Intro to School Integration: Top-12 Resources, Part 1

Last month, I noted that we were starting a new project at the Center for Education and Civil Rights – we wanted to compile a top-10 list of resources for folks who are relatively new to the issue of school segregation. For an issue that has been around for a long, long time, the topic of school segregation is getting renewed attention in recent years, due in part to the troubling acceleration of school resegregation (see source 2 below) and to the awful racial divisiveness of the current federal administration. (Both were major sources of motivation for me in starting this blog.)

As more and more people turn their attention to this issue, we wanted an easily accessible list of resources to help them learn more about the topic, connect local problems to larger historical/political trends, and (hopefully) to find something they can do – no matter how small – to resist accelerating the racial discrimination that is harming our democracy. For those who are more regularly involved in this issue, we hope the resources here will provide you something useful/easy to share with others. And, we’ve cheated a bit by adding links underneath links, so you may find something new!

There’s a lot of great stuff out there, so we bumped it up from top-10 to top-12. For each, I have a short blurb about what we chose and what you can expect to find there. This first post rolls out the first 6 resources, which were chosen because of their accessibility and because we felt they provided a good, broad overview of school integration topics/issues. The second post will list the final 6 resources, which were chosen as entry points into more specific aspects of the school integration issue, such as parental decision making, housing segregation, and school district secession.

Disclaimer: We we did limit ourselves to pieces that can be read, watched, or listened to in less than an hour; so, this obviously eliminates many fantastic book-length examinations of school segregation and related issues. Again, this was done in the interest of providing easy entry points for people who are busy and need a quick way to connect to this important issue. And, of course, there are many many outstanding shorter pieces that couldn’t be included in a top-12 list – we mainly saw this as a starting point. Readers are certainly encouraged to add to the list in comments and/or to reach out to us via email at psu.cecr@gmail.com.

Hope you find something useful!

  1. Nikole Hannah-Jones

A list like this could only start with Nikole Hannah-Jones (@nhannahjones). It’s impossible to summarize her importance to the field of school diversity. As she describes in the video below, she chose to write about “a history and a truth that most people are in denial about,” and, despite that denial, she has found a large national audience as an investigative journalist both a ProPublica and now at the New York Times. Last year, she won the MacArthur Genius Grant among many other awards which are adding up daily. She has given the school integration movement a vocabulary for talking about complicated issues, and her writing is always centered on the core moral purpose of school integration: the massive historical obligation that we owe to people (and children!) of color.

So, long way of saying that – to start in the school integration world is to start with Nikole Hannah-Jones. I wanted to pick three different types of sources – an article, podcast and video.

  • Article: Choosing a school for my daughter in a segregated city
    • This is perhaps her best known piece. While covering school integration for the New York Times, the very NYC district her daughter attended was embroiled in debate about re-zoning, with strong implications for the racial makeup of schools. This story is her family’s decision to send their daughter to a highly segregated school in Brooklyn, the one that many white parents were trying to avoid. In the video linked below, she talks about the motivation behind this particular piece, which she came to reluctantly (starts at about 32 minutes in).
  • Podcast: “The problem we all live with” series on This American Life
    • There are two parts to this series: In the first part (58 mins), Nikole Hannah-Jones reflects a bit on her career to that point, then the story focuses on a contentious debate over integration in Normandy, Missouri, which was the home district of Michael Brown. In the second part (57 mins), the story shifts to a mostly successful (though contested) integration effort in Hartford, CT. The title of this series comes from the famous Norman Rockwell painting of Ruby Bridges entering an formerly all-white elementary school, and it is also the title of NHJ’s hotly anticipated book on school segregation.
  • Video: Using narrative to make us see the invisible (39 mins)
    • Selecting a video was difficult- there are so many great options. This is a presentation she did in Romania at a conference on the power of storytelling. I thought this was a good choice for this list because she is speaking to an international audience who may not be familiar with racial politics in the US and/or may not be familiar with her work specifically – so, the tone/topics are good as an introduction those who may be new to her work. Like all of her work, it’s engaging and thorough, at times lighthearted and at times heartbreaking.

