When San Francisco started trying to promote socioeconomic diversity in its public schools, officials hoped racial diversity would result as well.
It has not worked out that way. Abraham Lincoln High School, for example, with its stellar reputation and Advanced Placement courses, has drawn a mix of rich and poor students. More than 50 percent of those students are of Chinese descent.
“If you look at diversity based on race, the school hasn’t been as integrated,” Lincoln’s principal, Ronald J. K. Pang, said. “If you don’t look at race, the school has become much more diverse.”
San Francisco began considering factors like family income, instead of race, in school assignments when it modified a court-ordered desegregation plan in response to a lawsuit. But school officials have found that the 55,000-student city school district, with Chinese the dominant ethnic group followed by Hispanics, Negroes and Whites, is resegregrating.
The number of schools where students of a single racial or ethnic group make up 60 percent or more of the population in at least one grade is increasing sharply. In 2005-06, about 50 schools were segregated using that standard as measured by a court-appointed monitor. That was up from 30 schools in the 2001-02 school year, the year before the change, according to court filings.
The San Francisco experience is telling because after the recent United States Supreme Court decision restricting the use of race-based school assignment plans, many districts are expected to switch to economic integration plans like San Francisco’s as a legal way to seek diversity. As many as 40 districts around the country are already experimenting with such plans.
Many of these experiments are modest, involve small districts or have been in place only a few years. But the experiences of these districts show how difficult it can be to balance socioeconomic diversity, racial integration and academic success.
Only a few plans appear to have achieved all three goals. Others promote income diversity but not racial integration while still other plans are limited and their results inconclusive. Those who have studied them say a key to that outcome is how aggressively a plan shifts students around and whether there are many schools that can lure middle-class students from their neighborhoods into poor ones.