Parents want just a little diversity

As urban neighborhoods gentrify, “emotionally charged, racially tinged fights over neighborhood school boundaries” are increasing, writes Mike Petrilli. Middle-class parents want a little diversity — preferably racial/ethnic but not socioeconomic — at their child’s school, but not too much.

In Brooklyn, a popular elementary school in gentrifying Park Slope, P.S. 321, is overcrowded.  Officials plan to shrink its attendance zone, redistricting some children into a new school that will have more low-income students.

Park Slopers claim to want diversity, writes Naomi Schaefer Riley in the New York Post.  That’s why they didn’t move to the suburbs when their kids neared school age. But people in the 10 blocks that will be assigned to the new school are furious.

Too much “socioeconomic diversity will start to affect the quality of their children’s education,” Petrilli writes. Low-income children start school far behind middle-class children.

A similar dynamic is playing out in the nation’s capital. Wilson High and Alice Deal Middle School, located in D.C.’s tony (and baby-booming) Ward 3, enjoyed massive physical-plant updates recently, with their buildings fully refurbished, expanded, and improved. Now affluent parents west of Rock Creek Park are sending their children to those schools in greater numbers than in decades.

. . .  The schools are getting crowded, and district officials are looking at shrinking their boundaries to address the problem. (Sound familiar?) The outcome is easy to predict: Students who live further away—who tend to be poorer and of minority races—will be rezoned to other campuses, and the Ward 3 schools will become dramatically less diverse.

Petrilli hopes for way to “create (and maintain) racially and socioeconomically diverse schools” in cities.

Richard Kahlenberg writes about “new hopes for school integration” in American Educator.  Economic — not racial — integration matters most, he writes.

About Joanne


  1. It’s the NEW Liberal Ideal.

    DON’T move to the ‘burbs – that’s SO racist, and what the Knuckledraggers do.

    DO re-draw the lines so that – coincidentally – the darker-skinned/poor/non-English heritage kids will be ousted.

    MUCH more Enlightened.

  2. Linda Seebach says:

    (Another LindaS has assumed the screen name I was using)
    (it doesn’t look as if we’d agree on much)
    Thomas Schelling explained long ago the way that small differences in how much diversity people are comfortable with can rapidly lead to almost totally segregated residential areas that hardly anybody wants — a situation that is especially likely to arise when when two groups are of very different sizes, as is often true of blacks and whites in metropolitan areas. Assuming racist motives is not illuminating or constructive.

  3. Roger Sweeny says:

    I’ve seen a number of stories like this and they all seem to say that the white parents would LOVE to send their kids to kids to school with darker-skinned kids or kids from different countries. On one condition: those other kids must not keep their own kids from doing well in school and getting into a good college. Which means that the “diverse” parents must value what they value and the “diverse” kids must be prepared for school and willing to take school seriously.

    The best diversity
    Is where everyone looks different
    And thinks like me.

    • “And thinks like me.”

      This is not fair.

      There are likely *lots* of ways that these parents would be okay with diversity at the school. I can imagine:
      *) Political (yes, really!)
      *) Religious
      *) Sports team affiliation (even Dodgers fans)

      But *NOT* for what they consider the key point to the school: academics.

      This is actually both reasonable and sane. It is much more difficult to have an effective organization when even a medium sized minority is pulling in a very different direction.

      So … low SES (ie, poor) or minority kids whose parents are “with the program” in terms of academics are fine. But even high SES kids whose parents are not “with the program” would not be fine.

      Your post suggests that you have a problem with this. Do you?

      • Is there something wrong with this belief?
        I went to a minority majority elementary school. However, many of the children had parents that had been educated professionals in Haiti (and were now working low wage jobs). Most children had parents that prized hard work and respect of elders.

        My daughter is at a school that has a fair number of refugees from Africa. There seems to be the same respect for teachers and authority. I would rather her be with these students than the cliquey, wealthier students I have also seen.

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        Hmmm, yeah. These threads leave me shaking my head. I live in and my oldest son attends a diverse neighborhood/school. 20% Hispanic/15% black/60% white/ 5% Asian.

