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What Constitutes a "Diverse" School--Let's Get Real (and Maybe Ditch the Euphemisms While We're At It?)

I appreciate what Mike Petrilli's trying to do in starting a conversation about the choices middle-class parents who settle in urban areas make around public education for their kids. Education policy debates tend to focus on issues of social justice for underserved low-income kids--as they should. But we also know that the long-term well-being of our cities depends on creating communities that can attract, retain, and support middle- and working-class families, as well as singles, young couples, the extraordinarily wealthy and very poor--and that is largely contingent on having a stock of urban schools to which middle class families are willing to send their kids. That's one of the reasons I work on education reform issues in D.C.

But.....I feel like there's a big elephant in the room in this Washington Post story about Petrilli's book and personal/family education decisions. Piney Branch, the school being held up as the "diverse" and more urban alternative, has 33% low-income students. That's actually a lower percentage of low-income students than the national average. Nationally, 44% of children under age 18 live in low-income families, and over half of 4th graders are eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch. Nor is Piney Branch exactly an example of urban school failure: 93% of its 3rd graders were proficient in reading in 2011, and 92% proficient in math--both rates exceeding the Maryland state average.

None of this is to pick on Petrilli (although the Post could have presented the information about Piney Branch with a bit more context). Rather, if we are going to have honest conversations about diversity, integration, and segregation in public education, we all need to be honest and well-informed about what the demographics of our nation's children actually look like.

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