Why Integration Won’t Fix Educational Inequity

September 25, 2019

By Natalie Wexler

A recent study concludes that gaps in student test scores are driven by poverty, not race—but then says the solution must nevertheless be racial integration. More fundamentally, it overlooks current classroom practices that perpetuate income-based gaps even when schools are integrated.

Earlier this week, Stanford University sociologist Sean Reardon and some colleagues released a report using massive amounts of test-score data to investigate the effects of modern-day racial segregation. After Southern schools were desegregated in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, test-score gaps between black and white students decreased. But with the decline of court-ordered integration, racial segregation in schools returned and has remained at high levels since the 1980s. The question the study set out to investigate is: does racial segregation still matter?

The answer, Reardon and his colleagues say, is yes. School systems that are more segregated have larger achievement gaps, and “their gaps grow faster during elementary and middle schools than in less segregated ones.” But it’s not because of race per se. The real problem, the researchers conclude, is poverty.