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New School Integration Coalition to Forge Bonds Between Districts, Housing Groups

urban-planning-IMG.jpgMore than 50 organizations, including school districts, charter schools, and housing organizations, are convening in an effort to promote school integration. 

The Bridges Collaborative was created after an open call for applications by The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank that has worked on school integration for decades, usually through research and policy papers. Stefan Louis Lallinger, who is leading the initiative, said that the foundation saw an opening to "push the conversation forward in ways we haven't before." There's been a growing focus on equity in education, and how school integration plays a role in that, he said. Middle and upper-income people moving back into urban areas also creates another opportunity for more school diversity, he said.

The energy around the topic of school integration that would have been difficult to imagine even five or 10 years ago, Lallinger said. So many organizations applied to be a part of the group that the foundation had to create a selection process to choose this cohort. Eventually, 27 school districts, including those serving New York City, Los Angeles, and Miami; 17 charter schools, and 12 housing organizations were selected. The districts and charter organizations represent more than 3.5 million children around the country; the coalition members as a whole are located in more than 20 states and include systems of different sizes and demographics. 

One of the first goals for the group is to allow members to share some successful work that has been underway for some time. For example, Boston Collegiate Charter School, one of the coalition members, has made notable efforts in detracking its classes and increasing enrollment of underrepresented minorities in Advanced Placement classes. Other members, such as the housing organizations, have experience with using housing vouchers to promote more economically integrated neighborhoods, Lallinger said. 

"Let's open people's eyes to the successes that have actually happened," Lallinger said.  "Some of the folks we have at the table they run some of the highly sought after schools in their regions. It doesn't always have to be an acrimonious battle." In fact, the concept of integrated schools is highly popular, though white parents often make moves that undercut their own stated desires to send their children to diverse schools. 

Another key focus of the collaborative will be on creating strategic messaging to promote the benefits of school integration, he said.

Even though state and federal policy makers also have a role in promoting school integration, the collaborative's work will focus on local actions, Lallinger said. 

"We think there's tons that can be done at the state and federal level," Lallinger said. "But at the end of the day, education is local, housing is local. So we do think the power in this is going to be in communities coming together." 

Credit: iStock/Getty

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