The Broad Forum re-centers, re-sparks, and re-connects our network of leaders in education. It also pushes network members out of their day-to-day and into the tough questions and external perspectives that may not always be front and center. It is this balance of support and challenge that I love about The Broad Center in general and the Forum in particular. My favorite session this year was the Education and Housing panel, which delved into the intricacies and overlaps of two sectors both vital to a just, equitable society.
Attendees were in the presence of a panel of all-stars when it came to desegregating schools and neighborhoods. Mike Koprowski (The Broad Residency 2012-14) of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition was joined by Demetria McCain (President, Inclusive Communities Project), John King (CEO, Education Trust), and Richard Kahlenberg (Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation). I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a group of panelists so full of respect for each other’s work. The term “fan” was used liberally.
Though it’s commonly agreed that housing and education are interrelated, this conversation asserted that housing policy is education policy. If families enroll in neighborhood schools and residential neighborhoods remain segregated by race and socioeconomic status, school systems will struggle to truly integrate. Further, school systems don’t merely reflect the segregation of their neighborhoods; they often exacerbate it and they could be improving it.
The research shared on the benefits of socioeconomic integration in schools was clear: students perform as well or better in mixed-income schools. Students from low-income households who attend mixed-income schools do better than their counterparts who attend high-poverty schools. Students from middle- or high-income households do just as well (better, when considering the benefits of diverse learning environments) in mixed-income schools as their counterparts attending schools with high concentrations of middle- or high-income students.
Integrating neighborhoods and schools is complex and requires victories on many fronts. Housing subsidies must be available in traditionally high-income neighborhoods. Policies allowing for housing discrimination based on income or payment type must be outlawed. Cities must implement potentially costly transportation solutions. School systems must prioritize desegregation at every turn. This includes carefully crafted enrollment strategies, complex bussing solutions, and the simultaneous improvement of segregated high-poverty schools and promotion of integrated mixed-income schools. Additionally, when city councils ask for a district’s opinion on a new affordable housing project, the district must consider how their answer will impact the segregation of their students.
How can education leaders incorporate issues of social justice external to the school building into solutions within it? When it comes to housing and education policy, education leaders can:
- Cease to allow school systems to perpetuate or exacerbate the segregation of the communities they serve
- Use the interest in diverse, equitable schools to push for desegregated school models
- Use the platform afforded to education leaders to advocate for housing policy that supports integration
- Connect with colleagues in the housing sector for expertise and partnership
Sure, this may be easier said than done, and the panelists made it clear that schools that successfully serve 100% low-income student populations well should continue to do so. For schools in America serving segregated populations and often disserving students of color and low-income students, working with housing leaders to desegregate schools is a win-win for more equitable schools and society.
I learned a lot from one session of listening to these experts, but network members must decide for themselves if, when, and how this push can impact their work. In any case, I’m grateful for Forum sessions that issue challenges, offer insights, provide evidence, and further camaraderie from adjacent sectors to leaders in our network.