        While the elementary schools are more segregated by neighborhood, the middle and high schools are “integrated”. Integrated meaning the kids from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds attend school in the same building, but they are not in any real way INTERGRATED. These schools aggressively track.

        Most of the white and Asian kids take the honors or academy tracks. The level A courses are populated by mostly Hispanic, black, and lower class white kids. The very competitive academies – which must be tested into – are very affluent, white and Asian. This is mostly true, not completely and absolutely. The high school claims that A level courses are college prep, but that is nonsense and almost everyone knows that to be prepared for a 4 year school and prepared to get a decent result on the SAT or ACT honors or academy is needed.

        Tracking by middle school is the norm on the East coast. By third grade most kids are tracked for math and English. There are usually four tracks (G&T, honors, A level, and B or special needs). By 5th grade they’re tracked for all core subjects: math, English, social studies, science, and even some foreign language courses. The highest performers are typically offered a second language course by 5th grade.

        I’m wondering where the parents from Park Slope are planning on sending they’re little darlings for middle and high school? Definitely not the neighborhood high schools. Since its NYC, they probably intend on sending them into a high performing public test school like Bronx Science or a private school. For most urban liberals diversity is an attractive accessory they wear or disregard as fashion and or their common sense dictates.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        When I said “thinks like me,” I had in mind “thinks like me in regard to the importance of school.” I find this completely reasonable.

        I suspect that most parents would not like diversity when it comes to politics, religion, or what team you root for if they thought that the differences would change their kids. However, most parents don’t see that happening. They do see bad results for their kids if other kids and parents are not “‘with the program’ in terms of academics.”

        • Mark Roulo says:

          Thank you for the clarification 🙂

          I can see how the possibility of my child cheering on the Dodgers or Cowboys could be a problem …

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            I live in eastern Massachusetts and the thought of their children getting turned in Yankees fans would disturb a number of my neighbors.

      • It’s also reasonable and sane for parents to want their kids to attend school with kids who behave well, because it only takes a few chronic offenders to disrupt the education of the whole class. That tends to be far less of an issue in extracurricular activities, because grouping by performance level is the rule in athletics and the performing arts and misbehavior is not tolerated. Schools could learn from this. They also might consider the possibility that, while some disadvantaged/poorly behaved/motivated kids might adopt the middle-class ethos, some of the middle-class kids might adopt the less-desirable behavior. I’ve seen it happen.

  4. Sometimes it’s possible to study an issue so intently it seems everyone else must know what you know. I’m not convinced that the parents are necessarily concerned about diversity.

    It’s rational to be very concerned about your child being reassigned from a well-regarded school to an entirely new school. It doesn’t matter who sits next to your child in the classroom if the new team of teachers and administrators don’t work together effectively.

    @Stacy in NJ, “Tracking by middle school is the norm on the East coast. By third grade most kids are tracked for math and English.” Maybe in New Jersey, but not in Massachusetts. The state moved definitively away from tracking two decades ago. In middle school, schools may track for math, but other courses have been detracked. Tracking is implemented in high school, with the exception of students who have special needs so severe they cannot be mainstreamed.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Okay. But tracking is definately the norm in NY and NJ and the more affluent the community the more aggressive the tracking.

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        Also, a significant part of the concern about reassigning neighborhoods to new schools is about property value. Better neighborhood school, higher property value. period.

  5. Crimson Wife says:

    I couldn’t care less about the skin color or bank account of my children’s classmates. What I *DO* care very much about is whether they come from good, stable homes with parents who value education. Poor and/or minority parents can provide good homes while rich and/or white parents can be totally dysfunctional.

  6. The powers that be do not understand – or maybe they do and are just trying to use guilt to get parents to do the opposite of what is in the best interests of their children. But as a parent, I will state the following:
    I would not send my child to a school that has a lot of poor kids (white, black., purple) because poor people tend to be more dysfunctional, have values that diverge from mine way too much, and do not value education,