Debra Viadero of Education Week highlights a new study of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina. When the district ended its 30-year old busing program -- reverting to racially segregated neighborhood schools -- high-performing teachers fled schools that became predominantly black and poor.
This research, by Cornell labor economist C. Kirabo Jackson, is significant because it links the problem of teacher quality to the problem of school segregation. If you are an education reformer who believes teacher quality is the single biggest factor affecting student achievement, here is compelling evidence that you should also actively support existing desegregation programs. According to Kirabo's study, the best teachers -- those with higher test scores on licensing exams and a track record of improving their students' academic performance -- showed a clear preference for racially and socioeconomically integrated schools over schools overwhelmed by the challenges of poverty.
Some would say the solution is as simple as paying teachers much more to teach in disadvantaged schools. And while that is one option, it ignores the other positive effects of integration, ranging from increased tolerance of diversity to allowing poor kids to share in the fruits of having actively involved, middle-class parents advocating for their schools. In short, the more we learn about the myriad factors affecting educational outcomes, the more it seems that there is a natural synthesis between free market edu-reformers, who are focused on improving teacher quality, and more traditional education liberals, who tend to worry more about student poverty and segregation.