Why Integration Matters
“We deal here with the right of all of our children, whatever their race, to an equal start in life and to an equal opportunity to reach their full potential as citizens. Unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together.” — Thurgood Marshall
SFUSD is defined by our core values — Student centered, Fearless, Unified, Social justice, and Diversity-driven. We’re also committed to equity, which is the work of eliminating oppression, ending biases and ensuring equally high outcomes for all participants through the creation of multicultural, multilingual, multiethnic, and multiracial practices and conditions; as well as removing the predictability of success or failure that currently correlates with any social or cultural factor. Integrated schools and classrooms, where students learn together across race, class, language, and ability, are essential to living our values and advancing equity in San Francisco.
Integration is not just about living our values — it’s also a critical component of a high quality education. There is a robust body of research demonstrating that integrated learning environments improve creativity, critical thinking, leadership, empathy, and collaboration — skills we believe are critical for students to thrive in the 21st century.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of integrated schools:
- Reduces racial achievement gaps: The achievement gap for racial and ethnic minorities and students from low-income families narrows significantly because integrated school settings guarantee that all students receive the same quality of facilities, teaching, and resources. As the Supreme Court declared in Brown v. Board, “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
- At the same time, all students thrive academically. Decades of research show that integration narrows the achievement gap without harming grades or test scores for white or middle class students. Academic achievement isn’t zero sum — it is possible to close the achievement gap while improving academic performance for all students.
- Reduces biases: Students who attend integrated schools also become less prejudiced. As students form relationships across difference, bias and prejudice diminish.
- Empathy: Students in integrated schools are also more likely to form relationships with members of different racial/ethnic groups than themselves, which leads to a dramatic increase in empathy. Cross-group relationships lead people to treat members of their friends’ groups with as much respect and care as they treat their own groups. Essentially, the diverse social life promoted by integrated schools expands students’ notions of who “their people” are to be more inclusive.
- On that note, students in integrated schools are more likely as adults to have relationships across racial lines and choose to live in integrated neighborhoods than students in segregated schools. Both implicit bias tests, and patterns of behavior, show that integrated schools make students less prejudiced.
Cognitive and Socio-emotional Skills
- Critical thinking: Students of all races improve their critical thinking skills in integrated schools. Working in diverse learning groups pushes students to consider other perspectives, look at challenges from multiple angles, and learn from one another — all skills that are highly valuable for college and career success, not to mention thoughtful civic engagement.
- Creativity: Students in integrated schools also demonstrate more creativity than students in segregated schools. Exposure to differing perspectives, being pushed to think deeply before acting, and combining different viewpoints — all byproducts of integrated learning settings — foster creativity and innovation.
- Leadership: Similarly, students in integrated school settings tend to have greater leadership skills than their segregated peers, and the more exposure to diverse learning groups, the larger the gains. In fact, while students in segregated schools show on average little to no growth in leadership, students of all races in integrated settings become stronger leaders.
- Collaboration: Integrated school settings also help students practice the skills necessary to be effective collaborators in college, career, and even their personal lives. Since diverse learning groups promote perspective-taking, creativity, inquiry, listening, and consensus-building, students in integrated schools get deep practice with the collaboration skills required for college and beyond.
Long Run Life Outcomes
- Improved quality of life: Recent research by UC Berkeley Professor Rucker Johnson tracks Black and white children who participated in school desegregation plans (like SFUSD’s Horseshoe Plan) in the 1960s-80s to the present day and finds that students who attended integrated schools had much higher quality of life as adults. Among the long run benefits of school integration were higher incomes, better health outcomes, lower rates of incarceration, and even longer life expectancies. In a very real way, integration makes students’ lives better.
- College and career readiness: Integrated schools prepare students for the multiracial, multicultural worlds of college and career better than segregated schools. Colleges and companies — especially in a state as diverse as California — highly value diversity, critical thinking, and the ability to work across difference. College admissions offices are increasingly looking for students who have built multicultural competency and critical thinking skills in their K-12 years; attending segregated schools puts students at a disadvantage in those areas.
It is great news that integration has so many benefits for all participants, but that’s just icing on the cake. Ultimately, integrated schools can help repair the harm of past discrimination, and ensure the vibrant multiracial democracy our city deserves. If we believe that the role of public education is to develop productive members of a diverse, democratic, and equitable society, then we can’t afford not to pursue integration.
This is the fourth of five posts in SFUSD’s Student Assignment Blog.
The Student Assignment Blog is written and edited by Reed Levitt (SFUSD Communications Intern & Master of Public Policy Candidate, Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley) and Henry O’Connell (Student Assignment Project Manager, SFUSD).
If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of integrated schools, please check out The Benefits of Socioeconomically and Racially Integrated Schools and Classrooms, a report by The Century Foundation that formed the backbone of this post.
This page was last updated on July 26, 2021