But children who live in middle-class neighborhoods yet whose mothers grew up in poor neighborhoods score much lower.Sharkey concludes that “the parent’s environment during [her own] childhood may be more important than the child’s own environment.” Integrating disadvantaged black students into schools where more privileged students predominate can narrow the black-white achievement gap.The implications for children’s chances of success are dramatic: Sharkey calculates that “living in poor neighborhoods over two consecutive generations reduces children’s cognitive skills by roughly eight or nine points …
The conclusion rests on two distinct analyses: – First, social and economic disadvantage – not only poverty, but a host of associated conditions – depresses student performance, and – Second, concentrating students with these disadvantages in racially and economically homogenous schools depresses it further.
The schools that the most disadvantaged black children attend today are segregated because they are located in segregated neighborhoods far distant from truly middle class neighborhoods.
The plurality opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts called student categorization by race unconstitutional unless designed to reverse effects of explicit rules that segregated students by race.
Desegregation efforts, he ruled, are impermissible if students are racially isolated, not as the result of government policy but because of societal discrimination, economic characteristics, or what Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurring opinion, termed “any number of innocent private decisions, including voluntary housing choices.” In Roberts’ terminology, commonly accepted by policymakers from across the political spectrum, constitutionally forbidden segregation established by federal, state or local government action is de jure, while racial isolation independent of state action, as, in Roberts’ view, like that in Louisville and Seattle, is de facto.
Education Policy is Housing Policy We cannot substantially improve the performance of the poorest African American students – the “truly disadvantaged,” in William Julius Wilson’s phrase – by school reform alone.
It must be addressed primarily by improving the social and economic conditions that bring too many children to school unprepared to take advantage of what schools have to offer.
Sharkey finds that young African Americans (from 13 to 28 years old) are now ten times as likely to live in poor neighborhoods, defined in this way, as young whites—66 percent of African Americans, compared to 6 percent of whites.
What’s more, for black families, mobility out of such neighborhoods is much more limited than for whites.
When a school’s proportion of students at risk of failure grows, the consequences of disadvantage are exacerbated.