Friday, February 3, 2012

Education vs. Diversity

We live in a diverse area consisting of whites, blacks, and Hispanics.   Our elementary schools are equally as diverse.  

Problem:  We live in a failing school district.   And from what we’ve heard, it’s not only not-great, but it’s one of the worst in the entire state.

So, move, right?   But to where?  

Surrounding areas are either

a---better educationally, but are drastically less diverse

b---much more diverse, in much worse school districts.

So you might be thinking, what about private school?    Even less diverse.   Like my daughter would be THE black girl.   Or maybe one of two.  Not good.

(Funny side note:  when I ask parents or teachers of private schools how diverse their school is, they usually say, “Oh, it’s diverse.  There’s two black kids in the school.  Oh and one Asian girl, too.”   Yeah.  Ok.    Great.)

As a college teacher, I fully understand the impact of a student who is ill-equipped for college due to his or her lack of a good K-12 education.      But I also understand, from the little research there is on transracial adoption, that the kids who feel most resentful of their parents and most struggle with racial identity and confidence are the ones who were “the” black/Asian/Hispanic kid in an mostly white town or school.      

So what wins?  Diversity or education?   What is more important?  

We still have two and a half years before Miss E can go to kindergarten due to her birthday.  She’ll be nearly six when she can go.   We have time to decide.  But some things just aren’t going to change---like the general racial composition of our town and nearby towns, or the failing school districts vs. the well-to-do/successful ones.  

I know I’m not alone in my concerns.  While white parents of white kids brush off my worries (particularly when I ask how diverse their child’s school is) saying, “Kids don’t notice race” or “Your child will be fine,” transracial families are rolling their eyes in annoyance right along with me.   I know I’m perfectly right and normal to worry about diversity vs. education.    I don’t want my daughters, by default, to be “the cool black girl” in their school.

What to do?  What to do?

I’m anxious to hear from you.   What do you think is more important----diversity or education?   Do you find yourself in a similar predicament?   What will you do?   Would you (have you?) ever move a great distance to find a diverse and good school for your kids, or is that going too far?    


  1. Our public schools aren't terrible but aren't awesome. But they are diverse. We (like I told you previously) decided there are a lot of ways we can supplement the education we worry about her missing but there aren't easy ways to make up for her being the token black kid. However we weren't dealing with failing schools, just not the super best of the best, so that decision was pretty easy.

  2. We are in the exact same situation as you, we are the same age as you, and our adopted daughters are almost the exact same age. And it sounds like the same education predicament. I think we are going to choose education over diversity. We have already picked a private preschool that leads into a private elementary/middle/high school. I wish I could have it both ways, but I'm just going to trust the Lord that this is the right decision for our family.
    PS. for some reason I can only comment anon. My name is Abby, my blog is

  3. Hi, Rachel! You're blog is awesome and has inspired me to start one of my own focusing on transracial adoption--because lets face it, there's not too many transracial parents who put everything out there. I'm VERY new to transracial adoption, but have been researching it for a long time. We just received our amazingly handsome brown baby boy about 2 weeks ago. He's 13 mos. and just perfect!

    Diversity vs. Education--MAJOR decision. If you chose the educational route, your girls can still participate in activities in a more diverse area. You can have them participate in highly diverse church group (if you don't already). If you keep them in the more diverse school district then you can do supplemental activities to keep them on their A game. I think that with some sacrifice that you can make either work.

    Good luck in your decision. It sounds like you have some time to really consider all of the options!

  4. I am in love with your blog!! I am a mother just like you except they're boys!! Thank for your post. I have the exact same worries just like you. I think that diversity and education are like a coin. which side is better heads or tails? You can't have just one side or it wouldn't be a coin. Both sides are equal. I love the third paragraph from the bottom!! That is exactly what happens to me!! You're not the only one with this worry!!

  5. We ultimately decided that diversity was more important. So far in Kindergarten, Mea is doing quite well. We love her teacher, and she is in the top reading group. We also work with her at home on a very regular basis.

