Sunday, July 15, 2007

An article on socioeconomic based Affirmative Action

Schools Diversity Based on Income Segregates Some
The New York Times
Published: July 15, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO — When San Francisco started trying to promote
socioeconomic diversity in its public schools, officials hoped racial
diversity would result as well.

It has not worked out that way.

Abraham Lincoln High School, for example, with its stellar reputation
and Advanced Placement courses, has drawn a mix of rich and poor
students. More than 50 percent of those students are of Chinese

"If you look at diversity based on race, the school hasn't been as
integrated," Lincoln's principal, Ronald J. K. Pang, said. "If you
don't look at race, the school has become much more diverse."

San Francisco began considering factors like family income, instead
of race, in school assignments when it modified a court-ordered
desegregation plan in response to a lawsuit. But school officials
have found that the 55,000-student city school district, with Chinese
the dominant ethnic group followed by Hispanics, blacks and whites,
is resegregrating.

The number of schools where students of a single racial or ethnic
group make up 60 percent or more of the population in at least one
grade is increasing sharply. In 2005-06, about 50 schools were
segregated using that standard as measured by a court-appointed
monitor. That was up from 30 schools in the 2001-02 school year, the
year before the change, according to court filings.

The San Francisco experience is telling because after the recent
United States Supreme Court decision restricting the use of race-
based school assignment plans, many districts are expected to switch
to economic integration plans like San Francisco's as a legal way to
seek diversity. As many as 40 districts around the country are
already experimenting with such plans, according to an analysis by
Richard D. Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation, a nonpartisan public
policy research group.

Many of these experiments are modest, involve small districts or have
been in place only a few years. But the experiences of these
districts show how difficult it can be to balance socioeconomic
diversity, racial integration and academic success.

Only a few plans appear to have achieved all three goals. Others
promote income diversity but not racial integration while still other
plans are limited and their results inconclusive. Those who have
studied them say a key to that outcome is how aggressively a plan
shifts students around and whether there are many schools that can
lure middle-class students from their neighborhoods into poor ones.

"Systemwide programs are more effective than piecemeal programs,"
said Mr. Kahlenberg, who has studied plans like these.

The purpose of such programs is twofold. Since income levels often
correlate with race they can be an alternate and legal way to produce
racial integration. They also promote achievement gains by putting
poorer students in schools that are more likely to have experienced
teachers and students with high aspirations, as well as a parent body
that can afford to be more involved.

"There is a large body of evidence going back several years," Mr.
Kahlenberg said, "that probably the most important thing you can do
to raise the achievement of low-income students is to provide them
with middle-class schools."

Economic integration initiatives differ from each other, and from
many traditional integration efforts that relied on mandatory
transfer of students among schools. Some of the new initiatives
involve busing but some do not; some rely on student choice, while
some also use a lottery. And so it is difficult to measure how far
students travel or how many students switch schools.

The most ambitious effort and the example most often cited as a
success is in the city of Raleigh, N.C., and its suburbs.

For seven years the district has sought to cap the proportion of low-
income students in each of the county's 143 schools at 40 percent.

To achieve a balance of low- and middle-income children, the district
encourages and sometimes requires students to attend schools far from
home. Suburban students are attracted to magnet schools in the city;
children from the inner city are sometimes bused to middle-class
schools at the outer edges of Raleigh and in the suburbs.

The achievement gains have been sharp, and school officials said
economic integration was largely responsible. Only 40 percent of
black students in grades three through eight in Wake County, where
Raleigh is located, scored at grade level on state reading tests in
1995. By the spring of 2006, 82 percent did.

"The plan works well," said John H. Gilbert, a professor emeritus at
North Carolina State University in Raleigh who served for 16 years on
the county school board and voted for the plan. "It's based on sound
assumptions about the environment in which children learn."

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, North Carolina's largest,
has also tried an economic integration plan, but with less success.

Students were once assigned to schools in Charlotte and its suburbs
based in part on achieving racial balance, but that system was struck
down in federal appeals court in 2001.

The school board then created an assignment plan based on income and
choice; a low-income student could transfer to a middle-class school
if he came from a high-poverty, low-performing school. But such
transfers could occur only if there was room, and there seldom
was. "There are not a whole lot of seats available and so there is
not a lot of choice available," said Scott McCully, the district's
executive director of planning and student placement.

Within several years, said Roslyn Arlin Mickelson, professor of
sociology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, "the
schools became markedly more segregated."

In the smaller school system in Cambridge, Mass., children apply to
the city's 12 elementary schools and socioeconomic status is an
important factor in ultimate assignments. The system has been phased
in gradually since the fall of 2002.

Last year, 75.8 percent of Cambridge's low-income third graders were
judged to be progressing toward reading proficiency. That was higher
than the statewide average for low-income students, 71.3 percent, and
better than the rate in more than a dozen other cities in the state.

