As the COVID-19 pandemic rolls into its ninth month, a rising death toll and pronounced racial and socioeconomic inequities are devastating the lives of millions of Americans. Sadly, America’s children are not shielded from these ongoing dark developments. From a lack of internet access for virtual learning,1 to heightened food insecurities due to the nationwide closures of school buildings (on which many children rely for regular meals),2 to Black children disproportionately being traumatized by incidents of violence against Black people,3 our nation’s young people have faced significant hardship in recent months. The COVID-19 pandemic and racism have created a nationwide outcry on a scale that our nation hasn’t seen in decades, and exposed the deep inequities that permeate our healthcare, governmental, and educational systems.

The many crises we are now undergoing are layered atop of an existing public education landscape that was already highly unequal and segregated. Sixty-six years after Brown v. Board of Education, Black and Latinx students across the nation are still disproportionately confined to racially and economically segregated, underfunded schools.4 Nationwide, two out of five Black and Latinx students attend schools where more than 90 percent of their classmates are non-White, while one in five White students attends a school where more than 90 percent of students are also White.5

Unlike a virus, school segregation and education inequality are not products of nature: they are the result of racist school and housing policies—conscious decisions by lawmakers—combined with individual choices that families make. Through deliberate policies and practices, however, it is possible to counter these trends, and, in the process, build a better education system that gives students access to diverse learning environments, equitable resources, and school cultures that affirm their identities.

One source of hope for the nation and especially the futures of our children are the examples of school districts and charter schools that are taking active steps to integrate their schools racially and socioeconomically. To that end, The Century Foundation has compiled the most comprehensive inventory to date of school integration efforts across the country. Combining new research with federal datasets, we identify school districts and charter schools that consider racial and/or socioeconomic diversity in their student assignment or admissions policies, as well as those with legal instruments in place to address segregation (meaning that they are subject to a desegregation order or voluntary agreement with a federal or state court or agency, which may or may not have translated into changes in student assignment).

Our research identified:

  • In total, 907 school districts and charter schools or networks, including
    • 185 districts and charters that consider race and/or socioeconomic status in their student assignment or admissions policies; and
    • an additional 722 districts and charters that are subject to a legal desegregation order or voluntary agreement.

The inventory can be found below, along with an interactive map including information from all 907 districts and charter schools included. In the text that precedes it, we offer a peek into the range of integration opportunities we found from across the country, discuss the key findings from our research, and outline the most important policy implications of our findings. A full dataset with additional information is available here. Details on the methodology are available in an appendix below.

A Sample from the Inventory

With 907 charters, districts, and networks from all corners of the United States, there is a wealth of practices, policies, and approaches to consider. Below we offer a sample of the agencies and legal circumstances included in the inventory. It is worth noting that our research did not include an analysis of how integrated the districts or charter schools are, whether these policies or legal instruments are being enforced, or how effective they have been at achieving their integration goals. This list is not intended as a record of school integration success stories—although there are certainly many promising examples among them—but rather as a list of places where the work of integration has begun because some policy or legal tools are at the very least available.

Active Integration Policies

Though a minority among the 907 agencies, the 185 instances of active integration policies, codified in school districts and charter schools’ admissions procedures, deserve special mention. In these districts and charters, socioeconomic status and/or race are factored into how students are assigned to schools or chosen through an application process.

In some of these cases, the district or charter’s integration policies are the direct result of legal action—such as the interdistrict magnet schools run by Hartford Public Schools, created as the result of the state desegregation case Sheff v. O’Neill, or the race-conscious weighted lottery at Francine Delany New School for Children, a North Carolina charter school that is covered by a federal desegregation order for the city of Asheville. But many more of these active integration policies are in districts that have taken matters into their own hands and embraced the work of integrating their schools.

For instance, among these 185 agencies is Howard County Public Schools in Maryland, which in fall 2019 approved a redistricting plan that will advance socioeconomic equity by balancing the proportion of low-income students at many of the county’s schools. Despite the physical closures of school buildings during the pandemic, Howard County, has moved forward with its redistricting plan alongside the digital learning it is implementing this fall. Superintendent Michael Martirano commented that, “for the start of the 2020-21 school year, we are working to provide a virtual school experience that replicates as closely as possible what students would experience in the classroom, including providing the supports, services and resources that would be available to students at each school.”6

The list also includes Minneapolis Public Schools, a school district in a city that became the peak of racial unrest in the early summer of this year. In May, less than two weeks before George Floyd’s murder, the school district approved new attendance boundaries to promote integration in its schools. “With the help of our Equity Diversity Impact Committee, a district group comprised of ten community-based organizations of color, district staff, and community members, we realized that our student placement/school choice policies and the location of our magnets were contributing to racial and economic isolation,” explained Eric Moore, the district’s senior accountability, research, and equity officer. “By redrawing boundaries and centralizing district magnets during our comprehensive district design process, Minneapolis is expected to reduce the number of racially and economically segregated schools by over 50 percent.”7

Furthermore, charter schools, such as City Charter Schools in Los Angeles, have seen the benefits in hard data of implementing enrollment preferences for economically disadvantaged students. “Our weighted lottery and weighted wait list have been instrumental in preserving diversity in our elementary school, and increasing it at our middle school,” Executive Director Valerie Braimah noted. Within two years of implementing a weighted lottery and relocating to a more diverse community, the network’s middle school dramatically increased enrollment of students of color and students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, making it more representative of the overall community it serves.8

