Tuesday, July 24, 2007

An Imbalance Grows in Cambridge Schools

In today's Boston Globe, Tracy Jan reports that Cambridge, touted as a national model for its economic integration plan, has become more racially segregated over the five years that the plan has been in practice.

"Under the plan, parents list their top three choices and are entered into two pools, depending on whether their children qualify for federally subsidized lunch, which serves as a common gauge of poverty. To qualify, a family's annual income, depending on its size, must range between $12,740 and $43,680; 45 percent of seats in each school are reserved for low-income students to reflect the district average. Schools could fluctuate 15 percent above or below that amount."

Unfortunately, however, while the plan has been modestly successful at economically desegregating the schools, Jan writes that "[P]arents choose schools where they feel the most comfortable, and their choices often split along racial lines. Some high-poverty, mostly minority schools have low-income families on their waiting lists but have trouble filling spots reserved for middle-class students. And some higher income schools popular among middle class families have empty seats for low-income students."

For schools looking to bring their integration plans into line with the recent decisions, Cambridge's combination of parent choice and economic diversity guidelines might be a good place to start, but changes must be made to ensure that racial diversity does not suffer as a result.