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How Diverse Schools Could Help Fight the Worst Effects of Gentrification

Done right, they might enable "meaningful social interaction" between a neighborhood's new arrivals and its existing residents.
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The Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C., is one of those places that demographers talk about when they celebrate the return of young, affluent – often white – professionals back into the city. Upper-middle class families have been moving in. And many of them have even begun to do what had long been unthinkable in four decades of white flight to the suburbs all across the country: They're enrolling their children in neighborhood public schools.

As this pattern plays out in gentrifying urban communities around Washington and elsewhere, it raises the possibility – albeit a fleeting one – that long-segregated schools in urban American might finally, if uneasily integrate. America's student body is now roughly 50 percent white, 50 percent minority. But by many measures, schools are no more integrated than they were three decades ago. The average white student attends a school where the student body is about 77 percent white. And the vast majority of low-income black children go to schools filled with children who look just like them, setting them up for long odds at educational and life success as researchers have documented them.