Diverse schools? Survey shows the public may be ready


Great Schools for All continues to push for the creation of a network of theme-based magnet schools that are socially and economically diverse — enrolling students from the city as well as the suburbs. The group released a survey today that seems to confront one of the most deeply entrenched issues in a region widely recognized for its segregated school systems: whether urban and suburban parents are willing send their children to a diverse school environment.

For decades, the answer to that question has been a resounding "No!" But the survey, conducted by the Rochester research firm  Metrix Matrix and funded by the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation, seems to show that opinions are softening.

The survey reached 602 parents of school-age children, and was almost equally divided between the city and the suburbs. Participants were parents of students in public, charter, and private schools, and even some parents of home-schooled students. 

Eighty-three percent of parents said that it is somewhat or very important that their child's education involve attending a school with children from diverse ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds; 69 percent said they would consider sending their child to a magnet school that is half low-income and half middle class; and nearly 75 percent said they would consider sending their child to a magnet school even if it is outside their home district — and that number increased when parents were asked if they would send their child to a high school outside their home district.

Great Schools' leaders say that the survey reflects a set of attitudes that are transitioning from an older set of values. Rochester is engaged in a community-wide discussion about race, poverty, and school climate, and this may mean new educational opportunities, they say.

At the very least, it shows that most parents recognize that their children will likely attend colleges or pursue careers where they will have to work effectively with people from different cultures, backgrounds, and world views. Failure to do so will almost certainly limit their success later in life. 

But survey aside, that doesn't mean that the respondents will act correspondingly to their answers. The parents weren't asked directly if they would consider a magnet school that's located in the city, and it's been shown that people answering questions on sensitive subjects like race, religion, and abortion may give answers they believe are socially acceptable and not necessarily how they will act. 

But even if public attitudes have moved from a firm "no"  to a "maybe," that's progress.