    Her school is an ESL school, and is currently on the failing schools list. We actually open enrolled her to this school partially because of the diversity. I knew that if I felt she wasn't getting the education she needed I could move her, I also knew that if she needed help that I could help her.

    I didn't want her to be the one of two black girls in the entire school.

    There are children of all different races in Mea's school, and class. I think it's awesome.

  6. They way I'm approaching this problem - and our situation as well as our timeline is similar to you - is to ask myself where are the middle class black children going to school? That's where I want my kids to go. The answer in our neighborhood is probably private schools and there are a few that make an effort to maintain high levels of diversity. The one we really have our eye on actually has a policy of keeping the balance where at least 49% of students are of color.

  7. I teach school in Florida and kids do "notice" differences in their peers but in kindergarten they are very accepting of all their classmates. The "diversity" of our school is gradually changing year to year and I try to address "issues" through literature, music and art. Lucille

  8. We're right there along with you! Curious to see the comments! Our little guy is only three MONTHS, but my husband and I are/were both elementary school teachers and we are so curious and anxious to see where our path takes us! Thanks for bringing it up!

  9. At this point, we just have one biological child, but the issue of diversity still concerns me greatly. We live in Washington, DC, which has a thriving charter school scene, which in some ways takes away the either/or. Still, it is SUCH a difficult decision...I would make sure that you visit the supposedly "failing" schools, because sometimes that label can be misleading, particularly in reference to the early grades. Also, with parents like you active and involved, the school would certainly benefit,and perhaps make steps toward shaking that failing label.

  10. I can't speak from experience because I haven't adopted but I live in a very white rural conservative part of Texas and I know of 3 families that have black/biracial adopted kids.

    One is our county sheriff, his son in 18 and biracial. He has gone to an all white school and his dad wears boots and a cowboy hat as a uniform, yet there's no resentment or hatred of his folks.

    Second family whose daughter is biracial and the close friend of my sister in law. She's 20 and raised in a very tiny town nearby and was homeschooled. No resentment or identity crisis there.

    Last family just adopted a biracial boy who is around 18 mos. They also live in a tiny all white town close by. They go to an all white church as well. He's still too young to see any results yet.

    Perhaps homeschooling might be the best thing for your girls now. There are people of every color that choose this educational route and you can network with other families through homeschool conventions, co-ops and family events. Just a thought.

    I know 2 cases don't matter much but when I see these videos of kids resenting their parents I can't help but notice that there is no mention of Christ.

    I can't help but wonder if these people had been taught that their identity is in Christ instead of trying to help them reconcile with society maybe things would be different...well the 2 cases above show that it's can be done because all the families above are devout Christians who point their child to Christ not the culture.


  11. Hi,

    My name is Alicia. I am not a transracial adoptive parent. I am an African American mother of two biracial sons, and I happened upon your blog because we are considering expanding our family through adoption and this came up in the search engine. On the topic of school - I've experienced both environments - being in an all-black school and being the only black girl. I attended an all-black K-8 Christian school that did pretty well on being academically rigorous. 80% of us alums have college degrees or higher. So, if you can find what I had in the 80's, that would be ideal...

    In all seriousness, my husband and I are in the midst of figuring this out precisely because we can't recreate that school environment.

    One consideration is that a school may be generally excellent, but have an educational ecology that does a disservice to black kids. If you send your kid there, don't assume that the "superior education" is equitably provided to all kids. You may find that the education is excellent - for white kids.

    I echo the comments of finding out where other middle class black parents in your area are sending their kids. It's worth being in conversation now. And it's an ongoing project where the strategy may shift from elementary to middle to high school.

    I have also had the experience of being the only black girl in school - I went to a private Christian high school and was one of 10 black kids in my class of 125, and one of 2 black kids in the honors track. There were hard things about that, but I was set up well educationally speaking. I would have to say that having the strong foundation in the all-black school helped my sense of confidence by high school once I was older, so you might opt for a more diverse school in elementary with whatever supplements you think necessary and, if quality is really a problem, a less diverse, but academically strong school for middle/high school - when they have a sense of confidence that is less easily shaken. And be prepared to be "that momma" who is vigilant about how kids of color are faring in that environment. But that's a strategy that may or may not be an option for you - my elementary school wasn't a failing school, and I would be personally wary of putting my kid into a "failing" school - predominantly black or not. We do not need two more black kids in this country experiencing a sub-standard education, in my opinion. Having said that, I would put my kid in a "decent, but not the best" school that reflected a good deal of diversity.

