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Why School Integration Works

They are some of the most ambitious education programs of the 20th century – school desegregation, school finance reform, and Head Start. Today, many view these initiatives as failures, but professor Rucker C. Johnson of UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy disagrees. He and a team of researchers combed through data from over four decades to figure out the true impact of these programs. Their findings are detailed alongside compelling stories of real people in Johnson’s new book, Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works. Recently, Johnson sat down with Goldman School Dean Henry E. Brady to discuss the book and his research.

Johnson and his colleagues used big data and new techniques to look at the wide-ranging impacts of school desegregation. They tracked everything from high school graduation rates, to employment, wages and health. Thanks to the uneven implementation of desegregation, Johnson was able to compare children who grew up in similar environments, but experienced different levels of desegregation. He found a big part of the positive impact came from how desegregation affected access to class resources, after school programs, quality teachers, and smaller class sizes. And, the longer a student spent in desegregated schools, the greater the impact. In fact, the achievement gap between white and black students closed faster following desegregation than at any other time in American history.

Unfortunately, the United States has moved away from integration. Today, many schools and classrooms are heavily divided along racial lines. Opponents of desegregation appear to have won. But, Johnson says there is still hope. He lays out the case for making integration a priority once again, using data to prove its effectiveness. He also delves into school finance reform and Head Start, showing how sustained investment in education is the surest way to change children’s lives for the better.

Watch The Success of Integrating Schools with Rucker Johnson — In the Living Room with Henry E. Brady

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