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NPR Report Touts the Benefits of School Diversity–For White Children

integration and educationDoes integration benefit white children? There are a number of reasons why this is true, according to one assessment, departing from the usual materials that demonstrate the benefits of diverse learning environments for poor children and children from racial minority groups.

Writing for NPR, Anya Kamenetz referenced a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York that gained attention lately over the issue of public schools. Affluent white families have been moving into new condos in this waterfront area, creating overcrowding problems for the local elementary school. In response, the city wants to redraw the school zoning so that children in would be sent from this predominantly white school to a nearby school in which most children are Black and Latino and many live in a public housing project. Some parents recoiled at the idea, under the assumption that sending children to a predominantly Black and Brown school would be a sacrifice, and pits their children against their supposedly liberal ideas. This caused the National Review, a conservative publication, to lodge charges of “liberal hypocrisy.”

The author argues there are three reasons why white students would benefit from a more diverse educational environment. For example, students who attend diverse schools, Kamenetz offers, tend to become less prejudiced and more empathetic, as cross-racial friendships are formed and one’s willingness to stereotype declines. This is particularly the case when children attend diverse schools early on.

Further, the author notes the work of Professor Phillips at Columbia Business School, who studies the benefits of diversity. There is evidence that businesses with a more inclusive racial and gender representation are more innovative and profitable, and they—including white folks—tend to work harder and smarter in such an environment.

“What the work tells us is that when you have people from the social majority in a diverse environment they work harder and focus on the task more,” Phillips said. “They think about problems more broadly.”

Kamenetz cites a recent U.S. Department of Education report on the Black-white achievement gap, which found that achievement for white students did not differ in schools with high Black student density versus low Black student density. However, for Black students in general, especially Black males, achievement was lower in the highest density schools than in the lowest density schools. And looking at gender, the Black–white achievement gap was larger in the highest density schools than in the lowest density schools for males.

The report surmises that Black student density is related to achievement and the Black-white achievement gap because students with a lot of Black students tend to have less experienced teachers and lower expectations of Black students. In addition, such schools serve lower socio-economic status students from lower educational levels and single-parent families who need greater levels of support. There is also evidence that Black students are subjected to different tracking depending on the density of a school. Further, Black children face far more discipline than whites, a factor in the school-to-prison pipeline, so that the number of school disciplinary reports increases as more Black students attend a given school.

Kamenetz did not address the possible psychological benefits, comfort and safety of predominantly Black institutions such as HBCUs on Black students.

In a nation which is projected to become majority Black and Brown in 30 years–in which the majority of children born today already are children of color–the issue of diversity and equity in the classroom is being framed as a matter of leadership building and competitive advantage for the nation.  As for Black children, the issue never was sitting next to white children for the sake of it, as if some magical benefit would be conferred upon them.  Rather, it was an issue of equity and justice–the “separate and unequal” conditions relegated to underfunded, under-resourced Black schools as opposed to white schools, as was addressed in the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

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