The quality of public education and housing demographics are inextricably linked; most American families live in racially and socioeconomically homogeneous communities that dictate their neighborhood school demographics and the quality of their local school (Mickelson, 2011). There is a plethora of research to support the racial and socioeconomic integration of schools as a means to improve student achievement. Segregated schools are typically lower performing than their integrated counterparts and create isolated residential communities (Mickelson, 2011). Integration is an ideal that society at large wants to promote and maintain in theory; it takes a lot to speak openly against the benefits of an integrated society on all fronts. Yet, why are families rarely wiling to live in neighborhoods compiled of people that do not look like them? Who wouldn’t want their child to attend a school that incorporates children and families from a variety of backgrounds? America was founded on the idea of a true melting pot where people from all walks of life would interact and coexist peacefully. While this ideal may still exist a macro level, American schools continue to remain racially and socioeconomically segregated on the micro level.
Integrated housing, which results in integrated education, possesses both short-term and long-term outcomes for students and adults (Mickelson, 2011). Students who attend diverse schools are more likely to test higher and receive better grades as compared to students who attend schools with a high concentration of low-income minority youth (Mickelson, 2011). Diverse schools also promote interracial contact, which fosters reductions in prejudice and increases the likelihood of cross-racial friendships (Mickelson, 2011).
So, if we agree that segregated schools promote educational inequality and stifles students both socially and academically, how do we account for extremely successful schools that are racially and economically segregated? While these schools may be outliers, do we not consider their academic progress legitimate solely because of their racial makeup? How do they fit into the puzzle? Let’s look at Jumoke Academy in Hartford, Connecticut.
Located in the city’s historic North End, Jumoke Academy is an extremely high achieving school. In 2011, Jumoke Academy was ranked fifth in the state for middle-school performance gains and third in the state for African-American school performance (Morr & Darby Hudgens, 2011). The progress of Jumoke is especially notable when looking at the Connecticut state context. Connecticut is home to the largest achievement gap in the United States between low-income students and their non-low-income peers and between white students and non-white students (Morr & Darby Hudgens, 2011).
We know that the Sheff v. O’Neil case of 1996 deemed Hartford’s racially and ethnically segregated school districts unconstitutional. Therefore, racial integration between urban and suburban school districts has become the main means to improve student achievement in metropolitan Hartford. It is the major benchmark for measuring and testing the success of Sheff. Since levels of racial integration measure the success of Sheff, the effectiveness of Jumoke Academy is difficult to test.
At 99.5 percent minority, Jumoke would be a failing school under the Sheff movement (Morr & Darby Hudgens, 2011). The limitations of the Sheff movement remedies become clear through major loopholes like the success of Jumoke Academy (Morr & Darby Hudgens, 2011). What the school has done well and therefore what has made it extremely successful is it has learned the needs of its neighborhood population. Since Jumoke directly serves the community it is located in, it has a much clearer understanding of what its students needs in school everyday (Morr & Darby Hudgens, 2011).
While integrated schools overwhelmingly foster better academic outcomes, the success of Jumoke Academy in Hartford, CT cannot be ignored. Interracial experiences in school lead to more interracial experiences out of school and in adulthood. We certainly have the data to prove this and while Jumokee’s success is remarkable and commendable, Jumoke’s are few and far between. Other suggestions in Hartford that attempt to integrate schools are magnet and charter schools that bus in students from surrounding areas and serve as a form of racial and economic integration. Given the way in which race and class influence housing, we must consider the public consequences embedded in housing for the racial and socioeconomic makeup of schools.
The qualities of schools influence the housing market greatly and where people decide to buy homes. Conversely, schools with low levels of poverty and that are racially integrated are signals of desirable neighborhoods for prospective homebuyers. The relationship between housing and schooling is clear; housing policy must be dismantled as we know it now in order to profoundly and systemically change student achievement along racial and economic lines. Especially in Connecticut, where discrepancy in wealth is so prominent along these factors, housing and school policies must change in order to raise the state’s overall level of student achievement.
Morr, M. & Darby Hudgens, F. (2011) Success within Segregation: Jumoke Academy Exposes the Limits of Integration as an Educational Benchmark. Retrieved from http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2011/11/30/success-within-segregation/#fnref-1367-4.
Mickelson, R. (2011). Exploring the School-Housing Nexus: A Synthesis of Social Science Evidence. Phil Tegler (Eds.), Finding Common Ground: Coordinating Housing and Education Policy to Promote Integration. (pp. 5-8) Washington D.C.: Poverty and Race Research Action Council.