Many proposals for addressing school segregation seem pretty small, especially when compared to the scale and severity of the problem. Without the power of a court-ordered desegregation mandate, progress can feel extremely far off, if not altogether impossible. Some even believe—understandably though mistakenly—that no meaningful steps can be taken to integrate schools unless housing segregation is resolved.
But a new theory from Thomas Scott-Railton, a recent graduate of Yale Law School, provides reason to believe there are still new ways to think about this issue. Railton’s approach does something that’s all too rare in education-policy debates: He takes what are normally viewed as discrete issue areas—K–12 segregation, college admissions, and the lack of diversity at top universities—and says, what if those can all be addressed together? What if, in fact, it’s impossible to address them apart? Scott-Railton’s proposal, which he published in the Yale Law & Policy Review, is to reduce K–12 segregation by reforming the college-admissions process.
Scott-Railton began thinking about this last fall, after listening to Nikole Hannah-Jones’s reporting on This American Life about school segregation in the St. Louis metropolitan area. The radio broadcast featured wealthy white parents in a St. Louis suburb distressed by the prospect of black students from a neighboring town enrolling in their public schools. The black children’s district had recently lost its accreditation due to poor academic performance. (It was the same district that Michael Brown, who was fatally shot by police in August 2014, had graduated from.) If a Missouri school district loses its accreditation, the state permits any student enrolled to transfer to a nearby accredited one.