Socioeconomic Diversity in Schools
A report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office last spring found substantial growth in the number of schools with poor and mostly Black or Hispanic student populations. In comparing the 2000-01 school year with 2013-14, “the percentage of public schools that had high percentages of poor and Black or Hispanic students grew from 9 to 16 percent.” Not only do these schools share a higher concentration of low-income students, with 75-100 percent of students receiving free and reduced lunch, but they also offer far less academically rigorous programs and positive outcomes compared to their counterparts: “these schools offered disproportionately fewer math, science, and college preparatory courses, and had disproportionately higher rates of students who were held back in 9th grade, suspended, or expelled.”
The findings in this study demonstrate a deep divide in the educational resources that are available to low-income and minority students. Education, for many, is the key to social mobility. Quality coursework done in the K-12 years affords students the opportunity to access secondary education, higher paying jobs, and higher standards of living. The GAO study shows us that there is a significant achievement gap for minority students and those living in poverty.
Research from the Century Foundation indicates that students in socioeconomically diverse schools benefit in a multitude of ways, from reduced dropout rates to higher college enrollment. The academic benefits of these schools are significant and play an important role in long-term student success. Looking beyond just overturning the measurable educational limits that exist in segregated, poverty-concentrated schools, there is a incredible benefit that comes with more socioeconomically and racially diverse classrooms: empathy.
Exposure to different cultures, perspectives, and experiences plays a fundamental role in molding students for future success in an ever-more diverse world. Classrooms that allow for quality engagement between kids from every socioeconomic, racial, and cultural background offer cross-culture exchanges that have real power to affect long-term change, both individually and socially. The benefits are felt both ways. The Century Foundation study goes on to find that the benefits for students in integrated schools include everything from a reduction in racial biases to “improved student satisfaction and intellectual confidence.”
As we seek out innovative approaches to ending poverty in our community, it is important to pay attention to the power that diverse schools can have on affecting long-term change. We must break out of bubbles and truly work to understand people from other communities and cultures. Education can be an incredible stepping-stone for social mobility; let’s work to make sure that everyone has equal access.