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Champaign Unit 4 Parents Asked: Does Desegregation Help Close Achievement Gaps?

by Emily Hays, Illinois Newsroom / Jan 26, 2023

When the Champaign Unit 4 School District set out to finish desegregating its schools by socioeconomic status, very few parents in the Champaign Unit 4 district liked the idea – no matter their racial or economic background.

After all, Unit 4 has tried multiple desegregation plans over the past 50 years. If those efforts didn’t close opportunity gaps between students, why try again?

Illinois Newsroom asked five education professors, including Curriculum & Instruction's Asif Wilson, to answer that simple question: does desegregation work? Here's what Wilson says:

wilson_asif210729-12-bSchools Have Often Desegregated in Harmful Ways

School districts have inflicted deep wounds on Black communities in the name of integration. Districts, particularly in the South, dramatically reduced their Black teaching force after the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Asif Wilson researches teaching and curricula at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Wilson says districts removed pillars of local communities.

“In the past, teachers have lived in communities. So they went to the stores, they went to the churches, they were part of the sort of communal milieu and desegregation completely interrupted that,” Wilson says.

Wilson says Black teachers knew best how to teach their students and knew the most about their history.

“What does it mean, then, then when you interrupt the sort of relationality, that black students have, not only between black teachers, but also black history, the black conduits of black excellence, the conduits of black memory?” Wilson asks.

In Illinois, almost 17 percent of students are Black, but only six percent of teachers are, according to the state board of education’s most recent report card.

So is desegregation still worth it, if the backlash can be so effective and harmful?

Wilson says no. He wants to see neighborhood schools with the resources and teaching styles that will make them effective for Black students.

Read the other four education researchers' points of view on desegregation efforts from Illinois Newsroom...