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UCLA Report Links School Integration with Positive Leadership and Better Community Relations

Date Published: April 23, 2012
Teachers’ perceptions differ widely by the racial and socioeconomic makeup of their school



April 23, 2012  

CONTACT Laurie Russman, UCLA Civil Rights Project: 310.267.5562


LOS ANGELES—A new report from The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA zeroes in on teachers’ perceptions of the everyday climate in schools and explains that teachers working in racially diverse and stable schools perceive their school and community environments in significantly different ways than do teachers working in either more homogeneous or less stable schools.  At a time when statistics show a steady increase in the number of segregated schools, this study shows serious consequences for teachers, as well as for the parents and students who are part of segregated school communities.

Spaces of Inclusion? Teachers’ Perceptions of Integrated and Segregated Schools is based on a large national survey of teachers designed to investigate teachers’ beliefs and practices related to racial diversity, which was disseminated to over 1,000 educators nationwide. Teachers were asked a variety of questions dealing with fair student discipline practices, non-discriminatory assignment to Special Education classes, whether students from different groups mixed together in extra-curricular activities and the strength of family and community support for a school. 

Teachers of all races viewed schools with high percentages of students of color and low-income students as less likely to have family and community support. In contrast, teachers in stable and diverse learning environments -- with or without a white student majority -- report more positive student relations and more support from parents and the community (with some variation according to the race of the teacher). 

Since the support of families is considered crucial to educational achievement, weak relationships between schools and parents in segregated minority environments highlight a critical disadvantage that racially and socioeconomically isolated schools must overcome, on top of a myriad of other well-documented deficits, including high teacher turnover.

“We are in a period of intense national debate on issues of school performance, one that has been largely critical of our teachers,” said Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, co-author of the report. “This report shows that stable and diverse schools lead to more inclusive partnerships between teachers and communities and to better overall achievement. Isn’t it time that policymakers fostered these types of educational environments?”

New figures from the 2010 Census show that more than half of the nation’s poor population now resides in the suburbs, and minority racial groups make up 35% of suburban communities. School districts in suburban areas are experiencing these rapid racial and socioeconomic changes at the ground level. Confronted with making critical decisions related to rising diversity in schools and classrooms, few of these school systems and the teachers working in them have prior training in how to foster positive, inclusive educational environments for their diverse student populations.

Says Co-author Erica Frankenberg, “As the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act proceeds, this report reminds us that paying attention to the racial and socioeconomic integration of schools remains important—and that schools and teachers need support and guidance as their student populations continue to transform.”   

Civil Rights Project Co-Director Gary Orfield called on the Obama administration and state education officials to “provide leadership to help communities threatened with resegregation to use magnet schools and other methods to create and support integrated schools.”  He said that the survey shows that “teachers of all races know how much better these schools work.”

Key Findings  

  • Teachers in stable racially diverse and middle-class schools reported the most positive indicators of inclusivity, including that their administrators were capable of dealing with diversity issues effectively, discipline practices were fairer and tracking was not a critical issue. 
  • Nonwhite teachers across all school contexts reported more serious issues around racial disparities in Special Education assignments.  Almost 17% of nonwhite teachers thought that there were significant Special Education disparities by race, versus roughly 9% of white teachers. In predominately white school settings, nearly 40% of teachers of color felt that disparities in Special Education assignments were significant, compared to just 6% of white teachers.
  • Teachers in racially stable diverse environments were significantly more likely to say that students rarely self-segregated (13.8%) compared to teachers in non-stable settings (7.2%).  Teachers in stably diverse schools were also less likely to report that tension between students of different races was significant (5.1%) than teachers in transitioning schools (10.5%). 
  • Less than 30% of teachers in segregated minority schools felt that their school was supported by the community.  That figure is significantly lower than the 56% of all teachers responding to the survey who believed that the community is strongly supportive. 

The report stresses that these results have important implications for state, district and school-level policies. Policies that encourage teachers who stay and invest in creating a supportive and inclusive environment are sorely needed. Federal policy also could help foster productive external relationships by providing incentives for family and community involvement through the school assessment process. Preparation and technical support from local, state and federal agencies could also help address some of the concerning trends documented in the report. 


Spaces of Inclusion? is the final report in a three-part series based on a nationwide survey of teachers. The first report, The Segregation of American Teachers, documented serious patterns of racial isolation among the faculties of U.S. K-12 schools.  The second report, Are Teachers Prepared for Racially Changing Schools?, analyzed the preparation and teaching practices employed by educators across different grade levels, finding a dearth of focused training for racial diversity. 



About the Civil Rights Project at UCLA

Founded in 1996 by former Harvard professors Gary Orfield and Christopher Edley Jr., the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles is now co-directed by Orfield and Patricia Gándara, professors at UCLA.  Its mission is to create a new generation of research in social science and law on the critical issues of civil rights and equal opportunity for racial and ethnic groups in the United States.  It has commissioned more than 400 studies, published 13 books and issued numerous reports from authors at universities and research centers across the country.
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