Ford School Hosts Book Talk Promoting School Integration
Wednesday, Rucker C. Johnson, associate professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, spoke to approximately 50 students about his new book, “Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works.” The talk was held at the Ford School of Public Policy as a part of the Book Talks @ the Ford School series. Johnson’s book, published Tuesday, advocates for school integration as a policy critical to promoting equality.
Public Policy Dean Michael Barr introduced Johnson, emphasizing the relevance of his book to current policies.
“We’re really at a critical moment in many ways in our country’s history as policymakers and others debate not only the future of public education but really the kind of society we want to live in,” Barr said. “Rucker’s research really combines a wealth of different academic techniques and disciplines … he does a tremendous job delineating the possibilities of integration and the need to continue with policies that place that goal as a central pillar of public education and really our progress on broader societal questions.”
Johnson presented the main themes of each chapter. He began by giving a brief history of school integration and the reasons behind its controversy.
“School integration is the most ambitious and controversial social experiment of the past 50 years, but it’s widely misunderstood,” Johnson said.
He argued there are three pervasive myths regarding school integration: it was tried for a long time, it didn’t work and it is no longer relevant. Johnson said his research, based in longitudinal studies going as far back as the 1960s, counteracts these myths, proving school integration has positive, long-lasting effects for all students, regardless of race.
Johnson shared evidence relating school integration to a rise in high school graduation rates, college enrollments and future income for Black Americans, as well as a decrease in incarceration rates. Johnson also emphasized these positive effects are not at the expense of white students, showing evidence that exposure to diverse perspectives increases understanding and empathy and decreases racial prejudice.
Johnson defined successful school integration as going beyond simply creating more diverse classrooms.
“Going from desegregation to integration is moving from access to inclusion, is moving from exposure to understanding,” Johnson said. “And that’s not a process that starts overnight, but it is something that’s not simply about the diversity of schoolchildren and how many Black kids are in the same classroom as white kids… it’s about how resources are distributed across schools, whether all kids have access to high quality teachers and culturally relevant pedagogy.”
Johnson argued school integration should be implemented in concordance with school funding reforms and expansions of pre-K for low income families to reduce the achievement gap between high- and low-income groups.
“It is imperative that we import the lessons from those three policies in their continuum and in their interactive effects if we are to address in the contemporary policy debates and the persistent gaps of opportunity that exist between children of lower income families and communities versus their more affluent counterparts,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the studies demonstrate the role of each policy in increasing long term achievement for low income students. He said more equitable funding among schools, which is often impacted by housing segregation, can decrease the achievement gap in the long run.
Additionally, Johnson advocated the expansion of programs such as Head Start, which provides early childhood education and health services to low income families. He said this program, paired with equitable funding and integrated schooling, results in long-term benefits for participants.
Johnson concluded his presentation with a call for greater government investment in these policies.
“When we think about what is going to require integration to be successful, it’s going to have to be a pairing of integration with school funding reform, with quality pre-K investments that require buy in from state, local, federal (governments) — and that’s a big lift, but all of the most important movements have been such, and I think our children are deserving of that,” Johnson said.
LSA senior Briahna Williams said she was interested in hearing Johnson’s perspective about education policy, especially its implications for other sectors.
“I’m very passionate about urban education and recognizing the disparities of it, and I’ve learned about it through a sociology and psychology perspective, but I was really interested to learn a public policy perspective,” Williams said. “Something that really stood out to me was how he talked about the intersectionality between education, health and housing access, and even the criminal justice system, and how those all go hand in hand and funding for one translates to better outcomes for the other aspects of society or social issues.”