Growing up in my Cleveland Heights, Ohio neighborhood, I was one of only three white children in my public elementary school class. Most of my neighbors and classmates were African American and Hispanic. This never phased me, for I grew up believing that race was an insignificant aspect of my education and that all children learn equally in the classroom. However, as I matured, I came to realize the alarming degree of segregation in my neighborhood. As my mother informed me, many white parents in our neighborhood sent their children to private Catholic schools. These parents told my mother that they were nervous to send their children to schools filled with African American and Hispanic children, and the schools they chose for their children were more expensive schools with seemingly better teachers and technology. Although school segregation legally ended decades ago, it still exists in school districts across the country. When parents choose to place their children in less diverse classrooms, they ultimately create a noticeable education gap or a divide in the quality of education between wealthier, predominately white schools and more impoverished and underfunded schools. These underfunded schools, which include some charter schools, do not have the money to afford adequate teachers or technology as the wealthy school districts do, putting students at an extreme disadvantage. One of the main causes of this problem is the socioeconomic divide between different races and ethnicities in Ohio and other states across the country. Therefore, if students were to be integrated by the government into economically, racially, and ethnically diverse schools, it would prove to parents that all students, no matter what race or social status, learn equally in the classroom and, ultimately, diminish the education gap.
Although it is unfortunate, the socioeconomic divide between white and African American families has increased significantly in the last few decades. Research shows that white families in America earn a higher annual salary than Hispanic and African American families, which causes a divide between neighborhoods. In an article on the growing racial income gap, expert Thomas Shapiro provides data on the average salaries of different ethnicities. He states: “In 2009, a representative survey of American households revealed that the median wealth of white families was $113,149 compared with $6,325 for Latino families and $5,677 for black families” (Shapiro). This gap has tripled in the last 25 years, which is both concerning and troublesome to analyze. Typically, residents with the same income and social status live in the same neighborhoods. Therefore, this income gap creates divided neighborhoods with different opportunities and qualities of life. Schools in particular are divided and the quality of education is affected, creating an education gap between wealthier neighborhoods and impoverished ones. As these studies reveal, one’s race can be linked to one’s income, homeownership, and the quality of education that one will receive.
While the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education proclaimed that schools should have been fully integrated decades before the 1954 ruling, school segregation is still extremely evident today in schools across the country. Dexter Mullins, a journalist for Aljazeera America, argues that school segregation is still omnipresent in America. Mullins believes that segregation, evidenced by the lack of diverse classrooms, was never truly conquered in the United States. In an interview Mullins conducted with researcher Gary Orfield, Orfield analyzes the situation:
‘In some of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, minorities attend what the study calls “apartheid” schools, where students of color make up 99 to 100 percent of the population… Political leaders very rarely talk about this…The most alarming thing to me is that this is double and triple segregation. It’s never just segregation by ethnicity. It’s segregation by race, ethnicity and poverty and, in the case of Latinos, language as well’. (Qtd. in Mullins)
As researched by Orfield, school segregation is still at large, and it is not only by race. Social status and ethnicity are also alarming factors that cause a shockingly low amount of diversity in the classroom. When school districts segregate, the quality of teachers and administration between schools begins to divide as well. Better teachers tend to teach in wealthier, predominately white areas,while other schools struggle to find sufficient teachers (Mullins). This creates “apartheid” schools that do not have the money to prepare children for the future as adequately as wealthier schools will. All children deserve an equal education, but the lack of diverse classrooms makes this almost impossible.
While some experts discuss the alarming degree of socioeconomic disparity between schools, others believe that there is a “re-segregation” movement in classrooms across the United States. Journalist Doug Livingston argues that by giving students the option to switch school districts, some parents will send their children to less diverse schools and segregation will reappear. Livingston writes:
Open enrollment, which allows children to transfer from one school district to another, leads to widespread racial segregation and concentrates poverty in many of Ohio’s urban school districts, including Cleveland and Akron…. The majority of students who participated in Ohio’s oldest school choice program are disproportionately white and middle class. Students attending the schools they left, however, are nearly twice as likely to be minority and seven times more likely to be poor. (Livingston)
The open enrollment policy in Ohio is causing a socioeconomic divide, which Livingston argues is leading to the complete re-segregation of schools. The ability to leave inner city schools allows wealthier, predominantly white people to attend less diverse schools. This open enrollment policy creates an “education gap.” Education reporter Emmeline Zhao describes this phenomenon:
The combination of high-minority, low-income education environments have perpetuated an education gap in America, as students from low-income, lesser educated families struggle more than their foreign peers to attain higher levels of education than their parents. Sometimes, even high-performing students from low-income backgrounds are less likely to graduate from college.
Zhao argues that the socioeconomic divide between races is causing a gap in education quality. The United States is a nation where equality is promoted and respected, yet not all children are able to receive the same education because wealthier, predominately white students will normally attend schools with more money and skillful teachers. If schools were to be completely integrated, teachers and administration members of all skill levels will diversify as well and create an overall better education for all students.
