Expert Interview | Integrating Dallas Schools

Our Center is collaborating with researchers Patricia Gandara and Gary Orfield from UCLA to produce a case study of desegregation efforts in the Dallas Independent School District. DISD is one of the nation’s largest districts with nearly 158,000 students in 239 schools, and it is also one of the most segregated, with 93% of its students black or Latino.

We talked to Dr. Gandara and Dr. Orfield about their research so far, and why Dallas stands out as an innovator in school integration.

 Tell us about your project.


Patricia: We’re doing a project here with the SMU Texas-Mexico Center looking at the Dallas Independent School District, and how they’re using innovation and transformation schools to increase the diversity of their schools. And Dallas is one of several districts that we’ve identified around the country that are attempting to be more inclusive of the populations in the region.

Dallas is seeing a major housing market transformation. Did that influence your decision to study DISD?

Gary: Yes. The housing market is changing very rapidly, and the school district has a positive approach to it, which many school districts don’t. Either you incorporate the new families, or you have declining enrollment, as neighborhoods gentrify. The last thing we want to do is have a situation where newcomers are coming in, not using the schools and other people are being pushed away, and the school just loses enrollment.

Patricia: In urban schools across the country, we’ve seen the middle class leave schools. And this is a clear opportunity to bring the middle class back into the schools, by offering things that are very attractive to middle class persons.

Why is it important for schools to be diverse?

Patricia: Schools need both economic and racial diversity because we live in a society that is diverse and increasingly diverse. Our young people, unless they’re educated in situations in which they encounter students unlike themselves, are not being prepared for the world they’re going to live in, not being prepared for the world in which they’re going to work. So we think that it’s really critically important both for the next generation as well as for the fabric of society for young people to be educated in diverse context.

Gary: We’ve had more than a half century of research show that diverse education is more effective, much more effective in terms of outcomes for disadvantaged students, and very good for all students in terms of being prepared to live in and work in a diverse society, where everybody’s going to be a part of a minority.

Texas education is driven a lot by standardized testing. Is that common in a lot of the districts that you’re looking at? Or is that a different issue that Texas deals with?

Gary: The whole Texas system was inflicted on the whole country for 14 years under No Child Left Behind, and now that’s been abandoned nationally, but it’s still very powerful here in Texas. So, Texas is that kind of extreme case of what’s been a test-driven educational debate.

Patricia: We’re not saying that it’s not important to know how children are doing and to be able to occasionally test them. But when testing is used as a weapon, it’s been proved to be ineffective,  and unfortunately, that’s the way this plays out a lot of times.

Gary: The outcome of schooling isn’t your math and reading scores, it really is whether you’re prepared for life, whether you are prepared to learn as an adult, and whether you are prepared to live successfully in a democratic society. It’s really important that schools produce cognitive development in many fields, including the ones that are tested now, but it’s certainly not the only important thing that schools do.

Patricia: In fact when you survey parents, you know, parents will tell you that they’re interested in their children being well rounded. That they’re interested in their children becoming good citizens and, and knowing how to participate in society, that these are important things for parents, too.

I think it’s really important for children to learn to love to learn. And if students are always being held up against the test number or, getting the items right, that tends to kill a lot of the joy of schooling. I think you can have higher standards if kids really want to learn the material because it’s in a supportive, interesting, intriguing, inspiring context. As opposed to, “You got to do this in order to make the next test great.”

So what is the most interesting or and most surprising thing you learned on your trip to Dallas?

Gary: Well, we learned that there are pockets of really interesting innovation going on in the school district. The parents are very excited about them, and there’s tangible evidence that they’re having success on different levels, which is very encouraging. So we tend to get really discouraging stories from big central city school districts where almost everybody is non- white, and almost everybody is poor.

Patricia: I’ve also been encouraged by the degree to which the district and school principals are very interested in supporting dual language instruction. They are hearing from their communities that this is something that’s desirable. And so the issue is how to how to do that effectively across the district.

Gary: Right now, at least in this generation, Texas is comparatively linguistically rich in a linguistically poor country where very few people speak a second language– even if they live close to the border. So unlike almost all other countries that have advanced economic areas, we tend to be monolingual. Texas has the opportunity to take what sometimes is defined as a problem and make it an opportunity.

What impact are you hoping your research will have? What are you hoping to accomplish with your work?

Gary: It’s important to say this is an exploratory study. So we’re hoping to document some very interesting developments, stimulate their continuation and stimulate deeper research of this whole initiative. We’re only able to look at a few schools, and this is a much bigger process than that.

Patricia: As Gary said, a lot of the work that we do involves studying problems and studying things that aren’t working that well for the whole society. It’s inspiring, actually, to be in places where people are working hard to create a more powerful vision.


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