Advocates criticize DOE for failing to prioritize integration

10/15/2013, 2:17 p.m.
The advocates say children can effectively and peaceably learn, with people from a variety of racial and cultural backgrounds.

A national group of scholars and civil rights advocates is sharply criticising the US Department of Education for failing to include “school diversity” as a priority in the agency’s strategic plan for the nation’s public schools.

In an October 4th letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, members of the National Coalition on School Diversity (NCSD) expressed their concerns that the goals of school diversity and the reduction of racial isolation are not included as central priorities in the Department’s proposed Strategic Plan for the future.

“This omission is inconsistent with the Department’s stated commitment to evidence-based policies,” the letter said. “It is also inconsistent with the Department’s recognition in its 2011 “Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity and Avoid Racial Isolation in Elementary and Secondary Schools” that classroom economic and racial integration benefits all students, both in educational outcomes and in a reduction of racial tension and stereotypes.”

Susan Eaton, a member of the coalition and research director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute at Harvard Law School, said, “As our nation grows more diverse and more globally connected, we need to ensure that all our children can effectively and peaceably learn, work and live with people from a variety of racial and cultural backgrounds. America’s public schools are still the best place for children to build this vital skill for the 21st century.”

In their letter, NCSD also noted that when the coalition had commented on the 2011-2014 Strategic Plan in a January 27, 2012 letter to the Education Department, they had cited school integration as among the most powerful education reform strategies available to enhance outcomes for low income children in the nation.

“Surprisingly and unfortunately, the only mention of school diversity and reduction of racial isolation in the Strategic Plan is in the context of civil rights enforcement, in the section on the Office of Civil Rights,’’ last week’s letter said. “The failure to include these issues as a central priority – limiting this important educational reform solely to the enforcement context – does a disservice to children and serves to marginalize what should be a fundamental element of American schooling.”

NCSD recommended that the Education Department upgrade increasing school diversity and reducing racial and economic isolation in public schools to be central goals of the Elementary and Secondary Education section of the Strategic Plan.

“We also urge the Department to incorporate school diversity into the Early Education goal,” the letter said. “Children in kindergarten and pre-k are among the most segregated in our nation, and school integration in this age group has been shown to deliver important educational benefits.”