Guest post by Laura McKenna, former political science writer, blogger, and freelance writer.
In yesterday's New York Times, David Kirp, a public policy professor from Berkeley, explains that school integration made a large, long term impact on African-American students.
The experience of an integrated education made all the difference in the lives of black children -- and in the lives of their children as well. These economists' studies consistently conclude that African-American students who attended integrated schools fared better academically than those left behind in segregated schools. They were more likely to graduate from high school and attend and graduate from college; and, the longer they spent attending integrated schools, the better they did. What's more, the fear that white children would suffer, voiced by opponents of integration, proved groundless. Between 1970 and 1990, the black-white gap in educational attainment shrank -- not because white youngsters did worse but because black youngsters did better.
Not only were they more successful in school, they were more successful in life as well. A 2011 study by the Berkeley public policy professor Rucker C. Johnson concludes that black youths who spent five years in desegregated schools have earned 25 percent more than those who never had that opportunity. Now in their 30s and 40s, they're also healthier -- the equivalent of being seven years younger.
Kirp calls for a return to integration. "If we're serious about improving educational opportunities, we need to revisit the abandoned policy of school integration."
I haven't seen those studies. I would like to see how they controlled for certain factors. Was there something different about the parents of African-American children who got their kids into those integrated schools? Did white students maintain their education advantage, because their parents put them in private schools or relocated to another town? Still, I'm pretty sure that their findings are accurate. Many other studies have shown the importance of peer group influences and the impact of wealth of a community on education outcomes.