"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Are the Schools in Virginia Becoming More Racially and Economically Segregated?

Public schools in Richmond City in Virginia had a total enrollment of 23987 for the school year 2015-16. Among these students, 3075 are Hispanic and 17927 are African American. These groups combined therefore make up 88 percent of the student population in the city. With this, it only follows that schools in Richmond City will have a large percentage of Hispanics and Blacks. Nearly every student (97.6%) enrolled in Richmond City schools qualifies for either reduced-price or free lunch. Yet, the Washington Post as it reports on a study made by the Commonwealth Institute seems to make a big deal out of this piece of statistics in its article, "Virginia’s schools are growing more racially and economically segregated":
Richmond Public Schools, where about 75 percent of the student body is black and nearly every child qualifies for free or reduced-price meals, had the highest number of isolated schools in Virginia, with 29. (The report defined an isolated school as one where more than 75 percent of the students are black or Hispanic and more than 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, an indicator of poverty.)
There are 56 schools under the Richmond City School District so it is not surprising that 29 of these schools are regarded as "isolated". The Washington Post also cites the northern Virginia counties:
But researchers also found isolated schools in affluent Northern Virginia districts. In 2014, Prince William County had 11 such schools, Fairfax County had five, and Arlington had two.
The counties of Northern Virginia are home to more than 100,000 Hispanic students, that is more than half of the total number of Hispanic students in the entire state. Schools assigned to my neighborhood reflect this:

Mason Crest Elementary School
Poe Middle School
Falls Church High School
Above graphs copied from Fairfax County Public Schools

"Isolated" schools are more likely to be found in regions where a large number of Hispanics and Blacks live. Since the definition of an "isolated" school also includes having at least seventy five percent of the students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch, this means that these groups are also the ones who are economically disadvantaged. 

Above copied from
The CommonWealth Institute
There are about 500,000 Hispanic and African American students enrolled in Virginia public schools. Hence, seeing that there are about 74,000 students enrolled in these isolated schools, this corresponds to roughly 15%, which means 85% of Hispanic and African American children do not find themselves enrolled in an isolated school.

Schools are indeed mirrors of the communities they serve. Indeed, there is a desire to make schools more diverse but the much more important point is an equitable funding of schools. Having "isolated" schools can indeed be problematic since peer learning is an important ingredient in basic education, but a sadder predicament is when an "isolated" school is likewise a school that provides less opportunities for learning to its students. It is devastating to students if these "isolated" schools are also the underfunded schools. A comment on the Washington Post raises this concern:


Racial and economic segregation in schools may not be avoidable if neighborhoods are doing the same. Channeling funds away from schools that are in greater need, however, is a different issue.


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