Education Change Cannot Come From Policies Alone
By Park Hill Neighbors
For Equity In Education
For the GPHN
While the arrival of a new year is usually accompanied by feelings of hope and possibility, this new year sadly occasioned the devastating loss of a fierce and cherished education advocate. Courtney Everts Mykytyn, mother of two and founder of the nonprofit Integrated Schools, died on Dec. 30 after being struck by a car near her home in Los Angeles.
Everts Mykytyn is nationally known for advocating for racial integration in schools by encouraging white parents to send their children to predominantly non-white schools, as she did with her two children.
Drawing from her family’s own personal experience, Everts Mykytyn encouraged parents to recognize that the benefits of sending children to diverse schools often outweigh the benefits of sending them to non-diverse schools with high test scores and more resources. Yet she also placed strong emphasis on the need for white parents to be mindful and caring when enrolling in non-white schools, to avoid “colonizing” or displacing the leadership of an existing community of parents of color, in favor of their own white-centered preferences.
She stressed that true integration requires an intentional effort to build community and authentic partnership in a school, otherwise, the school is only desegregated – or worse yet, harmed.
Everts Mykytyn has reached thousands of parents through the Integrated Schools podcast, co-hosted by Andrew Lefkowits of Park Hill, a parent board member of Integrated Schools, and co-chair of Park Hill Neighbors for Equity in Education (PHNEE). Its website, IntegratedSchools.org, Facebook page, book club, Parent-2-Parent Program, and growing network of local chapters also serve as rich resources for parents enrolling in integrating schools – in Everts Mykytyn’s words, “intentionally, joyfully and humbly.”
Though Integrated Schools will never be the same without Everts Mykytyn, the team of volunteers she assembled from across the country will continue the podcast and other activities with the same enthusiasm she brought to her work.
Saying one thing, doing another
Everts Mykytyn and Integrated Schools’ focus on achieving integration through individual parent choices, and not just policy change, appears ever more critical in light of two recent reports.
Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education program, Making Caring Common, issued the report Do parents really want school integration? (mcc.gse.harvard.edu/reports/do-parents-really-want-school-integration). The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University issued the report Parental preferences for charter schools in North Carolina: Implications for racial segregation and isolation (edworkingpapers.com/index.php/ai20-195).
Both studies reveal that though parents from nearly every demographic group say that they desire diverse schools, when offered a choice to enroll in schools with majority populations of students of color, white parents choose schools that are more white and more affluent.
Making Caring Common’s report, based on interviews and focus groups with parents of moderate financial means, explained the discrepancy between this choice and what parents claim to value.
On the one hand, a majority of these parents expressed support for integration, citing the “high educational value of learning deeply about other cultures not abstractly, but in everyday interactions and relationships,” among other things. Yet on the other, parents viewed integrated schools as inferior, without recognizing that measures of quality (often, average test scores) are narrow and fail to capture “the many forms of meaningful academic and peer learning in diverse schools that are not captured by standardized tests.”
Just look around
In Denver, one need not rely on a Harvard or Brown study to appreciate the result of these choices, as they are evident just by looking around. In Denver Public Schools, where families engage in universal school choice and are thus, in theory, able to freely integrate schools, in most instances, they do not. This pattern reveals itself in many neighborhoods, including Park Hill. Smith and Hallett’s student populations are 92 percent and 96 percent students of color, whereas Park Hill Elementary’s population is 25 percent students of color. Stedman Elementary’s student population is 61 percent students of color.
Certain DPS policies have attempted to redress both racial and socioeconomic segregation resulting from historically segregated neighborhood boundaries coupled with uncontrolled school choice.
These include choice priorities for enrollment and enrollment zones, which have had varied success (see the story Denver school choice: What are enrollment zones? And are they working? published on Jan. 15 by Chalkbeat).
Yet as the Harvard and Brown studies reveal, change cannot come from policies alone. It will require parents themselves to be the change. Courtney Everts Mykytyn was one parent who recognized this, and many others are thankful for her lead. Many more need to follow.
What do you think? Visit PHNEE.org/oneparkhill to learn more, take our survey concerning achieving greater equity in our neighborhood schools, and get involved.
Park Hill Neighbors For Equity In Education (PHNEE.org) is an organization of local advocates working toward diversity, equity, and inclusion in all schools in Greater Park Hill.