2) PBS Frontline: The Return of School Segregation in Eight Charts

This very short article is a companion piece to a PBS Frontline episode (27 mins) on school segregation. I find myself going back to this article a lot because the graphs are compelling, and the article strings them together to tell a complicated story in a very straightforward way. In teaching about school segregation, I often use the first chart – which shows that statistical desegregation peaked in the South in 1988 – but the others are shocking in other ways, especially the relationship between segregation and graduation rates (chart 7, reproduced below) and wages (chart 8). In an era that is supposedly obsessed with data, the data presented here should matter much, much more.   

Probability of High School Graduation for Black Students who Attended Desegregated Schools

3) Last Week Tonight, with John Oliver: School Segregation (18 mins)

It’s hard to find a comedy piece about historical and structural racism, but this does a good job of covering a lot of important topics – including contemporary statistics featured above – and finding humor along the way. It draws on a lot of great resources to tell the story, including: Segregation Now, from ProPublica; Desegregated, yet Unequal, a 7 min documentary about the Boston busing crisis; and The Battle for Busing, another short (10 min) documentary that looks at busing in Charlotte, NC, a city with a complicated and evolving relationship with school segregation. I also like the video’s discussion of intent vs. impact when talking about white parents’ resistance to integrated schools. In the second post, we’ll include resources that are part of the very important movement to help white parents see the value of sending their children to global majority schools and to support those who make this choice.

4) Adam Ruins Everything: The Disturbing History of the Suburbs (6 mins)

The John Oliver video briefly mentions explicitly racist housing policies that (though in place everywhere) kept Northern schools racially segregated. But, his piece doesn’t really focus on those housing policies. So, this short video from Adam Ruins Everything is a good complement. It’s another thoughtful comedy piece that has nice detail about New Deal-era housing discrimination. And, it brings in Nikole Hannah-Jones to talk about how housing segregation and school segregation are related. I think this piece is good as a primer. In the second post, we’ll share a few pieces that take a more complicated look at the relationship between housing and school segregation.

5) Slate.com: Tomorrow’s test

This article talks about how schools are affected by the increased diversification of American society and, more specifically, the fact that American schools became majority non-white starting in 2014. It focuses on implications for teacher education, which makes it a nice addition here, and it gives equal weight to the importance of policy solutions and what they describe as “human” solutions, or different ways of thinking about the importance of integration in an increasingly diverse country. It also has a great interactive graphic that very clearly illustrates how dramatically things have changed in a short period of time- readers can click through various depictions of enrollment patterns. Lastly, this article is the intro to a 12-part series that looks at how schools in individual cities across the country are responding to large scale demographic changes.

6) Resources for your own school or district

We wanted to conclude the first post with a few action-oriented resources. The following two links make it very easy to pull up data on your home school/district and to learn more about racial discrimination as well as school/housing policy near you.

  • Vox.com: Attendance zone maps
    • This article covers an important, but perhaps misunderstood, issue: school district gerrymandering. Or, the way that school district attendance zones are drawn to solidify racial disparities in housing and, in many cases, to make things worse. There’s an interactive graphic in the article that allows you to look at two versions of every district map: 1) what schools would look like if they were segregated roughly to the same extent that housing is segregated and then 2) what the actual elementary attendance zones were in 2013. It includes a very simple way to see if your school is segregated over and above the underlying residential segregation.
  • ProPublica: Miseducation
    • ProPublica is stepping into the gap left by the Trump Administration. Using publicly available federal data, they created a database that allows users to look up detailed information on racial disparities on virtually ANY school or district in the country. It also allows you to easily compare across schools or districts. I visit this almost every day. The use is intuitive and the visuals are gripping. Here’s an example that I recently pulled up from my home city of Boston. As you scroll through the page, the “district composition” graphic stays at the top and the others scroll up just below, so that the disparities are easy to spot.
Boston Public Schools: Racial Disparities in School Discipline

Peter started the SD Notebook in January 2017, and he joined the Center for Education and Civil Rights (CECR) at Penn State University in October 2018. CECR helped manage content for this post.  

One thought on “Intro to School Integration: Top-12 Resources, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Intro to School Integration: Top-12 Resources, Part 2 | School Diversity Notebook

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