    As for us - this year was my oldest son's Kindergarten year. We opted for a unique combination of a 3-day K option at a private school + homeschooling. The private school is 90% white, but an educational model we like.

    Ironically, my kid's specific Kindergarten class happens to be more than 50% kids of color and he's not the only black boy - a fluke of this year's enrollment. We are deciding between continuing there and homeschooling full-time as the 1st grade, which is a combination of the 3 Kindergarten classes, will not be 50% kids of color. If all the kids of color continue for first (many families opt for K at this school then start 1st in public school), it might be about 1/4 to 1/3rd. Can I just say we are "counting the numbers" in terms of racial balance, as we hear about people's decisions?

    So, in summary, I talked, talked, talked to other black parents. I monitor, monitor the environments my kids are in. I make my concerns about race explicit - friendly, but explicit.

    I hope something in what I shared has helped. It's a great thing that your girls have parents that are being as thoughtful as possible on this issue. That will go a long way, no matter what decision you make.

  12. One other consideration (from Alicia) - do you know about or thought about joining Mocha Moms or Jack and Jill? They are mom groups for mothers of African American children, and while the vast majority of moms are going to be black, all chapters are open to anyone interested in supporting the mission of healthy development of the family and the child development for African American families. They have play groups, and some chapters have strong elementary to high school aged parts of their chapter.

    These groups are usually made up of black families who find themselves in areas where their kids are the only ones in school or one of a few in the neighborhood, or in the case of Mocha Moms - one of the few stay-at-home or work-at-home moms of color. It's nice to have playgroups that are predominantly kids of color, and parents who are asking the same questions you are asking.

    Mocha Moms tends to be families with younger kids,but some chapters have strong sub-groups of parents with school-aged kids; Jack and Jill tends to focus on families with kids already in school.

  13. Just found your blog today and have enjoyed reading. As someone who studied diversity and equity in education (as a PhD student) and is focused on multicultural education for all students, I would encourage you to look more closely at the classroom and grade/departmental level rather than the school. The media these days has ways of talking about "failing schools" and "failing districts," which ignores the fact that there are great teachers and programs within those that don't make AYP. Try to get to know those institutions and have a fully formed opinion about what they do and don't offer before you make the choice not to send your kids there. It doesn't have to be one or the other. If you do end up going into a more racially homogenous makeup, just make sure you're willing to really be a spokesperson for your kids' needs. For example, read Amanda Lewis' "No race in the schoolyard" about colorblindness in predominantly White schools -- and you'll have an idea of what it might be like.

  14. Our school is currently on the 'failing' list and since my son has some special needs, we are put in a priority on the waiting list to transfer to a new school. I passed on it. He is not in the best school, but it is the best school for our family. He is thriving and has a connection with his teacher and is working really hard. He even has a 'best' friend so we are THRILLED! We supplement at home. There is a lot of ESL in his school, so people are always coming and going from their classroom at any given time so the other students don't think anything of it when he leaves for his special ed. He is peach skinned...but his sisters have brown it is a really good fit for us! Just remember that the "best" isn't always what society, family, or friends perceive it to be.

  15. I just found your blog and will be reading regularly. My (white) husband and I have a 5-year-old daughter adopted from Ethiopia, so we are facing the schools question. We are moving this summer, and our intent is to move into the city for the diversity, but I have already gotten some crap from a family member about the school district--though I think the reputation may be worse than the truth. Anyway, thank you for blogging so openly about so many issues we need to be thinking about.



Comments are moderated and published upon approval. Your thoughts and questions are also welcome via e-mail at whitebrownsugar AT hotmail DOT com.