It is also worth noting that the active integration policies we identified included a mix of policies based on socioeconomic factors, those based on race, and those using a combination of the two. The choice of these different levers for integration is sometimes related to the district or charter’s goals, whether they are primarily interested in racial integration or socioeconomic integration. But often both racial and socioeconomic integration are desired goals, and the choice of demographic factors considered is a tactical decision.9 Schools and districts that are not under legal desegregation orders or voluntary agreements are limited in the ways in which they can consider students’ race or ethnicity in enrollment. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 limited the ability to consider race in K–12 voluntary school integration policies (when districts or schools are not under legal desegregation orders). However, the Supreme Court still recognized racial diversity (and avoiding racial isolation) as a compelling government interest. School districts may adopt any number of race-neutral diversity strategies. They may also still voluntarily adopt race-based integration strategies under certain circumstances. Before considering race, school districts are required first to consider whether workable race-neutral approaches exist for achieving their integration goals.10

Under the federal constitution, legal instruments for school desegregation (defined here as desegregation orders or voluntary agreements with a federal or state court or agency) must begin with a complaint against a protected class—meaning that race-based segregation can be legally challenged, while socioeconomic segregation generally cannot be. Dependent on state constitutional language, state-based segregation may be challenged based on racial or socioeconomic segregation. However, even state-based policies to remedy racial segregation sometimes still use race-neutral strategies because they are less likely to face legal challenges under the federal constitution. For example, the interdistrict magnet schools in Hartford recently switched to considering socioeconomic status instead of race, even though the state court order that is responsible for them addresses racial segregation.11 Federal court-ordered school desegregation remedies are free to use race.

Court Orders, Voluntary Agreements, and Other Legal Opportunities

The districts and charters with active integration policies aren’t the only schools presenting opportunities for integration. In addition to the 185 agencies with active integration policies, which includes a mix of court-ordered and voluntary policies, we identified an additional 722 districts and charters that have been ordered by a court to integrate, or have signed onto an agreement with the same effect. In these cases, we did not find details about an active integration policy. These legal instruments may have translated into integration policies that we do not know about—and we intend to update this inventory as we become aware of more policies. However, we suspect that many of these legal instruments have not translated into changes in how students are assigned or admitted to schools. Most of the open court orders are decades old, and while still on the books, many are only superficially enforced or aren’t enforced at all.12

Most of the open court orders are decades old, and while still on the books, many are only superficially enforced or aren’t enforced at all.

For example, Anniston City Schools in Alabama is under a federal desegregation order dating back to 1963. District officials are aware of the order and have said that they do not plan to seek unitary status (the designation that releases a district from court oversight).13 However, there are no discernable plans for desegregation or integration in the district’s policy manual,14 and the community’s schools continue to have high levels of segregation. Although the community overall is roughly split between Black and White residents, its public schools are roughly 90 percent Black.15 The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division or the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights could require further action from the district, but so far they have not.

Court desegregation orders can still be useful tools, sometimes in unexpected ways. Leeds City Schools in Alabama is also under a federal desegregation order originally imposed in 1963 that has not resulted in discernable integration policies in the district.16 However, there are just four schools in the district, and they all fall close to the district average demographics of roughly 20 percent Black, 15 percent Hispanic, 60 percent White, and 50 percent low-income. As recently as this year, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) used this open order as a means for addressing the disproportionate impact on black students when Leeds City Schools decided to stop providing free and reduced-price meals to students after school buildings were closed due to COVID-19. LDF successfully moved the court to enforce the order and require the district to resume serving meals to students.17

Most of the active voluntary agreements that we identified are made between school districts or charter schools and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The U.S. Department of Justice has also historically been involved in making voluntary agreements, though it has been less involved than OCR. While these agreements tend to be more recent than the open court orders, they also vary in their scope and enforcement. Christian County Public Schools in Kentucky, for example, is under a 2014 agreement with OCR to address racial disparities in school discipline,18 while Gallup-McKinley County Schools in New Mexico entered into an agreement with OCR and the U.S. Department of Justice in 2017 to address discrimination against Native American students by excluding them from advanced academic opportunities.19

The exact nature of the opportunities these cases present, and the legal methods of going about making the most of them, are beyond the authors’ scope of expertise; but their presence in the educational landscape is unignorable, and we present them with the hope that the information will contribute to future research and inquiry.

Key Findings

Based on new research and compilation of existing data, this inventory offers a snapshot of the state of school integration efforts today. Here are some of the key findings.

Our research identified a total of 907 school districts and charter schools across the country with integration policies or legal instruments that address segregation.

