Work on Yourself and Work on Your Community

Hi Friends!
Thanks to those of you who were able to come to last week’s discussion group. We had a great conversation about how we might address inequities in local schools (related to neighborhood schools v. choice schools) and some helpful context about how the school board/district has evolved over time.
A friend from my alma mater shared a letter written by the current college president about starting a study group on whiteness. He was responding to some backlash from the initiative and his letter reminded me why I wanted to start this group in the first place. Here’s the letter.
As a reminder, we have two main goals in this group. First, identify and address our own individual racism and privilege and our role in perpetuating systemic racism. Second, use that knowledge to encourage others to do the same, and work to dismantle systemic racism in our community in whatever way we have leverage and power.
One of the challenges I think we face in this group is figuring out how to balance our advocacy for integrated schools with avoiding judgement of families’ personal decisions about school choice. One of our members made a very interesting suggestion. What would happen if every local school was a choice school, with a certain % of spots held for economically disadvantaged students at each school? Would that end up integrating our schools via family choice rather than some imposed redistribution? What do you think?
To facilitate and encourage progress on our first goal (stated above), I would like to make myself available to meet with any of you individually or in small groups to have these conversations in person or via email. Sometimes we don’t understand our own beliefs about something until we hear ourselves say it out loud, so I am happy to be your sounding board. I don’t have it all figured out, so it’s an opportunity to work on this together. Reach out anytime.
Here are some resources I came across recently (so many!):
(1) “Tell Me About… How Your Disrupt Inequity at Your School” in ASCD for ideas about how schools have addressed this issue creatively.
(2) “Racial Inequality in Public Schools” by Kimberly Jade Norwood in American Bar Association’s TYL is an excerpt from Ferguson’s Fault Lines: The Race Quake that Rocked a Nation.
(3) “Racial Inequities: What Schools Can Do” in Education World includes some concrete examples of what schools/districts can do to address these issues.
(4) “The Inequity in Public Schools” by Michael Godsey in The Atlantic includes some very clear illustrations of the inequities that exist and how our choices might exacerbate them.
(5) “Good School, Rich School; Bad School, Poor School” by Alana Semuels in The Atlantic focuses on the funding of school districts and how that contributes to inequities.
(6) “Civics, Community, and Allyship: Why We Chose Our Local Public School” by ILOVECAKE in Integrated Schools was shared with me by one of our members.
These have all been added to the overall resource list, along with a few others. Thanks for your work on these issues!

Are Neighborhood Schools Racist When They Exist in a Segregated Community?

Hi Friends!
Happy Black History Month! Please share events/efforts/resources with the group. First, some updates/info from our members:
(1) The local chapter of Our Revolution is organizing a talk on limited equity housing cooperatives on Thursday, February 8. If you’re interested in attending, please let them know.
(2) One of our members heard a presentation by the Commonwealth Institute on school funding inequalities. Their website has helpful data and gives a sense of the total funding inequities when you combine state and local funds for each school district.
Next, school district updates: The local school district is moving forward on elementary school boundary changes. They are also apparently engaging the community about Inclusion, although I haven’t seen any opportunities to give them feedback on this. Have any of you?
And now, my updates: I’ve been thinking about the best way to keep track of all of these wonderful resources we’ve been finding to make it easier for all of us to find them as we work on these issues. I have created a Google Doc, which is an updated version of the resource list we circulated at our first meeting. You can find it here and I will update it as we find more resources to share.
Speaking of which, here are some good ones on systemic discrimination and also a take on whether desegregation or equitable funding is the key to addressing inequities in our community. I also heard some very helpful historical context that I’d love your input on — see below.
How to Address Systemic Discrimination
(1) Arlington Magazine article from 2015, regarding the history of our community’s North/South divide, which I found fascinating. This may be especially relevant as we learn more about where the inequities are in our community and the ways in which we might be able to address them.
(2) Washington Monthly Magazine article from 2014, a heavily researched article on the importance of addressing economic segregation, which overlaps heavily with racial segregation (don’t be turned off by the subtitle). Montgomery County, MD is held up as a good example of desegregating its schools.
Desegregation or More Equitable Funding
I came across Fred Millar’s piece in The Washington Post back in October 2012 the last time the school boundaries were redrawn. The particularly interesting part when I read through it was his assertion that improving resources and funding for those students who are more economically disadvantaged doesn’t actually help — that the only thing that helps is spreading out white students more evenly because they (and the resources they bring with them) are the biggest asset the County schools has to offer. This could also be done by better integrating our neighborhoods.
This jumped out at me in particular because I recently discussed a focus on the shorter-term goal of addressing inequities among the schools in our community, while still working to address the longer-term goal of desegregating our schools. I’m finding that inequities take many forms in our schools: PTA fundraising levels, facilities, how resources are distributed (like gifted programs — more on that below), teacher retention and support, and parental involvement. Some of these inequities are among the schools and some of them are within the schools themselves.
The driving factor, I suspect, will be parental will. If we can get more and more parents in our community to get behind this effort in some way, even if it means that their children might have to travel further from home to get to school, then we might have some movement on this effort. We will also need to work on affordable housing equity (and related services and transportation) in our county to support this effort. What do you think?
And here’s a big picture question I’ve been grappling with: There is history in our community and elsewhere of the “neighborhood schools” argument undermining the integration movement. However, when communities of color are also expressing a preference for neighborhood schools, do we still push the School Board for integration over their protests? Can an effort to educate all of our students equitably (best realized by full student body integration at every school, likely meaning that every/nearly every child is bused to school somewhere in the county) succeed? What factors need to be in place to help it succeed?
If the best education for ALL of our students comes from full student body integration at every school, then:
(1) neighborhood schools have to lose priority (even for communities of color);
(2) transportation of all students has to be more robust and routes overhauled (which could also address helping parents stay involved in their child’s school in after-hours activities even if it is further away); and,
(3) school boundaries become much more fluid/focused on demographics first.
What are your reactions to this?
A few more resources:
(1) Race Forward, which has recently joined with the Center for Racial Justice Innovation, is based in New York and Oakland, CA, publishes Colorlines, and offers many tools and trainings to support this work. Coincidentally, they also host a national conference called “Facing Race” and the next one is this November.
(2) One of our members reminded me recently about Nikole Hannah-Jones and her award-winning work on racial justice issues around education and housing. Check out her work.
(3) And a question that I’m starting to dig into — do you find that if your children are participating in gifted/talented programs in their school(s) that those programs are predominantly filled with white children? There was an article in The Washington Post about Fairfax County that might inform us on this.
I’ll be putting together another document to follow all of these evolving conversations so we can try to move the ball forward on some focused efforts in the schools and I’ll share that next week. Thanks to all of you!