The Texas Tribune

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More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, segregation is far from a distant memory in many Texas schools. The state’s public school system is now majority Hispanic, and millions of black and Hispanic students study in schools and classrooms that include few to no white students. 

While state leaders and education officials are working to give all students more educational opportunities, they’ve largely abandoned a focus on racial integration as a tool for equity.

That takes us to the genesis of “Dis-Integration,” The Texas Tribune’s multi-part series on school segregation in Texas. In conceiving this project, Tribune reporters Aliyya Swaby and Alexa Ura sought to explore the systemic issues that have impeded the integration of many Texas schools and the challenges that current desegregation efforts face.

To take on such an ambitious endeavor, Alexa and Aliyya had to dive deep into the history of the state’s public education system. They learned about resistance to Brown v. Board of Education. They explored how a federal desegregation order in 1970 forced Texas school districts to act — and how various districts reacted differently. And they became students of the ways districts held onto systems and processes that didn’t account for the major demographic shifts their communities were experiencing.

Alexa and Aliyya interviewed researchers, education officials, local administrators and educators. They talked to current and former students who have struggled under a system of segregation. They traveled across North Texas, East Texas, and Central and South Texas. They worked tirelessly to research an idea they first proposed in early 2017.

That work has resulted in an unprecedented examination of the ways the Texas public school system perpetuates lifetimes of inequity.

Among our findings in this four-part series: Lifting a federal desegregation order doesn’t quell fears that a community may slip back in time. In big urban districts, there is innovation but finite resources  — meaning some schools will be left out. And changing demographics don’t guarantee a sea change in school board representation; those who benefit from power are loath to give any of it up. 

Our Dis-Integration series illustrates how segregation continues to create separate and unequal educational experiences in Texas. That achievement gap has only been exacerbated by legislative resistance to funding educational programs necessary for Hispanics to access public education.

In laying out these inequities, Alexa and Aliyya worked closely with our data visuals team to illustrate various data points that show the impact of school segregation. We combined text and graphics with photos of various subjects in our pieces to produce captivating narratives that broke down complex policy and legal arguments by focusing on the human impact. 

While we focused on Texas, this issue is by no means restricted to our state. That’s why we partnered with NPR’s 1A — a nationally syndicated radio show that specializes in joining subject-matter experts and community members to discuss the day's most complex topics — to produce both segments and podcasts on our project. 

In addition to aggressive and effective social media around this project, we’re traveling across the state in early 2019 to host in-person community conversations about segregated schools. 

Ultimately, a complex education system that has been unequal since its inception will be better understood as a result of Dis-Integration. And a brighter light now shines on both the existing inequity and the resistance to change. We’re grateful to have had the opportunity to pursue this crucial work and hopeful you’ll see fit to honor it. 

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Submitted by Emily Ramshaw.