We located 185 education agencies (119 school districts and 66 charter schools or networks) that consider race and/or socioeconomic status in their student assignment or admissions policies. (These agencies are represented by the shaded orange area in Figure 1.) A quarter of these are under some kind of legal desegregation order or agreement, while three-quarters do not appear to be under any legal order or agreement. In cases where both an integration policy and a legal instrument are present, sometimes there is a direct link between the two—as in Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut or Francine Delany New School for Children in North Carolina, described above. However, in other cases, the integration policy and legal instrument are unrelated. For example, Oakland Unified School District’s integration policy involves enrollment priorities designed to increase racial diversity at two high-demand high schools. It is under an active voluntary agreement with OCR regarding a separate issue, addressing disproportionate discipline for African American students.20

Furthermore, we found 722 education agencies (637 school districts and 85 charter schools or networks) that are subject to a legal desegregation order or voluntary agreement but for which we could not find details about an integration policy. (These agencies are represented by the shaded gray area in Figure 1.) The contents and enforcement of these legal instruments vary widely, and they may or may not have translated into changes in how students are assigned or admitted to schools.

Figure 1

These 907 districts and charters with enforceable integration tools enroll one quarter of all public school students.

The districts and charters with confirmed integration policies enroll seven million students (roughly 14 percent of total public school enrollment).

The districts and charters with legal desegregation instruments only (no confirmed integration policies) enroll an additional 5.7 million students (11 percent of total public school enrollment).

About a quarter of the 185 districts and charters with integration policies implemented those policies within the last four years (2017 or later).

By contrast, nearly all of the open federal court desegregation orders were placed before 1990. Active voluntary agreements were more likely to be recent, with the majority entered into between 2010 and 2014 (the most recent year of data).

The 185 districts and charters with integration policies are located in thirty-nine different states.

The states with the most school districts with integration policies are California, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Iowa, and Minnesota.

The states with the most charter schools or networks with integration policies are North Carolina, New Jersey, Colorado, Georgia, and California.

The 185 districts and charters with integration policies are located mostly in cities (60 percent) and suburbs (29 percent).

By contrast, more than half of the 722 districts and charters with legal desegregation instruments alone (no confirmed integration policies) are located in towns or rural areas.

The 185 districts and charters with integration policies have more racially diverse student populations than do U.S. school districts and charter schools overall.

About half of these districts and charters have no racial/ethnic majority (meaning that the largest racial or ethnic group comprises less than 50 percent of the student body), compared to only 13 percent of school districts and charters nationwide.21

In about half (eighty-nine) of these districts and charters, White students are the largest racial or ethnic group. Hispanic students are the largest group in fifty-one of the districts and charters, Black students in twenty-seven, Asian students in seven, and Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander students in one.

The integration policies identified fall into five main categories.

Attendance zone boundaries: forty-nine school districts have factored racial and/or socioeconomic diversity into decisions about redrawing school attendance zone boundaries in order to promote integration.

Magnet school admissions: forty-three school districts use socioeconomic status and/or race as a factor in the admissions policies for magnet schools.

Transfer policies: thirty districts have transfer policies that consider diversity, generally by giving preference to school transfer requests that would increase the socioeconomic or racial diversity of affected schools, or by giving a priority to low-income students or other educationally disadvantaged students when reviewing transfer requests.

District-wide choice policies: twenty-two districts use “controlled choice” or similar equitable choice policies across all or most schools in the district, allowing families to rank their school preferences and assigning students to schools based on those preferences, using an algorithm that ensures a relatively even distribution of students by socioeconomic status and/or race across all schools.

Charter school admissions: sixty-six charter schools or networks, as well as one district that authorizes charter schools, implement weighted lotteries or enrollment preferences based on socioeconomic status or race to promote diverse enrollment.

A small slice of integration policies address interdistrict segregation.

While most of these efforts are focused on promoting integration within a school district, eighteen districts and two charters have integration policies that strive in whole or in part to advance interdistrict integration.

Most of the integration policies consider socioeconomic factors, while only a few consider racial factors or both socioeconomic and racial factors.

More than 90 percent of the integration policies identified (171 of the 185 districts and charters) consider socioeconomic factors. While free and reduced-price lunch eligibility level was the most common socioeconomic marker used, districts and charters also considered other student-level socioeconomic factors such as eligibility for TANF, SNAP, Medicaid, or other public programs; foster care status; household income; and parents’ educational attainment; as well as neighborhood-level characteristics such as census data on median family income or academic performance of a neighborhood’s zoned school.22

Twelve policies consider both socioeconomic factors and race/ethnicity; and fourteen policies are based solely on race/ethnicity.

Implications for Policy and Practice

This information about school integration policies and legal desegregation efforts across the country, gathered together for the first time, points to some key lessons for policymakers, education leaders, and advocates. Here are some of the conclusions we’ve drawn:

There is a lot of work left to do to integrate America’s schools.

Three-quarters of all public school students attend school districts or charter schools that do not have any enforceable tools for integration in place.

Still, the growth of integration policies over the past four years is a hopeful sign that progress is possible.

From 2017 to 2020, seventeen school districts and twenty-eight charter schools added new integration policies (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

New legal instruments for desegregating schools have dramatically declined in recent decades.

Court oversight, which has waned in recent years in light of the lifting of many federal and state desegregation cases, signals the increasing importance of voluntary district action to help advance school integration. The vast majority of open federal desegregation orders are decades old. Over the years, changing case law, beginning with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Milliken v. Bradley in 1974 and continuing with cases like Parents Involved (2007), has made it increasingly difficult to advance race-conscious approaches to school integration and has lowered the bar for courts lifting desegregation orders and ending court oversight, even if the problems are not fully resolved. Despite the efforts of civil rights advocates, the court orders that are still active are often not enforced, because they are forgotten or ignored by the courts, the districts, or both.23 With decreased enforcement and court oversight, many states and districts seeking to advance school integration have encountered multiple obstacles. Although districts and charters are required to report in federal civil rights data whether they are under legal desegregation orders or active voluntary agreements, in practice, many districts and charters that are under such orders or agreements according to records from OCR and DOJ fail to report them, in some cases because they are not not even aware of them.24 (For further discussion, see the appendix.)

