The Century Foundation (TCF), a leading progressive think tank, today announced the launch of the Bridges Collaborative, a first-of-its-kind national initiative that will bring together leaders of traditional public schools and charter schools, fair housing advocates, policy experts and community members around the common mission of promoting diverse and integrated schools and neighborhoods. The collaborative comes at a pivotal moment for K-12 education, with the inequities laid bare by COVID-19 adding new urgency to efforts to ensure that America’s students are not divided into schools of “haves” and “have nots.”

The Bridges Collaborative will seek to capitalize on a growing groundswell of interest in and support for school integration, igniting a new nationwide movement for integrated schools after decades of stalled progress. Housed within TCF, the Collaborative will be led by Stefan Louis Lallinger, who most recently served as a Special Assistant to the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education and is a former school principal in New Orleans. Lallinger’s grandfather, Louis Redding, was a lawyer who argued the landmark school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education, before the Supreme Court in 1954.

“The launch of the Bridges Collaborative puts a stake in the ground—it sends a clear message that we will deliver the high-quality, integrated school experience that the next generation deserves,” said Lallinger. “This work is deeply personal to me: not just as a former school teacher, but as the grandson of someone who worked tirelessly fighting for school integration. Despite the high court’s unanimous decision in Brown v. Board, the promise of equal education has never been realized. With this collaborative, we hope to change that.”

The Collaborative will launch a cohort of district, charter, and fair housing leaders from across the country within the next year. In the interim, leaders of the initiative plan to launch a series of virtual events over the course of the summer, including sessions that will address how educators are responding to the many impacts of COVID-19; begin outreach with potential cohort members; and advocate for reforms to school systems across the country in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

Ultimately, the Bridges Collaborative will seek to convene more than 50 organizations from all regions of the country that are committed to working on school integration in their communities. The cohort will create opportunities for cross-sector learning and collaboration; offer technical assistance, training, and communications support; and help develop and implement integration strategies at the local level.

“The COVID-19 crisis has shown just how we much we lose out when we’re forced to distance ourselves from others—when we erect temporarily necessary walls and barriers that prohibit us from coming together,” said Richard Kahlenberg, TCF director of K-12 equity and one of the country’s leading voices on school integration. “Unfortunately, this type of arbitrary exclusion happens all the time in our schools and in our neighborhoods along lines of race and class—and it has just as damaging an impact on our people. We need to tear down the walls that separate students by color and economic status, which is precisely what the collaborative will aim to do.”

The Century Foundation has been at the forefront of school integration research for decades, steering the national conversation on school diversity in both policy and advocacy circles. The launch of the Bridges Collaborative signals TCF’s continued role as a national leader on school integration and represents a unique opportunity to make research and expertise come to life for the benefit of thousands of schools and millions of children.

“Despite the overwhelming evidence demonstrating the benefits of diverse classrooms, it’s often difficult to frame integration in a way that is compelling and moves people past the paradigms of a bygone era,” said Halley Potter, senior fellow at The Century Foundation and leading school integration expert. “TCF is excited to tackle this challenge in collaboration with school leaders across the country, bringing together the best research and the best ideas to empower our partner members to make change in their own communities.”

Decades of research demonstrate the myriad of positive benefits for students who attend diverse and integrated schools, including higher test scores, higher graduation rates, and a host of positive social and civic outcomes. Despite the clear benefits, however, progress on integration has been extremely limited in recent decades — although those trends are beginning to change.

“It is inevitable that the crisis we find ourselves in will force major changes upon the education system as we know it, whether we like it or not,” added Lallinger. “We need to think imaginatively and expansively about what could emerge in the wake of COVID-19. It is incumbent on all of us to steer it closer to our collective desire of an inclusive, equitable, and diverse American school system.”

To stay informed of the Collaborative’s work, sign-up for updates here. For more information or questions, contact Stefan Lallinger at [email protected].