wary of school transfer changes
The Jefferson Parish school system’s revised desegregation order calls for a number of comprehensive, system wide changes, ranging from reconfigured attendance zones to a revamped facilities policy. But one change already has raised red flags for some parents: the decision to ditch the district’s long-standing policy regarding student transfer permits and recast it with more stringent standards.

Pulaski County schools facing time of decision over desegregation plans
Magnet schools and the interdistrict student transfer program put in place 20 years ago to help racially desegregate Pulaski County’s public schools in Arkansas are at a legal and financial crossroads.

Desegregation agreement passes: School Board votes 6-2 to approve revised agreement
The Jackson-Madison County School Board approved a revised desegregation agreement during Thursday night’s monthly meeting.

Please send us your news
Please send reports, documents, and decisions from your community to The Integration Report, Editor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, at Include web links if they are available.

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Additional Resources for School Integration

Talking Points for Race-Neutral Alternatives
For further guidance in understanding and explaining why race-neutral alternatives are problematic, please visit The Opportunity Agenda/Legal Defense Fund’s “talking points” at

The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) and the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles (CRP/PDC) are currently distributing their collaboratively-written manual, Preserving Integration Options for Latino Students, a guide for parents, advocates and educators interested in promoting diversity and addressing the harms of Latino racial isolation in their schools.
To download the manual or for additional information, visit or

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles (CRP) have co-produced the second edition of their K-12 school integration manual entitled Still Looking to the Future: Voluntary K-12 School Integration; A Manual for Parents, Educators and Advocates. The Manual addresses the practical questions of what can be done to promote diversity and address the harms of racial isolation in schools.
To download the manual, visit or
To request hard copies or CDs of the manual and supplemental materials, please send an e-mail with your contact information and the number of copies requested to

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles (CRP) have co-produced the release of Still Looking to the Future: Voluntary K-12 School Integration; A Manual for Parents, Educators and Advocates. The Manual addresses the practical questions of what parents, advocates and educators can now do to promote diversity and address the harms of racial isolation in their schools.
To download the manual or for additional information, please visit LDF’s School Integration website at the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles website at.
To request hard copies or CDs of the manual and supplemental materials, please send an e-mail with your contact information and the number of copies requested to

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The Integration Report – Staff Members

Editor – Genevieve Siegel-Hawley
Editorial Assistant – Jared Sanchez
Editorial Committee – Erica Frankenberg, Gary Orfield, Laurie Russman
Webmaster – John Khuu

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Key Terms

Income-based student assignment – students are assigned to schools based on some measure of family income. The most commonly used measure is whether or not a student qualifies for free or reduced lunch prices.
Managed choice – student assignment plans that attempt to provide choice to parents in a manner that continues to promote racial integration. Controlled choice plans usually replace neighborhood attendance districts with larger zones.
Neighborhood assignment plans – refers to student assignment plan that relies on a child’s proximity to their nearest school. This assignment method reinforces existing residential segregation, which remains high in many metropolitan areas.
Seattle/Louisville decisionParents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No.1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education was decided by the Supreme Court in June, 2007. The decision limited the use of race in student assignment plans.
SES integration – same as income-based student assignment.

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The Integration Report is produced by the Initiative on School Integration at The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, and is supported by a grant from the Open Society Institute.

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