Reframing The Issue of School Segregation

Megan Hopkins

Assistant Professor Megan Hopkins, PhD, UIC College of Education

School segregation was outlawed more than 60 years ago, but any visitor to a Chicago Public School will observe that the vast majority of students are either Black, Latino, or White.

UIC College of Education’s  Megan Hopkins, PhD, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, is seeking to reframe the issue of school integration and equity in her new co-edited book, “School Integration Matters: Research-Based Strategies to Advance Equity.” She and her co-editors, Erica Frankenberg and Liliana Garces, associate professors of education at the Pennsylvania State University, argue that race should be a central consideration in school reform efforts, spanning from preschool to higher education.

“Some teachers say, ‘I don’t see color,’ but without seeing color you aren’t seeing the assets students bring to your classroom and use them to think critically about your curriculum to see if it reflects students’ experiences,” Hopkins said. “We can’t support equitable schooling for students if we don’t explicitly take up race in our discussions.”

Hopkins’ book challenges such colorblindness from the individual classroom all the way to the Supreme Court, where Hopkins says decisions have historically revolved around color-blind ideologies, for instance in its interpretation of affirmative action. She cites court decisions that limit or eliminate the ability of public schools and colleges to take race into account in their student assignment and admissions practices. While schools have turned to socioeconomic status as a proxy, Hopkins says the result is schools are skirting the real issue of structural and institutional racism prevalent in society.

The book also shows that prevailing explorations of school segregation, which focus on populations of Black and White students, need to be updated to reflect the current make up of the US student population. Within-school segregation is also an issue that needs attention, as the book reveals that, even in schools serving Black, Latino, and Asian populations, language programs and culturally-relevant practices can implicitly privilege certain groups of students.

Hopkins’ chapter of the book, which was co-authored with Rebecca Lowenhaupt, assistant professor of educational leadership at Boston College, illustrates how school organizational structures must be considered when supporting within school integration. In examining learning opportunities for immigrant students, and particularly English language learners, Hopkins and Lowenhaupt found that the extent to which language and content was integrated for ELLs varied by the school subject, with English as a second language curriculum embedded in language arts, but largely kept separate in the area of mathematics. Another chapter by the College’s P. Zitlali Morales, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, and Aria Razfar, associate professor of curriculum and instruction, describes how dual language educational programs can be an approach to supporting integration among students and across subject areas, as well as among parents and families.

The book also discusses how schools and policymakers can support integration efforts: the federal government could offer an integration checklist, while higher education institutions could draw on community engaged scholarship and service learning opportunities to bring diverse communities together in the classroom.

“We as an educational community spend a lot of time talking about access and equity, but can we achieve access and equity without integrating our schools and providing opportunities for students to work across racial and ethnic lines?” Hopkins said.

By Rob Schroeder