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Berkeley Unified's Diversity Plan a Model for Integration, Researchers Say

Since the 2007 Supreme Court ruling in cases involving the Jefferson County, Ky., and Seattle school systems placed limits on the use of race and ethnicity by districts when assigning students to campuses, local education leaders have wrestled with how to achieve racial and socioeconomic balance in their schools without running afoul of the ruling.

University of California researchers, in a study released yesterday, say one district has found the answer: Berkeley Unified.

Yes, Berkeley, that bastion of progressive ideals, political correctness, and tolerance, is racially and socioeconomically segregated. The city tends to be whiter and more affluent on the north side and up in the hills that overlook the UC Berkeley campus and San Francisco Bay, while the south side, which borders Oakland, is home to more minority and low-income families.

So, since 2004, school district officials have used a student-assignment plan for their 11 elementary schools that divides the city into more than 400 "planning areas," and assigns each of those areas a diversity code. The code is based on that area's average household income, highest level of education obtained by adults, and the percentage of minority students enrolled in grades K-5.

Every student in one of those planning areas is assigned the same diversity code regardless of his or her race. District officials use those codes when making school-assignment decisions that also take into account parental preference.

Berkeley's plan, which was created in response to the passage of Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot initiative that banned the use of racial preferences by state and local governments, has already been court-tested in California.

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