Spaces of Inclusion? Teachers’ Perceptions of School Communities with Differing Student Racial & Socioeconomic Contexts
From the Executive Summary:
American demographics are shifting, most notably among our student population (G. Orfield, 2009). The proportion of white student enrollment has steadily decreased since the 1960s, from approximately 80% of students to 56% today (G. Orfield, 2009). In the South and the West – two of the most populous regions in the country – schools report nonwhite majorities (G. Orfield, 2009). This growing diversity brings new opportunities and challenges for educators seeking to create healthy, inclusive learning environments in the 21st century.
The racial transformation of students affects a broad cross-section of schools, with a particular impact on suburban school districts experiencing rapid transition. More Latino, black and Asian families have either migrated to suburban areas from the central city, or have chosen to settle immediately in suburban communities (Pollard & Mather, 2008; Frey, 2001).
Meanwhile, as school enrollments begin to reflect a growing nonwhite population, America’s teaching force remains remarkably homogenous—a full 83% of educators are white (Boser, 2011). The juxtaposition between the changing complexion of U.S. educational systems and their predominately white teaching corps may complicate critical relationships between schools, families and the broader community (Pollock, 2008).
Overarching shifting student enrollment patterns, which have in many cases fashioned schools with some degree of racial diversity, is an important distinction. Scholars have long differentiated between desegregation – placing students of different races and ethnicities in contact with one another – and true integration, where those students engage in meaningful, equal status relationships (Allport, 1954; Slavin, 1995; Powell, 2005). Today, the rapid pace of racial transition in American schools calls for renewed attention to the structures and dynamics of quality, integrated education.
Research continues to confirm that myriad benefits for students of all races are linked to racially diverse schools—including more advanced critical thinking skills, an enhanced ability to adopt multiple perspectives, higher academic achievement and college attendance rates and more cross-racial friendships (see, e.g. Linn & Welner, 2007; Orfield, Frankenberg & Garces, 2008). All of these outcomes have become increasingly important in the globally linked, 21st century economy. On the other hand, racially and socioeconomically isolated schools continue to be associated with a variety of educational harms. Segregated schools are often linked to high dropout rates, diminished access to high quality curriculum, and fewer highly qualified teachers (accompanied by rapid teacher turnover that compromises the stability of the school setting) (Balfanz & Letgers, 2004; Ladd & Vigdor, 2008; Orfield, Siegel-Hawley & Kucsera, 2011). Yet despite the highly disparate educational contexts related to school racial and socioeconomic composition—attributes of which are highlighted repeatedly by both white and nonwhite teachers in the following report—policy and law have done little to promote stable, diverse school settings over the past several decades.