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"Advancing School Integration: The National Coalition on School Diversity"

March/April 2015 issue of Poverty & Race

On December 30, 2014, following negotiations with the U.S. Department of Education regarding allowable uses of School Improvement Grant (SIG) funds, the New York State Department of Education announced a $31.25 million dollar socioeconomic integration pilot program. New York’s program is the first use of SIG funds for a program designed for the purpose of furthering socioeconomic integration, and represents a potentially significant new funding stream for the reduction of racial and socioeconomic isolation in schools. The National Coalition on School Diversity (NCSD) has been a vocal advocate in the past for using these kinds of “school turnaround” funds to reduce racial isolation and poverty concentration in struggling schools (at the same time as school quality is improved overall). The New York program came on the heels of a report from the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA, a member of the NCSD, which named New York as having the most segregated public school system in the nation. Two NCSD members were quoted in New York State’s announcement of the pilot program in December, and several NCSD members accepted invitations in January to serve on a panel of peer-reviewers to evaluate applications submitted by New York districts to the pilot program.

The NCSD was founded in 2009 and includes many of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations, as well as university-based research centers and state and local education and advocacy groups, all sharing the goal of increasing racial and economic integration in America’s public schools.

One of the NCSD’s first campaigns, and its first real victory, was the release in late 2011 of the “Guidance on the voluntary use of race to achieve diversity and avoid racial isolation in elementary and secondary schools,” a joint, detailed statement by the Attorney General and the Secretary of Education affirming the importance of racial and economic school integration in K-12 education, and outlining appropriate ways for public schools to achieve greater diversity.

Since 2011, the NCSD’s advocacy at the Department of Education has spanned a number of important federal education programs, including the Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation competitive grant programs, early education funding, charter schools, state “waivers” of federal “No Child Left Behind” requirement, as well as the School Improvement Grants program. Over the past two years, NCSD members have weighed in formally on numerous proposed regulations and guidance, and have brought their concerns directly to meetings with key Department staff including Secretary Duncan, Deputy Secretaries Jim Shelton and John King, Assistant Secretary Catherine Lhamon (Office for Civil Rights), Assistant Deputy Secretary Nadya Dabby (Office of Innovation and Improvement), Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Sargrad (Policy and Strategic Initiatives at the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education), Magnet Schools Assistance Program Director Anna Hinton, Charter Schools Program Director Stefan Huh, and many others.

In July 2014 several members of the NCSD, along with the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, contributed shadow reports regarding the continued existence of racial discrimination in the U.S. education system to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD Committee). The U.N. Committee responded with a series of strong recommendations encouraging greater focus on integration and diversity in U.S. schools, including:
(a) Developing and adopting a comprehensive plan to address racial segregation in schools and neighbourhoods with concrete goals, timelines and impact assessment mechanisms;

(b) Increasing federal funding for programmes and policies that promote racially integrated learning environments for students;

(c) Effectively implementing the recommendations contained in the report of the Equity and Excellence Commission published in February 2013;

(d) Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with provisions that support and encourage solutions to address school segregation; and
The Secretary of Education has taken note of these recommendations, and in a meeting last fall with NCSD members and senior department staff, pledged to work to continue to expand the Department’s support for school diversity.

In addition to its ongoing advocacy with the Department of Education, the NCSD has published a series of valuable “Research Briefs,” with the generous support of members of the NCSD Research Advisory Panel, and a series of “Issue Briefs” that cover federal policy developments.

The NCSD also supports state and local efforts to promote school integration, and highlights local victories and campaigns. The coalition’s Third National Conference is coming up in September 2015—you can find out more information at www.school-diversity.org.
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