More than six decades after Brown v. Board of Education, students of color and those from low-income families are still largely concentrated in poor performing schools that lack resources. Many argue that forced busing and other efforts have failed.
The Hechinger Report spotlighted a school district in the Deep South that offers a lesson on school integration.
Since the 1970s, students in Clinton, Miss. have attended integrated schools that balance race and socioeconomic background. Rather than organizing schools in the district by neighborhoods, Clinton organizes by grade level. In other words, there’s just one school for each grade in the district of about 5,000 students.
Hechinger said the district’s former superintendent Virgil Belue spearheaded that way of organizing schools in the district. He sold the idea to the community and won school board approval—an amazing accomplishment at that time and location.
Back then, White students constituted a majority. Today, Blacks represent 54 percent of students in the district, which also has small percentages of Hispanic, Native Americans and Asian students. About half the students in Clinton come from low-income families, qualifying for free or reduced lunch, according to Hechinger.
Unlike other school districts across the nation in the 1970s, Clinton did not experience White flight when the courts ordered integration.
Belue told Hechinger Report that his plan put White middle-class parents in a position where they had a stake in the school system: “You avoid having schools with wealthy parents supplementing support for one school on one side of town, and none of that going on the other side of town.”
Part of what fueled White flight is that many upper-income White parents feared that integrating with poor Blacks would harm their children academically. That fear continues today.
But research shows that all students benefit from integration. An NPR report says integration does not harm the academic achievement of White students. At the same time, they get a broader worldview and develop greater “empathy and less prejudice” from associating with students of color and lower economic status.
Clinton’s schools have been “an academic powerhouse” across Mississippi, Hechinger reports. Even though poverty has increased in the school district, 85 percent of Clinton’s students graduated high school last year—surpassing the state and national average.
Clinton’s Black students are outperforming Blacks students across Mississippi. Almost 94 percent of them passed the state’s algebra exam during the 2012 – 2013 school year—that’s 15 percent higher than the state’s Black students outside Clinton.
Still, as Hechinger points out, Clinton’s successful integration has not closed the achievement gap. In 2009, 30 percent more White seventh-graders in Clinton scored proficient on English language arts exam than Black students. Four years later, the gap closed to 11 percent. But achievement gaps “remained stubborn” in other areas, such as science.
The Clinton model may not work in some school districts across the nation. But other efforts are underway, including one from President Obama.
Mr. Obama proposed a $120 million line in his 2017 budget for Stronger Together, which offers competitive grants to school districts seeking to create and implement socioeconomic integration plans.