Of the districts and charter schools that added new integration policies in recent years, only a handful were under desegregation orders or voluntary agreements, and in those cases, the orders and agreements themselves were older.

Of the districts and charter schools that added new integration policies in recent years, only a handful were under desegregation orders or voluntary agreements, and in those cases, the orders and agreements themselves were older. For example, IC Imagine Public Charter School in North Carolina, which implemented a weighted lottery starting in 2019, is covered by the federal desegregation order for Asheville City Schools, which dates back to 1965. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, desegregation cases have still been powerful levers for securing district compliance. For example, LDF was able to argue for equitable access to the internet for students through an open desegregation case.25

Court oversight has been central to school integration in this country, but renewed focus on enforcement is needed for the courts to remain an effective tool for desegregation.26 A new wave of school desegregation cases could also be a force for advancing integration; however, this strategy comes with the risk of inviting more restrictions on school integration depending on how the courts respond. Past experience has also shown that the threat of litigation can serve as a catalyst for districts developing integration plans before the courts get involved.27

Most integration efforts happen locally; however, federal and state policies still matter.

There has been little federal support for school integration over the past four years. In fact, the Trump administration cancelled a federal grant to support integration efforts in 2017 and rescinded non regulatory guidance on voluntary racial integration plans a year later.28 Despite a hostile federal climate and little legal action to desegregate schools, school districts and charter schools have continued to take steps on a local level—such as a school board deciding to redraw attendance zone boundaries, district leaders opening new magnet schools, or a charter school leader seeking approval to implement a weighted lottery. However, federal and state policies do still help to catalyze some of these local decisions. From 2017 to 2020, eight districts implemented or revised diversity-conscious magnet school admissions policies that were supported in part by federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program grants, the primary federal vehicle for supporting school integration.

Likewise, more than half of the charter schools that added weighted lotteries from 2017 to 2020 are in North Carolina, and many were prompted to do so through a state grant program. The NC ACCESS grant, funded through the federal Charter Schools Program, was designed to encourage more of the state’s charter schools—which historically29 had high levels of segregation, with many schools serving Whiter, wealthier student populations than make up their surrounding communities—to enroll more educationally disadvantaged students.30 At Moore Montessori Community School in Southern Pines, North Carolina, for example, 50 percent of incoming seats for kindergarten are now reserved for kids who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. The head of school, Katherine Rucker, commented that “it is important the school reflects the diversity of the community, and we are doing a lot of hard and important work around race and equity, beginning with the adults, such as restorative practices and community engagement among the students.”31

Proposals for new and expanded federal policies to support school integration hold the potential to catalyze more local integration efforts. In September 2020, with bipartisan support, the Strength in Diversity Act passed in the House of Representatives, reflecting decades of coalition building to galvanize federal support. If enacted, the legislation would provide funding to support voluntary local efforts towards racial and socioeconomic diversity.

The ambitiousness and effectiveness of these integration efforts vary widely.

We have seen, for example, everything from controlled choice plans in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or Champaign, Illinois, which attempt to ensure all students in the district have access to a racially and socioeconomically integrated school; to a policy that affects only inter-district transfer requests in West Liberty, Iowa; to a rezoning policy that affects only a handful of elementary schools in Richmond, Virginia.

Tracking information on school integration should be a first step in holding education leaders accountable and pushing for continued progress.

Because this inventory is a list of works in progress rather than successes, it should be used as a tool for holding school districts and charter schools accountable to the integration goals set forward in policies and legal instruments and pushing for better action and bolder vision for broadening this work. More research is needed to track the effectiveness of these efforts. Federal and state education departments should provide more support and technical assistance for districts and charters interested in pursuing integration. Federal and state courts and agencies must also do better in providing oversight and enforcement of desegregation orders and voluntary agreements. Advocates should also push school districts and charter schools to look beyond student enrollment in working toward true integration by addressing racialized tracking, disparate discipline practices, teacher diversity, and cultural representation and relevance in the curriculum.

Conclusion

The work of school integration is ongoing, and the future holds many questions: Amidst a pandemic, in what ways are school districts moving forward with school integration plans? How is the pandemic impeding or delaying integration efforts, and how can school leaders and policymakers revitalize them? The Century Foundation is addressing these questions and others through the recently launched Bridges Collaborative, where we are bringing together practitioners from across the country to learn best practices at the forefront of school integration.32

The stakes for this work are high. Across the nation, Americans, particularly students, have risked their lives and the safety of their families in order to be on the front lines of protests for racial equality.33 Whether outrage from the killings of countless of Black Americans, to the allyship of standing with their Asian peers amidst stereotypes and brutalities during the COVID-19 pandemic, students have made clear that they value diversity and integration.

