Bridging the Divide (a Baltimore series on school integration)

by integratedschls | March 28, 2017


This Baltimore Sun series on school integration is solid – heartbreaking and well worth a read.

The first article, Bridging the Divide, reports on the process of redrawing school boundaries and (spoiler alert!) another win for segregation under the guise of “property values” and “discipline issues” etc etc. No surprise that parents from the largely Black and Latinx school felt that their kids “— the ones they saw as smart and full of potential — were seen only as liabilities” and “as if we are some disease to be avoided.”

But, you know, it all bounced off of parents who are “looking at what is going to happen to my child, and not the greater good.” The seeming disconnect between what we believe our role is as parents (get every. last damn advantage we can for our kids) is at odds, for many of us, with our social values.  Parenting and our role as citizens (*used broadly) feel like two totally separate and mutually exclusive topics.  But but BUT… our children ARE part of the greater good! And our children will be an adult someday in a world that we’ve helped create… is that going to be a legacy of equity or of more privilege-seeking? And what of all the research that says that kids aren’t harmed in integrated/ing schools…. ….  oh right. Property values.

This part of the discussion also stood out: “Baltimore County has never taken that step [toward integration] because no political pressure has been put on leaders to do so.”

Integrated Schools has heard from a few folks that the work of integration really *must* take place at the policy level and that fighting this hearts&minds campaign of ours is nuts. The problem is, though, that WE need to put the pressure on en masse. WE have to opt in to integrated/ing schools in order to give our electeds and policymakers the courage to make decisions that uplift integration (I am thinking of a particular school board member who said to me, and I am liberally paraphrasing ‘how can I push for integration when I know that the white parents are going to protest and resist and basically shut it down?’).   This is not to say that our work shouldn’t include policy, but until we have raised our parent voices, Baltimore will happen again and again. And again, it’s on us.


Struggles of New East Baltimore School Show Challenges of Integration, the second article addresses, amongst other things, the very real issue of building an integrated school and how long it can take and how politically difficult it can be.

On one hand are the folks who know it’s a long game that will take time and a lot of hard work: “We know this is hard, but we know it is important to do,” said the interim dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Education. “It is not going to happen overnight. It is not going to happen without a lot of starts and stops….

But, then, on the other hand, are parents with children who have one shot at, say, first grade: “It has taken too long for them to deliver on the promises. My child is suffering as they work out the kinks. I just don’t think the education is there.”

This piece is incredibly salient to my experience with my own kids… My son is part of our integration “pilot year” and teachers/administrators have been figuring it all out during his education (this is not to say that teachers aren’t always honing their craft, but the first year can be much more than a hone).  His sister’s experience, two years later, has been much smoother (though certainly not dreamy by any measure!).  The fact that this is a long game does little to help the kids who are paving the way. But here’s the thing I’ve come to appreciate: the kids who are privileged (like my white, middle class, neurotypical, etc etc) are precisely those most able to weather it.  And more than that, really, is that it is a relatively unique experience that they will carry with them forever – being a part of something bigger than themselves. But it is exactly here that I believe that middle class white families are critical. Since we are the ones who have made and benefitted from an unequal and separate system, it must be our job to fix it.  And still, even with all this learning on my kid’s back, he is doing well academically and socially…

Not to be missed in this article too, is the very politically tricky problems of school assignment – who gets in and how – in the midst of talk of  “neighborhood schools” and “gentrification.”  These are all fraught.


The third in the series, Within Integrated Schools, de facto Segregation Persists, shows – again – how simply being in the same school doesn’t yield equity!  Opportunity Gaps, the differences between those educational opportunities afforded some students and not others, are real even in integrated/ing schools.

“The district’s advanced classes — honors, gifted and talented, and AP — are disproportionately white, while the regular and remedial classes are disproportionately black…. There are twice as many white students as black students in Howard schools. But … in elementary school, nearly five times as many white students as black students are enrolled in gifted and talented courses. In middle school, it’s nearly four times as many.”   This, along with the disproportionate number of students of color identified as “behavioral problems, we know and have heard before, and need to keep hearing.

Another article that came out recently, too, talks about Unconscious Biases in schools and relates ever so obviously to opportunity gaps.  And this research shows that these biases have lifelong consequences.  Says the report, “unconscious bias likely perpetuates socioeconomic, gender, and racial gaps in educational outcomes such as academic performance, engagement with school, course and major choice, and persistence in higher education, particularly among historically disadvantaged and underrepresented groups such as low-income and racial-minority students. These gaps in educational outcomes then manifest in corresponding workplace disparities in pay, promotions, and employment.”

I’m just thinking of the long game here… if our kids grow up knowing and friending and living with people from different backgrounds, would they be the teachers who would are more attuned to their bias and therefore able to teach equitably because of it? No, just showing up doesn’t solve everything for an individual classroom, but certainly it has the capacity to create a generation of adults who have a deeper, more visceral understanding of difference (and sameness!)?

And what does this mean for those of us opting in (or thinking about it)?  It means that racism is pernicious and we must take a stand everywhere we can.  Though simply sending your kid to an integrated/integrating school is an important first step, there are questions that we can ask as parents of teachers and administrators at our kids’ schools.  Press press press press hard for equity while you are on the inside; this is crucial.


The 4th installment of the Bridging the Divide series, A Lesson in Integration, discusses the Hartford Magnet model of integration also profiled in a This American Life Podcast (definitely worth listening to if you haven’t already!  Also this episode – both of which we discussed in Book Club).

The magnet system is, in large part, the one tool that many districts have or are willing to use to promote integration. It is not an ideal system… but there are some phenomenal programs like the Aerospace magnet (which is so so SO cool and my kid would so love). The best part is that this is lottery-admission with no entrance requirements but boasts some of the highest SAT scores of any school in the state.  (Yeah, a good integrated school can do that!)

But magnets have their problems…   My biggest issue is that magnets tend to hide integration behind glossy-brochure-cool stuff that we white families can get for our kids thereby supporting the destructive, consumerist narrative of parenting and schooling.  Additionally, as with other “special programs” like dual language, when housed as a program within a larger school, can become that ugly separate-and-unequal program on a campus that houses both a magnet and a ‘regular’ school (this is not necessarily the case, but requires deep attention and a dedicated equity focus to prevent it).

Another struggle with magnets is the difficulty of maintaining integrated enrollment… “If there aren’t enough white or Asian students from the suburbs who want to attend a particular school, the state caps the enrollment of black and Latino students from Hartford. … That means there are empty seats in some of the magnet schools, even as black and Latino children in the city try for years to get in — a situation that has grown more controversial in recent months.”

And so districts – and Hartford appears to be pretty sophisticated here – must face the reality of having to market these programs (that families of color are lining up for) directly to white families. Too often, middle class families don’t even step foot in those schools before dismissing them (yo! take the Two Tour Pledge!). We make this all so hard.

And this article concludes with the question of whether the “public — or state and local leaders — are ready to embrace voluntary plans to diversify schools … whether there is enough public interest or political will to integrate schools without a court order.”




  • Part 1
  • Part 2
  • Part 3
  • Part 3
  • Part 4

Share This