Socioeconomic Integration Helps Narrow Achievement Gaps, Study Finds

School districts and charter schools across the country increasingly are pursuing socioeconomic integration, with data on those efforts suggesting positive outcomes for both low- and middle-income students, a report from the Century Foundation finds.

According to the report, School Integration in Practice: Lessons from Nine Districts (61 pages, PDF), the number of districts and charter schools with programs that promote economic and racial diversity as a way of fostering social mobility and cohesion has more than doubled, to a hundred, since 2007. Based on nine case studies of implementation efforts in public schools in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Champaign and Chicago, Illinois; Dallas, Texas; Eden Prairie, Minnesota; Hartford and Stamford, Connecticut; Jefferson County, Kentucky; and New York City, the report found that when socioeconomic diversity policies are implemented effectively, they appear to produce strong academic outcomes and better prepare students for living in a diverse society. The report found, for example, that Cambridge students outperformed those in demographically similar districts in Massachusetts on state English, math, and science exams, while in Hartford's inter-district non-selective magnet schools, the black/white and Latino/white achievement gaps in reading were about half as large as the statewide gaps — with all subgroups of students performing better. In Stamford, low-income students performed above the state average, while gaps in graduation rates between disadvantaged and advantaged students fell substantially. And in Jefferson County, the proportion of students deemed college- and career-ready nearly doubled between 2011 and 2015.

The report highlights lessons learned and best practices from the case studies, including the use of choice and incentives to help secure community support; setting clear system-wide goals for integration; breaking down artificial walls between cities and suburbs; and ensuring integration not only in the school building but in each classroom. The study also found that socioeconomic diversity policies often, though not always, lead to racial diversity, and that districts are implementing more sophisticated measures of disadvantage that — in addition to household income — include census tract data, including median family income, adult educational attainment, and percentages of single-family households, home owners, and non-English speakers.

"Socioeconomic integration is important but complicated work," the report concludes. "As the number of districts taking on such integration efforts continues to grow, it is critical that best practices be shared and worst practices avoided."

"School Integration in Practice: Lessons From Nine Districts." Century Foundation Report 10/14/2016.