Friday, May 22, 2009

Race-Conscious Policies for Assigning Students to Schools

Notes on National Academy of Education Paper (2007)

This is a comprehensive review of the impact of diversity on intergroup relations (i.e., removing prejudice) and academic achievement. The overall conclusion is that the effect of diversity on these two issues is variable but likely positive IF other programs foster true integration. 
"In summary, the research evidence supports the conclusion that the overall academic and social effects of increased racial diversity are likely to be positive. Racial diversity per se does not guarantee such positive outcomes, but it provides the necessary conditions under which other educational policies can facilitate improved academic achievement, improved intergroup relations, and positive long-term outcomes."

I will include some of the important points below, with page number in parentheses.

The two most important points I found were:
  • Certain conditions need to be present for diversity to have a positive effect: equal status, cooperation, and opportunities for individualized contact. (26) => Personal note: What programs is the district putting in place to ensure these conditions occur? Otherwise the effort for diversity is wasted. Maybe this is why the achievement gap has not narrowed even for those students who attend diverse schools.
  • "Perhaps the most important point to keep in mind is that any benefits are only indirectly associated with racial diversity. Striving for such diversity should be understood as an attempt to avoid the harms of racial isolation and to create an environment that allows for positive intergroup relations. It should not be understood as a guarantee of positive relations, which are likely to come about only in an otherwise beneficial school environment." (36) 
Other points:
  • This paper did not focus on the ultimate outcome of education quality as a way to make school assignments. "We did not consider, nor do we question, the wisdom or efficacy of those programs..." They go on to say that they think it apparent that these programs are not designed to address race-based outcomes such as intergroup relations. (40) => Personal note: Why is the district interested in diversity? Is it to address academic achievement or intergroup relations? The strategic plan suggests the former. This report suggests that there are other ways that are more effective to accomplish getting to the ultimate outcome of educational quality. A 2004 Report by the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights identifies programs that can improve achievement without using race - "Achieving Diversity: Race-neutral Alternatives in American Education."
  • The impact of racial isolation of African American students on academic achievement is associational, not causal. (18)
  • The overall beneficial effect of desegregation is not large but it is better than most programs. The policy question is whether it is worth the cost. (18)
  • High teacher turnover is associated with racial make-up of student body and this impacts achievement. (20)
  • Whites are not usually negatively impacted by desegregation. (20)
  • Positive effects for African Americans are larger in earlier grades. (20)
  • For long-term outcomes: "Under some circumstances, and over the long-term, experience in desegregated schools increases the likelihood of greater tolerance and better intergroup relations among adults of different racial groups." … "However, self-selection may explain part or all of the differences between students who attended desegregated schools and their counterparts who attended segregated schools." (32)
  • "Token representation invites self-segregation because token numbers expose the outnumbered students to harassment from their peers, constrict the possibility of equal status between numbers of different groups, and limit the amount of available interracial contact opportunities and thereby limit the benefits of learning in a diverse classroom context." While it's not easy to pinpoint an exact number that avoids tokenism, it is likely at least 15%. (34) => Personal note: How do we avoid tokenism in a district that has the following racial composition: Chinese 31%, African American 13%, Hispanic 23%, White 10%, Filipino 6%?
  • The paper evaluated race-neutral alternatives and found that unrestricted choice makes segregation worse while controlled choice seems to have a small but measurable effect on desegregation. (38-39)
  • The use of socioeconomic indicators can help desegregation a little. (40)
  • Overall, no race-neutral alternatives are as effective as using race to diversify schools. (42)

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