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Report: Integration Plan a Model for Other Districts

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday September 03, 2009 - 12:20:00 PM

A new report says that Berkeley’s student assignment plan is a model for other districts struggling to maintain diversity in their schools. 

The report, titled “Integration Defended: Berkeley Unified’s Strategy to Maintain School Diversity,” was released Tuesday.  

It was written by researchers at the Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity at UC Berkeley School of Law and the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, after a year-long analysis of Berkeley Unified’s plan. 

Berkeley’s student integration plan has been challenged several times, most recently by the Pacific Legal Foundation, which sued the district on behalf of the American Civil Rights Foun-dation for violating California’s Proposition 209 by racially discriminating among students in placing them at elementary schools and in programs at Berkeley High School. 

In March, the California Court of Appeal upheld an earlier Alameda County Superior Court ruling that the plan is fair and legal.  

The UC report says that Berkeley Unified officials were successful in achieving “substantial integration in a city where neighborhoods are polarized by racial-ethnic and socioeconomic status.” 

“I think it supports the findings we have had for the program and the values of the school district which wants to have a plan that’s fair and equitable,” Berkeley Unified Superintendent Bill Huyett said. “The school district has put a lot of resources in having all our children go to all our schools but we still have to do a lot of work on closing the achievement gap.” 

According to the report’s authors, the issue of ensuring a racially diverse student population became a big challenge since a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling certified the importance of creating diversity in schools, but limited public school assignments based upon a student’s race or ethnicity. 

The court’s decision was a result of challenges posed to integration plans in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., school districts. 

“In the wake of that U.S. Supreme Court ruling, school districts around the country have been struggling to figure out what to do,” said Lisa Chavez, a research analyst at Berkeley Law’s Warren Institute who co-authored the report. “They are finding that they have to revamp their desegregation programs. This report suggests that other school districts should consider whether the Berkeley model might work for them as they revise their efforts at racial integration.” 

Berkeley Unified first started desegregation efforts in the mid-1960s, and the city’s racial and ethnic population has become increasingly diverse since then. 

According to the report, by 2008, 30.5 percent of the students enrolled in Berkeley’s public schools were white, 25.8 percent were African-American, 16.6 percent were Latino, 7.1 percent were Asian, and 18.7 percent either identified themselves in multiple categories or did not respond.  

The report’s authors said that in order to integrate the schools, district officials had to overcome residential segregation ingrained in the city. 

In its newest “controlled choice” plan adopted in 2004 to assign students to elementary schools, the district divided the city into more than 440 micro-neighborhoods called “planning areas,” each with a different diversity code. 

The code is based upon “the planning area’s average household income, highest level of education obtained by adults, and the percentage of students of color enrolled in grades kindergarten through 5 in public school.” 

Students in a particular planning area get assigned the same diversity code irrespective of their individual race. 

“Berkeley Unified gets credit for the innovative approach of assigning a diversity code to a planning area rather than to an individual student,” said report co-author Erica Frankenberg, research and policy director for the Initiative on School Integration at the UCLA Civil Rights Project. “That distinction is critical, and is what sets Berkeley’s integration plan apart from the ones that were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.” 

Chavez and Frankenberg warned that Berkeley’s plan might not be suitable for all school districts. 

“Desegregation is never perfect, but it tries to break the pattern of providing the weakest educational opportunities to the most disadvantaged students,” stated Gary Orfield, UCLA professor of education and co-director of the Civil Rights Project, in a foreword to the report. “The Berkeley plan isn’t a simple one, and it has not been tried in a wide variety of circumstances over a substantial period of time, but it should give the leaders of suburban and small city districts confidence that there are newer creative solutions to the bind they face.” 

The report is available online through the Berkeley Law’s Warren Institute ( and the UCLA Civil Rights Project (