In 1974, Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote “Unless our children begin to learn together, then there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together.” Those words feel prophetic in a country with increasingly resegregated schools, routine police violence against people of color, and escalating racist political rhetoric.
But there is a growing interest in fighting these trends—in supporting diverse and equitable schools that provide better academic and social outcomes for all students. Reimagining Integration: Diverse and Equitable Schools (RIDES) is a Harvard Graduate School of Education project which aspires to find ways to increase the number and quality of the settings where Marshall’s vision is realized.
During our planning year in 2015-2016 we talked formally and informally about integration and desegregation with hundreds of local and national educators, parents, community members, policy makers, and researchers. We visited schools, did an “environmental scan” to see who else was doing important school diversity work, read deeply in several strands of literature, attended, hosted, and presented at several regional and national conferences and overall, immersed ourselves in the big issues of the field.
Developing a Framework for the Field and Early Vision for the Work
We found that many people think about and use the terms “desegregation” and “integration” interchangeably. However, we have come to see how critical it is to distinguish between them.
Most often, when people use the word desegregation, they are focusing on numbers—percentages of students from diverse backgrounds in the same school building. Through listening to what parents and other stakeholders want, we understand how important it is to use “integration” when referring to schools that are consciously and pro-actively working to provide better outcomes for all students.
We have also developed a shorthand for these outcomes. We call them the ABCD’s: high academics for all students, a sense of belonging for all (so no students have to check their culture at the door), a commitment to dismantling racism, and an appreciation of diversity in thought and in people.
A Framework for Action
After analyzing the data collected from all aspects of the environmental scan of the field, we developed a framework to organize what we have learned into three interrelated action areas:
- Policy—to promote environments that enable, incentivize, and sustain integrated schools.
- Perception—to understand and shape how people think and talk about integrated schools.
- Practice—to provide research and practice-based resources and tools to help diverse schools, districts, and charter management organizations become better integrated.
We learned that most who work in the field primarily are focused on only one of these action areas, siloed by habit, practice or specialization. This is underscores how important it is to see and maintain the connections between and among the three areas.
Our environmental scan showed us that since there were many others working on policy and perception issues, we could add the most value by focusing on practices while consciously making connections across the three action areas.
The core of our work now focuses on providing diverse schools with the practices that will help them be better integrated. We have put together—and share on this website—a suite suite of diagnostic tools, resources, and processes to help schools and school communities approach this work systemically.