Now school districts must speak and act. Following the murder of George Floyd and global outcries against racial injustice, many school districts and charter schools across the country have published statements affirming the humanities of their Black students. What ultimately determines whether these statements are meaningful acts or merely symbolic is how authentically these schools employ policies towards equity, including towards racial and socioeconomic integration. This requires reflective practices and an examination of how certain policies may advance or disenfranchise their most vulnerable students–students of color and economically disadvantaged students.

What ultimately determines whether these statements are meaningful acts or merely symbolic is how authentically these schools employ policies towards equity, including towards racial and socioeconomic integration.

In the nation’s capital—the city that drew national attention in declaring Black Lives Matter through the naming of a plaza34—the District of Columbia’s first standalone Early Learning Center (ELC), Stevens ELC, is the first school in the district to use an “at-risk preference” that reserves a portion of seats for students who are homeless, in foster care, or eligible for TANF or SNAP. “The new Priority Seat preference and dedicated special-education programming paves the way for Stevens to create a socioeconomic-and ability-diverse school community that will serve as a blueprint for establishing other standalone ELC sites in our district,” explained DC Public Schools chancellor Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee. “Preserving access for at-risk families through the new Priority Seat preference in the My School DC lottery is important to D.C. Public Schools and underscores our commitment to equity. Especially during these unprecedented times, D.C. Public Schools is committed to eliminating opportunity gaps and providing students with the resources they need to be successful in this new virtual-learning setting.”35

The school districts and charter schools identified in this report have been given a head start by the integration policies and legal instruments that cover them, whether they were inherited or have been started up in the last few years. But it is up to district and charter leaders to implement and expand these efforts, up to courts and government agencies to provide legal enforcement where applicable, and up to advocates and community members to hold them accountable.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Janel A. George for providing feedback and Alejandra Vázquez Baur for providing research support for this report. We are also grateful to the many leaders at school districts, charter schools, state departments of education, and state charter advocacy organizations who answered questions and reviewed information.

Appendix: Data and Methodology

Criteria for Inclusion

This inventory attempts to catalogue two types of school integration efforts:

  • Integration policies: School districts and charter schools or networks that have established student assignment/admissions policies or practices that directly consider socioeconomic status or race in an effort to promote school integration.
  • Legal instruments: School districts and charter schools or networks that are subject to a desegregation order or voluntary agreement with a federal or state court or agency.

Some school districts or charter schools meet both criteria, having both integration policies and legal instruments.

For the most part, the integration policies on our list are intradistrict in nature: controlled by a single school district or charter school network, and limited to the geographic and population boundaries of one district. However, we have included interdistrict integration efforts as well. Although, by definition, interdistrict agreements involve multiple participating school districts, our list only includes the major urban districts involved in an agreement, as generally a much smaller number of students in suburban districts are affected.

Furthermore, very few of the districts in our list apply their integration policy to every school in the district. Efforts range in scope and size. We chose to include any district that accounts for race or socioeconomic status in at least a portion of the school assignment and admissions procedures.

We also chose to include only districts or charters where integration strategies are currently affecting student assignment in some way—either through present policies or sufficiently recent rezoning efforts.36 Districts or charters that have had integration plans in the past, but no longer adhere to these policies, are not included.37

While we were looking for integration policies and legal instruments intended to create racially and socioeconomically integrated school enrollment at the building level, our research did not evaluate the merits of an effort’s particular demographic goals or measure whether these goals were achieved.

A variety of other types of school integration efforts are not captured in this inventory, including housing integration efforts that promote school integration; integration achieved by equitably drawing school district boundaries; efforts to promote within-school integration by de-tracking; nascent efforts to study segregation or propose solutions that have not yet resulted in an enforceable policy or legal instrument; and grassroots advocacy for school integration from students, parents, educators, or community members.

As the section below on sources describes, the limited data available on both integration policies and legal instruments likely means that there are districts or charter schools meeting our criteria for inclusion that we have missed. We welcome any new information from anyone reviewing this document by emailing Halley Potter [email protected] or Michelle Burris [email protected]

Sources for Integration Policies

Information on school integration policies and practices is not stored in a central location. We constructed our list of school integration policies from a combination of past TCF research,38 new Internet and news searches, leads from integration advocates and other researchers, past inquiries from districts seeking information to establish or sustain their own programs, and outreach to education officials.

A large component of our own research process involved contacting each of the districts and charter networks for which we had evidence of an integration policy, asking for review of our information. Some entries were corrected or removed based on updates sent by the district or school officials. In cases where we did not receive a response, we included the districts or charters on the list if we were satisfied with evidence in the public record that they had implemented an integration policy.

Sources for Legal Instruments

Available data sources on desegregation orders and voluntary agreements are incomplete and at times contradictory.39 The federal Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), which all school districts and charter schools are required to respond to every two years, includes a question asking whether the Local Education Agency is covered by a “desegregation order or plan,” defined as:

an order or plan: (1) that has been ordered by, submitted to, or entered into with a federal or state court; the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), U.S. Department of Education, its predecessor the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, or another federal agency; or a state agency or official, and (2) that remedies or addresses a school district’s actual or alleged segregation of students or staff on the basis of race or national origin that was found or alleged to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and/or state constitution or other state law. A school district remains subject to such a desegregation order or plan until the court, agency, or other competent official finds that the district has satisfied its obligations and has been released from the order or plan.40

This information is self-reported by districts, is not externally verified, and has fluctuated significantly between different collection years.41 We included all school districts and charter schools that answered yes to this question in the 2015–2016 CRDC (the most recent year for which data is available).

