Parents often talk about choosing a school to get “the best” for our kids. But what does that “best” mean — and what if it comes at the expense of someone else’s kid?
Schools in the U.S. are arguably more segregated now than before the Civil Rights movement. California has the dubious distinction of having the third-most-segregated schools in the nation for black students and the most segregated schools for Latinx students. Children of color are predominantly isolated into schools of poverty, while their white and/or privileged peers enjoy greater access to highly resourced schools. In L.A., schools separated by a mile can have vastly unequal access to resources and opportunities.
This means that our individual choices often support a system that further advantages the advantaged. (The very idea of a “best schools list” perpetuates inequitable schools by guiding parents to ignore the systemic impact of their choices.) While the U.S. has ostensibly been working toward desegregation for 65 years, these efforts are failing in part due to what parents think a good education should look like. The research is clear that test scores, for example, tell us more about the demographics of the families in a school than it does about the integrity of its teaching. The research is also clear that, despite what we may believe, “sought-after schools” actually do not improve student test scores.
Attending an integrating school — one in which yours may be the only or one of a few white and/or privileged families — can (but doesn’t necessarily) mean that your child won’t have impressive-sounding academic programs, after-school enrichment activities or big parent-booster budgets. But choosing an integrating school is not so much sacrifice as it is a reprioritizing what matters in building a world we want our children to be adults in.
Along with many parents in L.A., my partner (a showrunner) and I decided against raising our children in a bubble. We have enrolled our children (now ages 14 and 16) in schools that serve disproportionately high numbers of free or reduced-fee lunch and non-native-English-speaking students. Our experience has been transformative, and while it has not always been easy or comfortable, we are grateful. Even as our kids have gone without field trips or art in the classroom, the conversations we have as a family about justice and inequality, about how the world works and our place in it, have been critical in our kids’ development.
To foster a larger dialogue around school segregation, I founded a national nonprofit in 2015. Integrated Schools is an all-volunteer, grassroots movement of anti-racist parents who are working toward meaningful equity in their schools. With our podcast, video-conferenced book clubs and chapters across the U.S., we are helping to create a counternarrative to forces that perpetuate segregation, and to build a community of parents who are “living their values.” By opting to integrate, one family will not “save” a school nor anyone in it, but we can refuse to contribute to the hoarding of opportunity. For those of us who care about justice, we do not have to win a dirty game. For those of us who care about our children and our neighbors’ children, we know that this is not a question of sacrifice, but of deeply reflecting on what “best” really means.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.