Some experts believe that rather than simply banishing free choice policies, the issue of racism must be confronted first in the United States before integration in classrooms can occur successfully. Although decades have passed since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, some white Americans are still prejudiced against other races or minorities. Howell S. Baum, a professor at the University of Maryland, has researched the persistent problem of racism in America and its effect on integrating classrooms. He conducted a case study in Baltimore, one of the first school districts in the 1950s to desegregate voluntarily. While other school districts at the time used regulations to ensure that children of all races would be integrated in the classroom, Baltimore used a complete “free choice” policy that allowed families to send their children to their desired school. This system failed to integrate Baltimore’s classrooms, and Baum attributes this to the school district officials’ refusal to address the matter of predisposed racism. He explains: “Baltimore officials also kept race from public debate simply by relying on liberalism in defining issues and making policy… Moreover, people continued to think about race even if they did not talk about it, and liberal school officials who avoided overt racial discussion ended up unwittingly admitting invidious racial distinctions into their vocabulary and policy” (218). While some experts believe that the solution to modern day school segregation is to forcefully remove policies that allow for free choice, such as forced busing, Baum believes that this cannot be done effectively unless prejudiced beliefs are dealt with first. It is obviously impossible to completely get rid of racism, but Baum argues that these prejudiced beliefs allow for the rise of modern day school segregation. When the government chooses not to mention racism in discussion and policies, which was the case in Baltimore, they ultimately ignore a major issue that must be resolved before classrooms can be truly integrated. If Americans were to stop ignoring the presence of racist thoughts and instead take action against them, Baum believes school integration can become a reality.
Although many educational experts provide substantial evidence to prove their hypotheses, I believe that the solution to this problem is to implement a forced policy of school integration and to eliminate policies that allow for free choice and open enrollment. Before these measures are implemented, however, school administrators and law makers must consider the socioeconomic gap between neighborhoods. This gap is the root of the problem. If there is a clear socioeconomic divide between neighborhoods, the respective school districts will be divided as well. Journalist Tanner Colby researched this phenomenon and concluded that by analyzing the root of the problem, the solution for school segregation will become much clearer. Colby asserts:
Segregated schools are really just the branches growing out of racially homogenous neighborhoods and towns. If we want any kind of long-term solution to this problem, we have to look at housing, zoning, mass transit, property taxes. That’s where the roots of our racially balkanized and economically stratified cities lie. We can hack away at the branches all day long, but if we don’t deal with the root of the problem, we can’t expect anything different to grow back in their place.
As Colby argues, the divide between neighborhoods with different incomes is becoming more prevalent than ever. If federal and state governments can find a solution to the socioeconomic gap that determines inequalities in neighborhoods, then this will be the first step to a solution to the growth of school segregation. Furthermore, government action must be taken to reenact the principles that Brown v. Board of Education stipulated decades ago and get rid of existing free choice policies in order to combat modern day school segregation. Beyond this, as Doug Livingston proves, policies such as free choice allow parents to send their children to less diverse schools. If free choice for education was revoked, integrated classrooms would become mandatory and the education gap between school districts would be diminished. At first, there might be controversy with students and parents who do not feel comfortable with learning in integrated classrooms. However, once it is shown that students learn in similar and complementary ways, there would be fewer problems with school integration. I believe that if schools were to be forcefully integrated by eliminating free choice policy, children would be able to learn the meaning of diversity from a young age. Children these days grow up in divided neighborhoods and school districts, which cause them to be resistant to the concepts of diversity and tolerance. The United States has truly become a “melting pot” of people from all over the world, yet the socioeconomic divide has masked the uniqueness of our cultured society. By instilling the appreciation of diversity at a young age—both economically and racially—school children would be more likely to grow up not only better educated, but also kinder and more accepting towards people of varying social, economic, and racial backgrounds.
Baum, Howell S. Brown in Baltimore: School Desegregation and the Limits of Liberalism. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2010. Print.
Colby, Tanner. “How the Liberal Embrace of Busing Hurt the Cause of Integration.” SlateMagazine.com. The Slate Group, 3 Feb. 2014. Web. 16 May 2014.
Livingston, Doug. “Open Enrollment in Ohio Schools Leads to Racial, Economic Segregation in Akron and Elsewhere.” Ohio.com. The Akron Beacon Journal, 1 Mar. 2014. Web. 23 Mar. 2014.
Mullins, Dexter. “Six Decades after Brown Ruling, US Schools Still Segregated.” America.Aljazeera.com. Al Jazeera America, LLC, 25 Sept. 2013. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.
Shapiro, Thomas, Tatjana Meschede, and Sam Osoro. “The Roots of the Widening Racial Wealth Gap: Explaining the Black-White Economic Divide.” Institute on Assets and Social Policy. Brandeis University, Feb. 2013. Web. 16 May 2014.
Zhao, Emmeline. “American Schools Still Heavily Segregated By Race, Income: Civil Rights Project Report.” TheHuffingtonPost.com. TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc.,, 20 Sept. 2012. Web. 28 Mar. 2014.