By Stefan Lallinger (click here for the PDF)
“We can’t solve segregation on our own – it’s a housing issue,” is a common refrain among well-meaning educators who say they care deeply about the resegregation of American schools, but feel limited in what they can actually do. For decades, these educators have watched as politicians and superintendents have refused to address segregation in their midst, often allowing it to worsen under their watch, as desegregation orders in metropolitan areas dissolved, unregulated “choice” plans that erode diversity in districts proliferated, and redistricting that further entrenched the segregation from our neighborhoods in our schools became ubiquitous.
There is evidence to suggest that the policy environment has changed in regard to integration – there are more and more political leaders who recognize the problem of segregation and pledge to do something about it, and more innovative approaches to integrating housing and schools are being considered or funded by the government. Though federal and state policies are urgently needed given the local competitive dynamics as Finnigan and Holme discuss in this special issue, it is critical that practitioners and people on the ground in schools and communities are enlisted in the herculean effort to make America more integrated by contributing innovative ideas and participating in crucial collaboration necessary to inform policy change. In essence, policy must be informed by the perspectives and experiences of the people closest to the issue.
The Bridges Collaborative was created last year to break down the barriers of isolation among practitioners in the fight for a more integrated future. Specifically, we envisioned creating a community of practitioners that would achieve two things: first, an opportunity for practitioners in education and housing to engage in conversations that enable collaborative work between education and housing groups on the vexing problem of segregation in communities around the country; second, a community that would provide a venue for solidarity and the sharing of best practices in a cohort setting for individuals and teams who often feel engaged in work that is isolating and lonely.
In the year that we have existed, we have brought together teams from 57 organizations across the country, including school districts, charter schools and networks, and housing organizations. And, while the pandemic has prevented us from meeting in person, we have convened the 250 individuals that comprise this cohort of organizations virtually at national convenings and via virtual programming. Our collaborative learning has addressed questions such as:
What can we learn from the worlds of urban planning and school planning to help solve segregation?
Which enrollment mechanisms do schools and districts around the country use most effectively to ensure diversity?
How can housing mobility programs and school districts work together to ensure that students moving to new schools are best supported?
How can housing organizations accurately capture indicators of school quality and make schools a focal point of the housing selection process for clients?
What does genuine community engagement and mobilization look like in communities that want to take a systemic approach to addressing segregation?
How can education leaders advocate for more sensible housing policies?
We have learned a tremendous amount from each other over the past year. Nonetheless, the work together has reminded us that there are no easy solutions to the intractable and complex issue of segregation. We must continue to open up lines of dialogue across sectors and push for constructive conversations in communities across the country. We have also recognized a need to go deeper in a subset of communities around the country, to get more specific about the problems we seek to solve and disseminate the learning from these endeavors.
Over the next eight months, we will convene members, experts and community members in four cities across the country to have specific conversations about how to address segregation in those communities. We will also convene all our national members in Baltimore in 2022 to finally meet in person and continue to share knowledge and work collaboratively for new solutions. Our regional convenings – in Milwaukee, Winston-Salem, Ft. Worth-Dallas, and Los Angeles – each focus on issues specific to segregation in their communities; at the same time, the learning that emerges from these convenings will inform the work that practitioners are doing all across this country to create a brighter, more integrated, and more inclusive future for our nation’s children – in their schools and their neighborhoods. The rich and intensive work in these states through the Bridges Collaborative will be critical to informing cross-sector policy planning and implementation across the US. ▀
Stefan Lallinger (email@example.com) is Senior Fellow and Director of the Bridges Collaborative at The Century Foundation.