The Integration Report, issue 6

April 1, 2008

In this latest issue of TIR, we continue to analyze the complex nature of socioeconomic (SES) diversity plans. One of the critical issues for SES integration strategies deals with the way student poverty is measured in a given district. Rather than ask families to submit annual income reports, a requirement that some families might find invasive, most school systems measure poverty by using whether children qualify for free or reduced-price lunch at the school and district level.

In order for students to be considered eligible for free or reduced lunch prices, family income must fall within a set of guidelines established yearly by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). For 2007-08, the federal poverty level for a family of three was $17,170. To qualify for reduced priced meals, that family of three would have to fall within 185% of the poverty level, with an annual income at or below $31,765. To receive free meals, annual income must be within 130% of the federal poverty level, or $26,845.1

The inaccuracy of the free and reduced-price lunch measure is highlighted by the fact that it draws a rather arbitrary line in the sand. What of the children whose families fall within 186% of the poverty line? Are they so much better off than the students in the bracket just beneath them who do qualify? This abrupt cut-off results in just two groups of children – those who are eligible and those who are not.2 The ineligible group is comprised of students from vastly different socioeconomic classes, from those just above the poverty line to the very wealthy.

Further compounding the use of free and reduced-price lunch as a tool to identify children living in poverty, research has demonstrated that these statistics become an increasingly problematic measure as children move into the upper grades. Findings from past studies suggest that the social stigma attached to free and reduced-price lunch effectively deters many qualifying older students.3 High school students are particularly susceptible to social pressure, as noted by a recent New York Times article, “Free lunch isn’t cool, so some students go hungry.”.4

What alternative measures of child poverty exist? Though it requires a proactive effort on the part of the school district, family income data presents a more accurate evaluation of student wealth and poverty. Rather than classifying children as one or the other – rich or poor – family income reports would provide districts with the opportunity to distinguish between a wide range of student socioeconomic backgrounds. Neighborhood characteristics offer another way to think about poverty. For example, since 2004, Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) in California uses census data to determine parent income and education levels in a given geographic area, and assigns students to schools partly based on that socioeconomic information – along with racial/ethnic background and language and disability status.5 Jefferson County, Kentucky’s new plan also examines parent income and education levels in its consideration of neighborhood composition (see TIR, issue 3 for further discussion of Jefferson County School District’s diversity plan). Importantly, both Jefferson County and BUSD include the racial/ethnic composition of a neighborhood in their diversity plans. The integrative success of the plan in BUSD – Jefferson County’s won’t be implemented until this fall – stands in sharp contrast to the rapid resegregation and decline in student achievement that has occurred in the neighboring city of San Francisco. San Francisco stopped using race as a factor in student assignments in 2001, replacing it with a “diversity index” that takes into account SES, student achievement, home language and extreme poverty.6 The diversity index has not been effective in preventing new segregation patterns from taking root in San Francisco schools.

Research shows that districts relying on a continuous measure of family income would be likely to produce more SES diversity at the school level. However, system-wide plans that mandate a very limited school-level range of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch help to maintain both SES and racial diversity.7 For example, a district that requires every school to stay within 5 percentage points above or below the average number of students eligible for free and reduced lunch prices will maintain more accurate levels of SES diversity than a district requiring its schools to stay within plus or minus 15 percentage points of that average.

While free and reduced-price lunch data is the most easily accessible poverty statistic in a school district, it presents a host of challenges that may very well derail the integrative goals of an SES diversity plan. Alternative ways of thinking about child poverty should be considered before relying heavily on this one rather problematic measure.

For next time…
The next issue of TIR will examine socioeconomic integration in action, as the Report examines the SES diversity plans used in Wake County (Raleigh) and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Genevieve Siegel-Hawley
The Integration Report

1 These numbers were obtained from the Income Eligibility Guidelines, available on the USDA website at, p. 3.
2 Statement submitted by 553 Social Scientists, 2006, App. 46.
3 Marples, C.A., & Spillman, D.M. (1995). “Factors affecting students’ participation in the Cincinnati Public Schools lunch program”. Adolescence, 30, 745-753.
4 Pogash, Carol. “Free lunch isn’t cool, so some students go hungry.” New York Times, 1 March 2008, retrieved on March 6, 2008 at
5 Still Looking to the Future: Voluntary K-12 School Integration, p. 47.
6 Ibid, p. 56.
7 Kahlenberg, Richard (2007). Rescuing Brown v. Board of Education: Profiles of Twelve School Districts Pursuing Socioeconomic School Integration. Washington, D.C.: Century Foundation, Reardon, S., J. Yun, and M. Kurlaender. (2006). “Implications of Income-Based School Assignment Policies for Racial School Segregation.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 28(1).


Click to navigate to desired section.

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.

School board diversity lags as minority population swells
Alama Uluave doesn’t need to remind himself that he’s the only minority serving on the seven-member Salt Lake City Board of Education. He’s reminded of that fact by people in his neighborhood all the time.

Area high school conference tackles diversity issues
More than 200 students attend event

A Green Bay student diversity conference topics run the gamut of diversity issues — race and ethnicity as a small part — and acts as an opportunity for the 25 schools representing all parts of the region to mingle and exchange ideas.

