Evidence on the Benefits of School Integration
Over the past decades, the courts have begun to walk away from integration. This post focuses on what we know about integration-- and how it benefits students.
Research to Practice: School Integration
While the courts took an active stance towards Brown (sort of, depending on who you ask), they have sprinted away from integration in recent years. Our schools are becoming more segregated, not more integrated year to year (Richards & Stroub, 2014; Siegel-Hawley, 2013). Most of these posts focus on special education, but I wanted to do one post just laying out some of the evidence on the benefits of integration. The bottom line is that integration makes our schools stronger and shapes students for the rest of their lives. I believe that walking away from integration is a moral failing– but there is an empirical argument for integration too and it is a darn strong one.
So here it is.
If you are anti-racism and anti- racial isolation, then the findings on school integration are good for you. If you don’t like interracial friendships, biracial babies, or diverse neighborhoods, the findings are bad for you. Boo hoo. Students who attend desegregated schools are more likely to report comfort interacting with peers from different racial groups (Kurlaender & Yun, 2007). Not shocking, but good to know it doesn’t somehow accomplish the opposite of what folks were hoping for… although the researchers do have some interesting findings on what happens when students start to feel isolated in their schools– that there are more ideal balances in schools. They are also more likely to have interracial friendships and higher societal trust (Mikulyu & Braddock, 2018; Mickelson et al., 2012)
One of the best article titles I have ever come across is, “How I met your mother: The effect of desegregation on birth outcomes.” The title of this 2018 research article by Shen pretty much says it all. The researcher looked at the birth certificates of children born to women who were older than 18 at the time of school desegregation in their county and the birth certificates of children born to women in the same county who were under 18 when desegregation happened. The researcher then pulled this data across counties and wait, you guessed it, in non-Southern (I think that means northern?) counties, school desegregation was linked with more interracial babies. In the South, it looks like there was less of an impact. So take away one, school desegregation is linked, in some places at least, with more biracial baby making. The researcher talks about a “friendlier racial environment” in those communities which is an excellent term for more baby making.
Another big finding, in a chapter with a far less cool title, is that students who attend integrated schools are more likely to work in integrated settings– it seems to change workplace behavior years later (Mickelson et al., 2012). In one of the cool studies on this, Stearns (2010) pulled data from the huge National Educational Longitudinal Study and mapped the racial isolation of students’ high schools in the 1990s onto the racial diversity of their workplaces a decade later. Stearns found that students who were at integrated high schools, especially for White and Black respondents, were more likely to report being racially integrated at their work all those years later. Furthermore, people who attended integrated schools are more likely to live in integrated neighborhoods years later (Mickelson et al., 2012). There are even findings with implications for democracy– students who attended integrated schools are more likely to say they feel prepared to engage in democratic process with folks who are different than them (Kurlaender & Yun, 2005). They are just more comfortable with diversity period– and less likely to have nasty views of members of other races (Ibid, 2012). Whether it is baby making, interracial friendships, or workplace diversity, attending integrated schools has a long term impact on students.
Now onto the more immediate impacts of desegregation– do students do better academically? The short answer is yep, it does. Right after Brown, research studies had mixed findings on this. More modern researchers have looked back at those studies and had issues with their methods. The newer studies pretty consistently find that integration has academic benefits for all students– and especially for Black and Latinx students. For example, across 59 different studies of the relationship between desegregation and mathematics outcomes, Mickelson and Bottia (2010) found that the relationships tended to be positive– as in students of all races did better in racially and economically diverse schools. There are some nuances to their findings, but the bottom line is that desegregation was good for students in math. In 2012, Mickelson and colleagues went bigger, pulling even more articles and looking across more subjects. They found that, especially for reading and math and especially for lower income and Black and Latinx students, integration was associated with better academic outcomes. Students at integrated schools are also more likely to graduate high school and college (Mickelson et al., 2012).
I believe that desegregation is a moral issue, one that the courts should not retreat from. But if anyone needs evidence that integration does something– that it changes hearts, minds, and outcomes, then here you go!
- Kurlaender, M. & Yun, J. (2005). Fifty years after Brown: New evidence of the impact of school racial composition on student outcomes. International Journal of Educational Policy, 6(1), 51-78.
- Kurlaender, M. & Yun, J. (2007). Measuring school racial composition and student outcomes in a multiracial society. American Journal of Education, 113, 213-242.
- Mickelson, R., & Bottia, M. (2010). Integrated education and mathematics outcomes: A synthesis of social science research. North Carolina Law Review, 88, 993-1089.
- Mickelson, R., Nkomo, M., & Wimberly, G. (2012). Integrated schooling, life course outcomes, and social cohesion in multiethnic democratic societies. Review of Research in Education, 36, 197-238.
- Mikulyuk, A. & Braddock, J. (2018). K-12 school diversity and social support: Evidence in support of compelling state interest. Education and Urban Society, 50, 5-37.
- Richards, M. & Stroub, K. (2014). The fragmentation of metropolitan school districts and the segregation of American schools: A longitudinal analysis. Teachers College Record, 116, 1-31.
- Shen, M. (2018). How I met your mother: The effect of desegregation on birth outcomes. Economics of Education Review, 63, 31-50.
- Siegel-Hawley, G. (2013). City lines, county lines, color lines: The relationship between school and housing segregation in four southern metro areas. Teachers College Record, 115, 1-46.
- Stearns, E. (2010). Long-term correlates of high school racial composition: Perpetuation theory reexamined. Teachers College Record, 112(6), 1654-1678.