Debate on how to fix America’s public schools continues to rage on in legislatures across the nation, as politicians and activists alike try out a wide range of ideas with the hope of improving test scores and college performance. World education rankings show the nation’s inability to improve its schools, but the truth is that in the United States today, there are two public school systems: one in its rich, white suburbs, and one in its poor, minority cities. And the only rapid and proven way to fix this disheartening state of affairs is by combining the two through school integration.
Modern efforts to integrate suburban schools have been met with significant resistance. Parents, whose children are often insulated by wealth and an abundance of resources, are often uncomfortable — or even outright hostile — to the idea of introducing students of different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds to affluent white areas. This irrational fear is rooted in racism, plain and simple. Landmark Supreme Court cases like Brown v. Board of Education and Milliken v. Bradley paved the way for a march toward educational equality, yet American society continues to fall short of this goal. Over the course of the decades-long struggle to close the academic achievement gap in American schools, many different solutions have been proposed and attempted. From standardized testing reform to teacher evaluations, no plan has worked as efficiently as forced integration, and state courts agree. Diverse learning environments create increased opportunities for all students, no matter their circumstances, and prepare them for an increasingly global workplace awaiting them post-graduation.
Studies have proven that integration in schools leads to academic improvement all around — when students of diverse backgrounds attend the same school, all parties benefit. In St. Louis for example, a desegregation program implemented in the 1980s proved extremely popular and successful. Over the course of 15 years, the percentage of African-American students attending an integrated, and consequently higher-quality, school rose from 18 percent to 55 percent. Average test scores also improved, and some suburban families even began to send their kids to new inner-city magnet schools which received greater funding for specialized programs.
The solution is so obvious, so simple and so potent. But the resistance that it has met from white parents and legislators content to turn the other way has been frustrating. It is an indelible mark left behind by the racism still very much alive in the minds of too many citizens. Recordings of school board meetings show that no amount of statistical evidence, and no number of success stories will be able to extinguish the pernicious racial judgment of individual parents. Firsthand testimonials reveal the countless benefits to desegregation, which can be as simple as a free busing program, and governments must recognize this solution. With integrated schools, there are no losers.
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