Wednesday | February 10, 2016

How Should We Address the Effects of Residential Segregation by Race and Class on America's Schools?

More than six decades after the Supreme Court declared that “separate but equal” education was a violation of the “equal protection of the law” afforded by the U.S. Constitution, American schools remain deeply segregated. Indeed, in some significant ways, educational segregation is more profound than in 1954, as segregation by race is now more deeply overlaid with segregation by socio-economic class.

Why has the segregation of American schools been so vexing a problem and so difficult to undo? Certainly, part of the problem has been a failure of political will. But in significant measure, school segregation in the United States is a function of residential segregation: In a society that cherishes the neighborhood school, “where we learn” is tied closely to “where we live.” The inversion of American cities in recent years, as gentrification has forced large numbers of poor people of color out of urban centers into the suburbs, has intensified – rather than ameliorated – the problems of educational segregation.

Our panel will examine a number of questions involving the connection between residential and educational segregation. Is residential segregation simply the aggregate result of individual choices to live with others who share our ethnic, racial and class background, or has the hand of government played a significant role in fostering this separation? Are there housing policies which can promote greater residential integration, and thus also yield greater educational integration? Conversely, are there educational policies that can promote residential integration? Has the single-minded focus of “education reform” on the school come up short precisely because it ignores, among other issues of socio-economic context, the linkage of school and residential neighborhood? To what extent has “choice” intensified segregation, particularly as “choices” of where to live are determined by “choices” of where to learn? How can the demographic shift expressed in the inversion of our cities be shaped in ways that promote school integration?


Kimberly Goyette, chair and professor, College of Liberal Arts,Temple University

Richard Rothstein, Research Associate, Economic Policy Institute

Amy Ellen Schwartz, Daniel Patrick Moynihan Professor of Public Affairs, Syracuse University

Amy Stuart Wells, Professor of Sociology and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Moderator: Regena Thomas, Human/Civil Rights Advocacy Director, American Federation of Teachers


Sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers, this conversation series is designed to engender lively and informative discussions on important educational issues. We deliberately invite speakers with diverse perspectives, including views other than those of the AFT and the Albert Shanker Institute. What is important is that these participants are committed to genuine engagement with each other.