In 2014, ProPublica compiled data on open desegregation orders and active voluntary agreements from records provided by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).42 We included these in the inventory as well. In cleaning up this data, we removed entries that were for entities other than school districts or charter schools (such as state education departments or higher education institutions). We requested updated records from OCR through a FOIA request but were denied.

The U.S. Department (DOJ) of Justice also has a list of educational opportunity cases based on race available on its website.43 We went through this list and included any cases with open desegregation orders or active voluntary agreements addressing school integration.

We cleaned up the combined data to remove duplicates and combine entries. In addition, some of the school districts or charter schools in these data sets ceased operations in recent years, and some of the desegregation orders or voluntary agreements were closed or made inactive. We removed these instances from the inventory when we became aware of them; however, we did not conduct a systematic search to find these updates and may have inadvertently included some out-of-date information.

It is worth noting that in cleaning the data, a number of inconsistencies became apparent. After removing closed districts or charters from the data, we were left with 329 districts and charters that reported being covered by a desegregation order or plan in the 2015–2016 CRDC. Of those, 130 matched up with federal court orders or voluntary agreements in the data from OCR and DOJ. For the other 199, it is not clear what order or plan they were referring to. (They could be federal court orders or agreements that are missing from our federal data because they are too new or were accidentally omitted, orders or plans from a state court or agency that are not covered in the federal data, or reporting errors on the part of the districts or charters.) Moreover, an additional 438 districts and charters are listed as having open court orders or active voluntary agreements according to the data from OCR and DOJ, but did not report being covered by a desegregation plan in the 2015–2016 CRDC. (This could be because they did not participate in the CRDC for some reason, because there was an error in the OCR or DOJ data, because the order or plan was closed or became inactive in between 2014 and 2015, or because they made a reporting error.) Looking specifically at open federal court orders, it is also worth pointing out that our combined data identified more districts and charters under court orders (a total of 334) than a 2017 news article, which identified just 176 districts and charters under federal orders based on a list provided by DOJ of active desegregation cases that department is still involved in.44 We erred on the side of including districts and charters, although these inconsistencies make clear that more research and better federal data keeping on legal school desegregation is needed.

Sources for Demographic and Geographical Information

We compiled demographic and geographical information on school districts and charter schools from the Common Core of Data (CCD), published by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, for the 2018-2019 school year. A small number of districts and charters are missing demographic information because their data is missing in the CCD or because they are too new to be included in the 2018-2019 dataset.

Full Dataset

A full dataset for all 907 school districts and charter schools is available here. A description of the data fields is available here.

