Policy & Progress article: Neighborhood Schools AND Diverse Schools? Yes, It's Possible

August 2012
By Chris Hill

You know the saying – What are the three most important things in real estate? Location! Location! Location!

When it comes to education, location can mean a tremendous amount – much more than it should, in fact.

In Wake County, many parents who want to do away with the district’s diversity policies say they want to protect their children from onerous travel. But the value of diversity in schools cannot be overstated; research shows that all children—low-income or high-income, white or minority—benefit from integrated schools.

“Neighborhood schools” and “diverse schools” don’t have to be mutually exclusive. All we need is neighborhoods that have racial and socioeconomic diversity.

Segregated housing patterns have created some sections of Wake County that are significantly wealthier than others. That’s the case in counties throughout North Carolina. As a practical matter, given the housing patterns in North Carolina, a “neighborhood schools” approach basically tells children that because their parents are poor, they are not worthy of a high-quality education.

Recent studies show that integrated schools narrow racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps. Last year, a Century Foundation report entitled “Housing Policy is School Policy” studied an area of Montgomery County, Maryland that uses inclusionary zoning, which helps assure that people of different income levels reside in the same neighborhood. The Century Foundation reported that the achievement gap narrowed in the schools when low-income students learned with their more affluent peers.

A report released by the Brookings Institution that where there are integrated housing and integrated schools, the achievement gap narrows. That report studied the Raleigh-Cary area in North Carolina and found that even where there is not integrated housing, the achievement gap narrows when there is a concerted effort to integrate the schools—such as the Wake County assignment policy that promoted socioeconomic integration.

So the diversity policy of Wake County schools is essential if the district is to provide quality education to all of its students. However, as county officials look to the future, they may want to look for ways to create inclusive neighborhoods. Then they will be able to create the ultimate superhero of public education—diverse neighborhood schools.

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