Other districts have not seen such results. One district in San Jose,
Calif., switched to using family and neighborhood income instead of
race for assignments two years ago, giving a preference to students
in low-income areas who try to transfer to schools in higher income
areas, and vice versa.

But in the first year, the number of students switching schools
declined significantly and has only begun to recover in the last

San Francisco had been under a court order to desegregate for more
than 20 years, with no school allowed to have a majority of students
from one racial or ethnic group. But after Chinese-American parents
whose children were kept out of certain elite schools sued, the
district switched in 2002-03 to a plan that sought socioeconomic

Students apply to the schools they want to attend, and the district
uses a "diversity index" for assignments when a school is
oversubscribed. The index considers the language spoken at home,
whether a child qualifies for free lunch or is in public housing, a
child's academic performance and the quality of a child's prior
schools. But it has not resulted in racial integration.

"We were hopeful that the diversity index would work," said Stuart
Biegel, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles,
who was the district's court-appointed monitor. "No one was rooting
against it. But it didn't work."

Officials say one problem is that many students apply to neighborhood
schools, which do not recruit enough students from outside their
area. Another problem is demographics. Mr. Biegel said public school
students in San Francisco were relatively low income over all,
whatever their race or ethnicity, so the diversity index produced
less mixing than hoped.

The wide ethnic diversity in San Francisco's schools, which are about
one-third Chinese, also introduces calculations among parents that
make it easier to get income diversity without racial or ethnic

At Willie L. Brown Jr. College Preparatory Academy, a fourth- through
sixth-grade school in the predominantly black neighborhood of
Bayview, 75 percent of the students are black. Most are poor.

Tareyton D. Russ, the principal, said students from other
neighborhoods did not seek to go there so the diversity index did not
even apply. "Poor Chinese kids don't want to go to school with poor
black kids," Mr. Russ said flatly.

Conversely, one white parent interviewed as she dropped her child off
at summer school said some white parents avoided schools with a heavy
Chinese concentration, like Lincoln, believing they would be too high-
pressure for their children. She declined to be quoted by name.

David Campos, the general counsel to the school district, said the
resegregation was so disappointing that the school board might try to
test whether Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's opinion in the recent
Supreme Court case left open the possibility of using race if other
methods of integration fail.

"We stopped using race at some point," Mr. Campos said. "And then for
a number of years we have tried to use a number of race-neutral
factors to achieve racial diversity, which methods haven't worked.
Should the board decide to use race, and they may or may not, we are
a very good test case."
The article, which it itself admits, is not offering definitive conclusions on whether socioeconomic based affirmative action is less successful in terms of race as the old system of race based affirmative action. Perhaps it's just too soon for that. However, I found it interesting to see the remark that low income Chinese parents don't want their kids to go to school with low income black kids, white people of unspecified economic background don't want their children to go to school with Chinese kids.
Ironically even though they're trying to deny that race should be a major factor in influencing the school's decisions, it's still clearly influencing the decisions of the parents.


Magniloquence said...

Ironically even though they're trying to deny that race should be a major factor in influencing the school's decisions, it's still clearly influencing the decisions of the parents.

That's one of the things that people have a really hard time getting, particularly people who really want to be 'good' but have a hard time understanding just what's happening. "If we just stopped thinking about race, then we'd stop making bad decisions about it!" Which... sure, it could happen. But just because your institution decides to stop using race as a variable doesn't mean that the context your institution is stuck in is going to change.

This was a really interesting article, though. I think it would be neat to compare it to similar policies at larger institutions with more constant demand or more constrained choices, and see if the pattern levels out to be the way people think it will. Colleges, perhaps.

I don't think it would work, though. You'd need a closed system for that, with no way to opt out ... and even then, I think it would hurt more than it would help.

That said, I'd rather see socioeconomic diversity without racial diversity than no diversity at all. I'd rather we did both, and if it came to it, I'd probably go for racial diversity over socioeconomic diversity except in extreme cases (kids so rich they effectively have all the choices anyway; kids so poor they wouldn't have any choice any other way; systems where there's already a moderate amount of racial diversity but a high amount of socioeconomic segregation; systems in contexts where racial diversity isn't a feasible option, because the community is so homogeonous and/or geographically isolated, etc.).

Better phrased, I suppose, I think that all of this should change dynamically, according to the context the system is in, and the demographics of the area, rather than simply trying for a static goal.

lovelesscynic said...

I think your system using both socioeconomic and racial criteria to cull the outlying exceptions to the rule would probably be a good one.

The article also seems to question what integration is and what it should be. Which is interesting in and of itself.

Twin Lauren said...

Well, that article, your commentary and Magniloquence's comments(I think I know her)have entirely changed my stance on affirmative action. Which is really just to say that I am more lost than ever, but I'm okay with that.

Also, my word verification is "phale," which I thought was amusing.