K-12 Enrollment Race & Racism

Let’s talk about school segregation, let’s talk about real estate.

An update on the SFUSD Enrollment conversation

Last night I participated in a great discussion last night at the Ad Hoc Student Assignment Committee, Board of Education Commissioners continued to explore ways to revise our school enrollment system. Shoutout to district staff for putting together a thoughtful presentation and for Commissioner Norton for leading a great discussion.

I encourage folks to review the presentation and listen to the audio recording. (These are uploaded on the district website, but are not all easy to find. So I’m reposting on my blog.)

Listen to the audio of the meeting:

This is an important conversation…

I will continue to reiterate, I wish this discussion was focused on the root causes of segregation in our schools, rather than mechanics of school placement. Algorithms are not the answer. Nonetheless, this conversation is happening. And I think it can be an important one… if we talk about the larger systems at work.

You can’t talk about school segregation without talking about real estate. Just because we don’t actively practice redlining today, doesn’t mean it’s impacts aren’t being felt today.

Just a few days ago Newsday published an investigative article titled Long Island Divided, which makes clear the connection between housing discrimination and school segregation. In fact, the connections are so evident, the authors decided to write a whole piece about it titled, “Schools as a Selling Point where it states:

““Discussions about schools can raise questions about steering if there is a correlation between the quality of the schools and neighborhood racial composition.”

Characterizations about schools with low test scores, for example, or comments that reference a “‘community with declining schools’ become code words for racial or other differences in the community,” the post states. As a result, such comments become “fair-housing issues.””

— National Realtors Association Website, 2014

Ask yourself about our city’s zoning history. Where are multi-family homes built? Where is low-income housing built? Where are the single-family homes? These are all results of zoning laws put in place when redlining was A-OK in our city. These laws were designed intentionally to segregate us.

How does the real-estate industry maintain and reinforce school segregation? School rating websites like GreatSchools and Niche are paid by Redfin and Zillow to tell families which neighborhoods have “good” schools. If this is the case, I have to wonder why we aren’t enforcing fair-housing practices against Real Estate Companies who use school ratings sites like GreatSchools and Niche on their websites. Isn’t this the same thing?

School rating websites are based on standardized test scores which are themselves proxies for race and socioeconomic status of the students they serve.

Again… this shouldn’t be news to anyone. So why aren’t we doing anything about it?

If we truly believe in integration we can’t approach this problem in race-neutral ways. The system is working as designed. We must actively disrupt it. This work must include SFUSD staff at all levels as well as District partner organizations like Parents for Public Schools, and the 2nd District PTA.

“If you’ve ever wondered what you’d do during slavery, the holocaust or civil rights movement; you’re doing it right now.”

— Anonymous

In the presentation, SFUSD staff assert Diversity is one of our district’s core values. They assert integration is central to that definition of equity and that integrated schools are essential to supporting each and every student in our district.

School segregation is not an accident. Neither is housing segregation. The fact that “we didn’t create” redlining and other forms of overt housing and educational discrimination doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to dismantle these systems.

Access to high-quality schools is a human right. We can’t continue to turn a blind eye or pass the buck. We are all involved in the solution.

I’m interested in your thoughts. Please share in the comments below…

Related reads:

As many folks know, I’m not new to the conversation about integrating public schools. I am a product of integration and believe it is worth fighting for. Schools can’t do it alone.

Families have to lead these conversations. Please read, share and discuss:

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