Notes

  1. Moriah Balingit, “‘A national crisis’: As coronavirus forces many schools online this fall, millions of disconnected students are being left behind,” Washington Post, August 16, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/a-national-crisis-as-coronavirus-forces-many-schools-online-this-fall-millions-of-disconnected-students-are-being-left-behind/2020/08/16/458b04e6-d7f8-11ea-9c3b-dfc394c03988_story.html.
  2. Claire Hansen, “1 in 5 Young Children Don’t Have Enough to Eat During the Coronavirus Pandemic,” U.S. News, May 6, 2020, https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2020-05-06/1-in-5-young-children-dont-have-enough-to-eat-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic.
  3. Allissa V. Richardson, “The Problem With Police-Shooting Videos,” The Atlantic, August 30, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/08/the-problem-with-police-shooting-videos-jacob-blake/615880/.
  4. “Closing America’s Education Funding Gaps,” The Century Foundation, July 22, 2020, https://tcf.org/content/report/closing-americas-education-funding/.
  5. Authors’ calculations, U.S. Department of Education, Common Core of Data, 2018–2019.
  6. Superintendent Michael Martirano, email conversation with Michelle Burris, September 3, 2020.
  7. Eric Moore, email conversation with Michelle Burris, September 7, 2020.
  8. Valerie Braimah, email conversation with Michelle Burris, August 26, 2020.
  9. Because of the intersections between race and class, socioeconomic integration at the K–12 level may also produce substantial racial integration, depending on the strength of the plan and the characteristics of the district. See Duncan Chaplin, “Estimating the Impact of Economic Integration of Schools on Racial Integration,” in Divided We Fail: Coming Together Through Public School Choice (New York: Century Press, 2002), 87–113. It should be noted, however, that socioeconomic integration does not guarantee racial integration. See Sean F. Reardon, John T. Yun, and Michal Kurlaender, “Implications of Income-Based School Assignment Policies for Racial School Segregation,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 28, no. 1 (Spring 2006): 49–75; and Sean F. Reardon and Lori Rhodes, “The Effects of Socioeconomic School Integration Policies on Racial School Desegregation,” in Integrating Schools in a Changing Society: New Policies and Legal Options for a Multiracial Generation, eds. Erica Frankenberg and Elizabeth Debray (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 187–207.
  10. For more information on the voluntary consideration of race to promote school diversity, see https://school-diversity.org/postpicsresources/.
  11. Kristen Johnson, “Judge Approves Settlement in Sheff v. O’Neill, Hartford Public School Integration Case,” NBC Connecticut, January 10, 2020, https://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/attorney-general-to-present-settlement-in-sheff-v-oneill/2208249/.
  12. See Nikole Hannah-Jones, “Lack of Order: The Erosion of a Once Great Force for Integration,” ProPublica, May 1, 2014, http://www.propublica.org/article/lack-of-order-the-erosion-of-a-once-great-force-for-integration; Rachel Cohen, “School Choice and the Chaotic State of Racial Desegregation,” The American Prospect, September 15, 2015, http://prospect.org/article/school-choice-and-chaotic-state-racial-desegregation; and Erica Frankenberg, “Assessing the Status of School Desegregation Sixty Years after Brown,” Michigan State Law Review 677 (2014): 677–709.
  13. Ben Nunnally, “Anniston Schools Won’t Seek Unitary Status, Board Members Say,” Anniston Star, December 19, 2019, https://www.annistonstar.com/news/education/anniston-schools-won-t-seek-unitary-status-board-members-say/article_708d5eb4-22ae-11ea-a09d-5b91afb04df9.html
  14. Anniston City Board of Education Policy Manual, August 2018, https://www.annistonschools.com/cms/lib/AL02205080/Centricity/Domain/8/8.20.18%20Anniston%20policy%20manual-%20August%202018%20%2011-21-19.pdf.
  15. Sarah Whites-Koditschek, “Annexit: How One Alabama City Could Split in Half along Racial Lines,” AL.com, October 21, 2019, https://www.al.com/reckon/2019/10/annexit-how-one-alabama-city-could-split-in-half-along-racial-lines.html.
  16. Leeds City Board of Education, Policy Manual, October 2010, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1C_k6WERguE0sK5nJeR3e2xwn8sxT3dA7/view.
  17. Trisha Powell Crain, “Alabama School District Restarts Student Meals after Legal Action Filed,” AL.com, April 17, 2020, https://www.al.com/news/2020/04/stopping-school-meals-violates-federal-desegregation-order-group-says.html.
  18. “U.S. Department of Education Announces Voluntary Resolution of Kentucky’s Christian County Public Schools Discipline Investigation,” U.S. Department of Education, February 28, 2014, https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-department-education-announces-voluntary-resolution-kentucky%E2%80%99s-christian-county-public-schools-discipline-investigation.
  19. “Case Summaries,” United States Department of Justice, https://www.justice.gov/crt/case-summaries#gallup (accessed August 21, 2020).
  20. “U.S. Department of Education Announces Voluntary Resolution of Oakland Unified School District Civil Rights Investigation,” U.S. Department of Education, September 28, 2012, https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-department-education-announces-voluntary-resolution-oakland-unified-school-di.
  21. Authors’ calculations based on U.S. Department of Education, Common Core of Data, 2018-2019. The comparison group used is all U.S. Local Education Agencies
  22. For a discussion of robust measures of socioeconomic status in schools, see Peter W. Cookson, “Measuring Student Socioeconomic Status: Toward a Comprehensive Approach,” Learning Policy Institute, May 2020, https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/Measuring_Student_Socioeconomic_Status_REPORT.pdf.
  23. See Nikole Hannah-Jones, “Lack of Order: The Erosion of a Once Great Force for Integration,” ProPublica, May 1, 2014, http://www.propublica.org/article/lack-of-order-the-erosion-of-a-once-great-force-for-integration; Rachel Cohen, “School Choice and the Chaotic State of Racial Desegregation,” The American Prospect, September 15, 2015, http://prospect.org/article/school-choice-and-chaotic-state-racial-desegregation; Erica Frankenberg, “Assessing the Status of School Desegregation Sixty Years after Brown,” Michigan State Law Review 677 (2014): 677–709; and Janel George and Linda Darling-Hammond, “The Federal Role and School Integration: Brown’s Promise and Present Challenges,” Learning Policy Institute, February 2019, https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/Federal_Role_School_Integration_REPORT.pdf.