Parent of 2 fights new zones in Ascension
A man whose two children attend classes in Ascension Parish (Louisiana) public schools filed a lawsuit against the School Board on Friday, accusing it of “gerrymandering” school attendance zones by adopting a new plan that discriminates against minority students.

USD 501 transfer program appears safe despite ruling
A transfer program aimed at improving the racial diversity in Topeka schools may be unaffected by a 2007 Supreme Court decision that seemed to call into question the district’s decade-old practice.

JCPS informs parents about student assignment
More than two-dozen parents came out on a rainy night tonight for the fourth forum on Jefferson County Public Schools’ proposed student-assignment plan. The district’s new plan would consider race, income and education equally to keep schools integrated.

Greater good should be goal of school desegregation
Half a century after that landmark decision, schools are resegregating along racial lines. And with a ruling last summer, the court nearly reversed itself, saying school districts can no longer use racial balance alone to limit transfers in and out.

Desegregation more complicated than black and white
Nineteen years after a court order mandated desegregation of the Natchez (Mississippi) public schools, and five years after the order was lifted, the Natchez school district is nearly entirely populated by just one race. The district is 89.9 percent black, a percentage that has steadily increased since 2001. It is 9.4 percent white, .5 percent Hispanic and .2 percent Asian.

McKinney school board approves debated attendance plan
The McKinney school board (Dallas, TX) unanimously approved a contentious attendance-zone plan Monday night that will continue a practice of busing middle school students throughout the district using children’s SES status.

Race, class issues arise in Prince George’s County school-boundary dispute as zoning changes unfold
A dispute over new school boundaries in Prince George’s County (DC) has exposed fresh anger with the county’s old practice of zoning students more by race and class than by proximity to the school.

Teacher fights to integrate, equalize education
Iowa public schools have a long history of teachers fostering racial diversity among the staff and student body.

Has reality of school integration matched its lofty promise?
After 46 years, the dual school systems of black and white in Orlando have been dismantled but there still remains serious opposition in the location of black segregated schools.,0,1930485.story

Two crowded schools may resort to busing
Two schools in the Tampa, FL area may need to relieve overcrowding in segregated minority schools and move 338 students to predominately white New Tampa.

City needs diversity in magnets
As the latest rounds of negotiations continue in the decades-long Sheff v. O’Neill court case to desegregate Hartford schools, there is concern about how to attract more white suburban parents to the new city magnet schools.,0,3475823.column

Judge refuses to strike down school integration plan
A temporary plan to keep Jefferson County Public Schools desegregated next year survived its first legal challenge yesterday when a federal judge refused to strike it down.

Judge is asked to halt schools plan
Incensed over the Jefferson Parish School Board’s decision to vote for a desegregation consent order without fully understanding its ramifications, a group of West Bank parents is seeking an injunction to stop the order from going into effect.

Bill advances to limit use of race in diversity plans
Iowa would eliminate school open enrollment desegregation plans based entirely upon race under a proposal that advanced at the Statehouse on Tuesday.

Court-ordered racial balance remains the rule for Franklin schools
Parents pursue the termination of a desegregation order in Franklin County, South Carolina; the last remaining order under federal supervision in the state.

Commission rejects desegregation agreement
The Madison County (TN) Commission voted to tell a federal judge that commissioners oppose a new agreement approved by the school board for shepherding county schools out from under a decades-old desegregation lawsuit.

Judge rejects Jeff school decree
In an unexpected twist, a federal judge refused to sign a controversial proposed consent decree Friday that would have helped resolve a decades-old desegregation suit in the Jefferson Parish public school system, saying that the document failed to provide a “narrowly tailored solution” to fully desegregate the district and root out pockets of racial inequality.

Brown Power Base Project fights to desegregate schools
Brown Power Base Project (BPBP), a group whose goal is to desegregate schools in Minnesota, advocates an integration plan to the state legislature.

Group appeals student assignment ruling
A public interest legal organization has appealed an Alameda County judge’s ruling that says that the Berkeley Unified school district does not violate state law when it considers race as one of many factors in assigning students to schools.

School Board vents about ruling
Still reeling from a federal judge’s decision last week to reject a proposed court decree that would have put the district on the path toward fully desegregated status, members of the Jefferson Parish School Board met Monday to publicly vent their concerns about the setback.

Legacy of segregation still seen in some US schools
Suburban communities outside Detroit hope to maintain racial balance within schools while minority school enrollment is increasing.

Schools will seek clarity on ruling
The Pitt County school system in North Carolina filed a motion Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Greenville asking federal judges to approve the its use of race in the 2006-07 school assignment plan.

Board chairman suggests board ask Appeals Court to lift desegregation order
The chairman of the Calhoun County School Board, South Carolina wants to appeal directly to the courts to get the district’s long-standing desegregation order rescinded.

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.

Return to top

Additional Resources for School Integration

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles (CRP) have published 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 or for additional information, please 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 Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) and the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles (CRP/PDC) have co-produced an integration resource, Preserving Integration Options for Latino Students, a manual 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, please visit or

Return to top

The Integration Report – Staff Members

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

Return to top

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.

Logo for The CRP/PDC

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: