By Katelyn Silva, Chief Communications Officer, Rhode Island Mayoral Academies

May 17 marks the 60th anniversary of the milestone decision on Brown
vs. the Board of Education that made school segregation unlawful. Despite the
progress made in between, starting in the 1980’s, our schools began moving
backwards towards resegregation. This is despite having a population that is
increasingly racially and ethnically diverse.

Here in Rhode
Island, our urban core communities—Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket,
Newport and Woonsocket—are 79 percent non-white, while the remaining
communities are only 13 percent. The five urban core communities also have the
highest percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced priced lunch
(FRL).

The fact is that
while legal segregation is a thing of the past, de facto segregation is on the
rise, mainly because real estate values still largely determine the quality of education provided in many communities.

In 2000, Samuel
Issacharoff, Reiss Professor of Constitutional Law at NYU Law School, lamented
to the New York Times, “Fifty years after Brown vs. Board of Education,
there is still no non-coercive mechanism for racial integration that has
evolved in this country.” Responding in 2003 in the journal Principal Leadership, High Tech High founder Larry Rosenstock
proposed a potential solution:

“Building small schools of choice, which intentionally bring
together students of diverse races, ethnicities and classes, may be one of the
only effective ways to ensure that all students receive a high quality, truly
integrated educational experience.”

A decade after that
provocation, we have numerous examples of charter school networks that have
done precisely what Rosenstock suggested, including High Tech High itself,
Denver School of Science and Technology, Citizens of the World charter schools,
Summit Public Schools, EL Haynes, Rhode Island’s own Blackstone Valley Prep and
others, as recently documented by The Century
Foundation
.

Research from the
National Coalition on School Diversity suggests that racially and
socioeconomically diverse schools work for everyone.  Findings show that
students from lower income backgrounds who attend racially and
socioeconomically diverse schools are more likely to achieve better test scores
and higher grades, and to persist through high school and college when compared
with students who attend schools with great numbers of disadvantaged or
non-white youth (or both).

Studies also
suggest significant advantages for white, non-low-income students in diverse
schools. These students show greater critical thinking, problem-solving
 and community engagement skills, which are important to successful
completion of college, and success in life and the global economy. Students
from diverse schools are also more likely to reside in desegregated
neighborhoods as adults.

Blackstone Valley
Prep Mayoral Academy takes the research to heart and implements it through its
model of intentional socioeconomic and racial diversity. BVP serves four
distinct urban and suburban districts: Cumberland, Central Falls, Pawtucket,
and Lincoln. Each of these four districts in isolation serves highly segregated
groups of students, but through the BVP charter network, the student population
becomes highly integrated.  

%White
%Non-White
%FRL
Central Falls
9
91
81
Cumberland
83
17
24
Lincoln
90
10
27
Pawtucket
34
66
78

BVP’s enrollment
from these communities yields a student population that is 63 percent
low-income/37 percent not (based on free and reduced-lunch numbers); and 61
percent students of color/39 percent not.  

%White
%Non-White
%FRL
Central Falls
9
91
81
Cumberland
83
17
24
Lincoln
90
10
27
Pawtucket
34
66
78
BVP
39
61
62

The model is
working.
BVP has the highest
8th grade math scores on NECAP in the state; higher than the
wealthier and highly segregated districts of East Greenwich and Barrington.
Latino BVP students in 8th grade score 57 points higher than the state average.

Rhode Island
parents have taken notice. More than 1900 families applied for 173 seats at BVP
this year. Many of the remaining 1700+ will be educationally straightjacketed
by their zip code.  Their children’s classrooms will be mostly homogenous.
They will be taught Brown vs. the Board of Education, but they will not
experience its impact.

The simmer of
segregation’s injustice may be hushed, but the ramifications are loud. A
segregated society still means an unequal society, one that results in
poverty, prejudice, and social stratification.


We are not going to get to truly integrated schools with good
intentions and small nods towards progress, but with system-wide innovation and
community will. Imaginary boundaries cannot be what separate our children from
the benefits of learning side by side. However, until we stop putting up
phantom walls to school choice, multi-district education, and policies on
integration, we will never see the seeds of Brown vs. the Board of Education
fully blossom.