Integrating schools works best for all students.


-I am on the road until later this week. I am blogging less. Today I am posting an episode of This American Life.  

What is the one thing that closes the  so-called achievement gap between Black and white students? Integration.


Ira Glass

Nikole Hannah-Jones is an investigative reporter these days at The NewYork Times. We’ve had her here on This American Life before, too. But her first real reporting job was back in 2003.

She was reporting on the schools in Durham, North Carolina. And like most places, there were good schools, and there were bad schools. And at the time, it was the heyday of No Child Left Behind. Durham was working really hard to improve the bad schools.

Nikole Hannah-jones

And I would go to schools. And they would just always be trying these new things that actually sounded like they might work. They would do things like, we’ll put a great magnet program here. Or we are going to really focus on literacy.

We’re going to start an early college high school, which kids would earn college credit in high school. We’re going to improve teacher quality. We’re going to replace the principal — more testing. They’re always talking, really, about the same things. I mean, you could take these conversations, and go from district to district to district, and you will always hear the same things.

Ira Glass

What she noticed was that it never worked. I mean, like, never. The bad schools never caught up to the good schools. And the bad schools were mostly black and Latino. The good schools were mostly white.

And sure, there might be a principal here or a charter school there who might do a good job improving students’ scores, but even there, they were just improving their student scores. The minority kids in their programs were still not performing on par with white kids. They hadn’t closed the achievement gap between black kids and white kids.

Nikole Hannah-jones

And my question is, all of these different ways that we say we’re going to address this issue aren’t working, so what actually works? And that’s what I really began to look at. And I find there’s one thing that really worked, that cut the achievement gap between black and white students by half.

Ira Glass

By half?

Nikole Hannah-jones

By half. But it’s the one thing that we are not really talking about, and that very few places are doing anymore.

Ira Glass

That thing that is so effective but never discussed is not one of the tools that educators reach for normally. Can you guess?

Nikole Hannah-jones


Ira Glass

You mean just integrating schools? It was getting black kids and white kids together in the same schools.

Nikole Hannah-jones


Ira Glass

Old fashioned, Brown versus Board of Education, 1954 technology, loading kids on buses?

Nikole Hannah-jones

That’s right. Actually, what the statistics show is that between 1971, which is where the nation really started doing massive desegregation, and 1988, which was the peak of integration in the United States– 1988 was the peak–

Ira Glass

School integration, you mean?

Nikole Hannah-jones

School integration, yes. Well, the data shows that kind of the start of real desegregation, the achievement gap between black and white students was about 40 points.

Ira Glass

In other words, on standardized reading tests in 1971, black 13-year-olds tested 39 points worse than white kids. That dropped to just 18 points by 1988 at the height of desegregation. The improvement in math scores was close to that, though not quite as good.

And these scores are not just the scores of the specific kids who got bussed into white schools. That is the overall score for the entire country. That’s all black children in America– halved in just 17 years.

When I asked Nikole if that was fast, she said, well, black people first arrived on this continent as slaves in 1619. So it was 352 years to create the problem. So yeah, another 17 to cut that school achievement gap in half, pretty fast.

Nikole Hannah-jones

And so if you kind of picture that out, if we had kept going when we had cut it by half, I don’t know that we would have eliminated it totally, because there’s a long history here. But you could see where we would have been, like, so close to eliminating it. But instead, since 1988, we have started to re-segregate. And it is at that exact moment that you see the achievement gap start to widen again.

2 Replies to “Integrating schools works best for all students.”

  1. I saw an online documentary not to long ago about where the Koch brothers tried segregate an integrated school district somewhere in the east that was thriving. They backed board members that won elections with their millions of dollars. The schools did poorly afterward but people were able to get the schools back and voted out the Koch people. God, I hate these two bastards.

  2. Children appear to get along with their peers regardless of race. Integration of public schools is both healthy and necessary. As Dr. King stated, “We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools”.

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