  24. For example, Hollandale School District in Mississippi is under an open federal court order dating back to 1971 according to records from DOJ; however, the district reported that it was not under a desegregation order or plan in the 2015-2016 federal Civil Rights Data Collection. As of 2014, lawyers for Hollandale School District told a reporter that they were not aware whether the order was still in effect. Nikole Hannah-Jones, “Lack of Order: The Erosion of a Once Great Force for Integration,” ProPublica, May 1, 2014, http://www.propublica.org/article/lack-of-order-the-erosion-of-a-once-great-force-for-integration.
  25. “LDF Urges Louisiana Governor to Ensure Provision of Essential School Meals and Distance Learning During School Closures,” NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., April 3, 2020, https://www.naacpldf.org/press-release/ldf-urges-louisiana-governor-to-ensure-provision-of-essential-school-meals-and-distance-learning-during-school-closures/.
  26. See Will Stancil, “Is School Desegregation Coming to an End?” The Atlantic, February 28, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/02/a-bittersweet-victory-for-school-desegregation/554396/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwk8b7BRCaARIsAARRTL4539T5Zzf4zd8aKJZrjlAF-iBDpVKpQm5fWDYYMoRIQ-aIE_3qmwUaAvjGEALw_wcB.
  27. For example, see the case of Stamford Public Schools in Connecticut. Halley Potter, “Stamford Public Schools: From Desegregated Schools to Integrated Classrooms,” The Century Foundation, October 14, 2016, https://tcf.org/content/report/stamford-public-schools/.
  28. Nick Anderson and Moriah Balingit, “Trump Administration Moves to Rescind Obama-Era Guidance on Race in Admissions,” The Washington Post, Juy 3, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/trump-administration-moves-to-rescind-obama-era-guidance-on-race-in-admissions/2018/07/03/78210e9e-7ed8-11e8-bb6b-c1cb691f1402_story.html .
  29. Admissions processes in charter schools continue to pose concerns for school segregation, and their legalities have been challenged by civil rights groups. The passage of North Carolina’s House Bill 514 in 2018 permitted four, affluent majority-white suburbs to effectively secede from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School system, and operate racially isolated charter schools. See Kimberly Quick, “Segregation’s History Repeats Itself in North Carolina’s HB 514,” The Century Foundation, June 26, 2018, https://tcf.org/content/commentary/segregations-history-repeats-north-carolinas-hb-514/.
  30. T. Keung Hui, “NC Charter Schools Serve Few Poor Kids. Now They’ll Get $36 Million to Take More,” Raleigh News & Observer, February 12, 2020, https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article239848353.html.
  31. Katherine Rucker, telephone conversation with Michelle Burris, September 4, 2020.
  32. Bridges Collaborative, The Century Foundation, https://tcf.org/bridges-collaborative/.
  33. Mihir Zaveri, “‘I Need People to Hear My Voice’: Teens Protest Racism,” New York Times, June 23, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/23/us/teens-protest-black-lives-matter.html.
  34. Cydney Grannan, “What Does D.C.’s Black Lives Matter Plaza Mean To Locals?” WAMU, August 27, 2020, https://wamu.org/story/20/08/27/what-does-d-c-s-black-lives-matter-plaza-mean-to-locals/.
  35. Chancellor, Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee, email conversation with Michelle Burris, September 9, 2020.
  36. We considered rezoning efforts to be sufficiently recent to affect current enrollment as long as we could not find evidence that they had been reversed by more recent rezoning decisions without integration considerations.
  37. TCF published a previous inventory of socioeconomic integration policies in 2016, identifying 100 districts and charters. Of these 100 districts and charters, we identified four that were no longer using an integration policy: Burnsville-Eagan Savage Independent School District 191, MN; Rapides Parish Schools, LA; Salina Public Schools, KS; and Troup County School District, GA.
  38. This is The Century Foundation’s first attempt to catalogue school integration policies based on socioeconomic status and race. Previous lists of socioeconomic integration policies only may be found in the following: Richard D. Kahlenberg, Rescuing Brown v. Board of Education (New York: The Century Foundation, 2007), 3–4, http://www.tcf.org/assets/downloads/tcf-districtprofiles.pdf; Richard D. Kahlenberg, Turnaround Schools That Work: Moving Beyond Separate but Equal (New York: The Century Foundation, 2009), Appendix, 20–21, https://www.tcf.org/assets/downloads/tcf-turnaround.pdf; The Future of School Integration, ed. Richard D. Kahlenberg (New York: The Century Foundation, 2012), Appendix, 309–11, http://www.tcf.org/bookstore/detail/the-future-of-school-integration; and Halley Potter, “Updated Inventory of Socioeconomic Integration Policies: Fall 2016,” The Century Foundation, October 14, 2016, https://tcf.org/content/commentary/updated-inventory-socioeconomic-integration-policies-fall-2016.
  39. See Nikole Hannah-Jones, “Lack of Order: The Erosion of a Once Great Force for Integration,” ProPublica, May 1, 2014, http://www.propublica.org/article/lack-of-order-the-erosion-of-a-once-great-force-for-integration; Rachel Cohen, “School Choice and the Chaotic State of Racial Desegregation,” The American Prospect, September 15, 2015, http://prospect.org/article/school-choice-and-chaotic-state-racial-desegregation; and Erica Frankenberg, “Assessing the Status of School Desegregation Sixty Years after Brown,” Michigan State Law Review 677 (2014): 677–709.
  40. “2015-16 Civil Rights Data Collection,” U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/crdc-2015-16-lea-form.pdf, 4.
  41. See Andrew Ujifusa and Alex Harwin, “There Are Wild Swings in School Desegregation Data. The Feds Can’t Explain Why,” Education Week, May 2, 2018, https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/05/02/there-are-wild-swings-in-school-desegregation.html.
  42. Yue Qiu and Nikole Hannah-Jones, “A National Survey of School Desegregation Orders,” Propublica, December 23, 2014, https://projects.propublica.org/graphics/desegregation-orders.
  43. “Educational Opportunities Cases,” The United States Department of Justice, https://www.justice.gov/crt/educational-opportunities-cases#race (accessed August 21, 2020).
  44. Emmanuel Felton, “How the Federal Government Abandoned the Brown v. Board of Education Decision,” Hechinger Report, September 6, 2017, https://hechingerreport.org/how-the-federal-government-abandoned-the-brown-v-board-of-education-decision/; and Emily Richmond, “Are the Feds Ignoring Segregated Schools?” EWA Radio: Episode 140, September 19, 2017, https://www.ewa.org/ewa-radio/are-feds-ignoring-segregated-schools.