Research has long suggested that all students benefit when they attend diverse schools. But many schools remain largely segregated and those that serve children of color tend to have less-experienced teachers, fewer advanced courses, and resources stretched thin. And while more than half of the nation’s students are now children of color, more than 80 percent of teachers are white, and the majority are female.
Although many parents say they care about all children and support the creation of diverse schools, some, particularly affluent white families, have balked at attempts to integrate schools. So King will make the case that integration benefits not only black and brown students, who are disproportionately low-income, but their affluent white peers, too. “We have this emerging body of research around the importance of diversity for the success of organizations, and businesses,” he said, “and so there’s a case to be made that diversity is not just about trying to expand opportunities for low-income students, but really about our values as a country and to improve education outcomes for all students.”
“In today’s working world, your boss may not look like you, your office-mate may not worship like you, your project teammates may not speak the same language as you, and your customer may not live on the same continent as you,” he will say in Orlando. “Today, cross-cultural literacy is another way of saying competitive advantage.”
King pointed during our conversation to places like Hartford, Connecticut, and Louisville, Kentucky, cities that have taken steps to preserve integration in the years after court orders mandated it. (Orlando’s desegregation order was lifted just a few years ago.) Parents in Hartford, he will say, “are opting to send their kids to diverse schools beyond their neighborhoods because they didn’t want them to only encounter other students just like them.” That may be true, but it’s also true that Hartford has given parents incentives to choose certain schools by creating draws, such as magnet schools, dual-language programs, and STEM-focused approaches, that appeal to parents of all backgrounds. King thinks that’s a good thing and wants more districts to look to the idea as a way to increase diversity. “There’s something about trying to figure out what will draw families and students to a school,” said King, whose younger daughter attends a magnet school just outside Washington, D.C. “Those can be a way to draw a diverse student population.”
The secretary will also make the argument that the the Every Student Succeeds Act, the nation’s new federal education law, offers schools an opportunity to promote diversity not only in schools, but in individual classes. States will have more flexibility than under the previous federal education law when it comes to deciding how to improve low-performing schools or schools where certain subgroups of students, such as English-language learners, are struggling. “A state could prioritize the creation of a socioeconomic-diversity initiative as an approach to school improvement,” he said. King wants schools and even the colleges that train teachers to be more deliberate about presenting students with a diverse range of material. “I do worry that there are schools who sometimes are … they may have a diverse student body, but the AP classes aren’t diverse, and so schools do need to be intentional about creating diverse classroom experiences for students, and diversity isn't about just the sort of enrollment stage, diversity is really an institutional commitment to valuing the opportunity to share across different perspectives,” he said. “I think that’s something that teacher preparation programs need to be attentive to as well as state and district leaders.”