2009 Archive

New Report Hails Berkeley's Public School Diversity Plan

By Andrew Cohen

A new report co-written by the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity says Berkeley public schools could serve as a blueprint for other school districts grappling with diversity issues.

The report, “Integration Defended: Berkeley Unified’s Strategy to Maintain School Diversity,” is the culmination of a year-long analysis by the Warren Institute and UCLA’s Civil Rights Project. It found that Berkeley schools have achieved substantial integration even though the city’s neighborhoods are largely segregated by racial-ethnic and socioeconomic status.

Achieving a racially diverse student body has become increasingly difficult since 2007, when the U.S. Supreme Court encouraged the creation of diverse schools—but limited assigning public-school students based on race or ethnicity. Berkeley’s plan had already been constrained by Proposition 209, the 1996 California law that bars the sole use of race, ethnicity, or gender in determining enrollment to public schools.

Even so, the report found that Berkeley’s “controlled choice” plan for assigning students has been largely successful—as eight of the city’s 11 elementary schools were deemed well-integrated. More information about the findings is available here.

The school district divides Berkeley into hundreds of micro-neighborhoods that are each assigned a diversity code based on various factors. In comparing a school’s racial composition with that of all elementary students in the district, researchers determined whether the population of certain groups deviated more than 10 percentage points from the composition among all elementary schools.

While the report notes that Berkeley’s integration program is not a cure-all for every school district facing diversity challenges, it says the plan offers a new solution that other jurisdictions should consider.