Re-framing the question of classroom diversity to address socioeconomic status rather than race or ethnicity

Historically, the issue of diversity in schools has largely centered around racial diversity.  School integration was spearheaded by the American Civil Rights Movement with reasonable argument that segregating schools based on race would lead to an inequitable division of resources for the nation’s citizens. Once schools were desegregated, and students of all races and ethnicities were integrated in public schools, it was discovered that integration in this manner does not necessarily lead to even distribution of resources.


Quite simply because poverty affects all races and ethnicities, yet can be often found in geographic pockets (urban or rural).  Underfunded and under-resourced schools serve underemployed and under-resourced neighborhoods (no matter the race or ethnicity of the population).

When underfunded and under-resourced schools are linked to poverty, rather than race or ethnicity, the solution changes because the question is re-framed.

How can we combat the impact poverty has on our students and their academic achievement?

In a study conducted by The Century Foundation (2016) findings prove that diversifying a school’s population based on socioeconomic status (SES) rather than race or ethnicity can improve the performance of the underachieving students without negatively effecting the average and above average performers.  Maintaining a 30% concentration of middle class students in any given school population has proven to improve the achievement of the poorest students while not interfering with the performance of more affluent students.  Furthermore, integrating schools based on SES can diversify our schools racially and ethnically, because poverty is found in every racial and ethnic group.  Aiming for a stable 30% representation of the middle class in our schools will encourage a diverse and  productive learning environment for our nation’s youth.

Poverty is a great leveler of mankind – it equitably denies the poor necessities, securities, and comforts despite race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or age.  Likewise, education is also a great leveler of mankind, affording opportunities despite a person’s race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or age.  While poverty is likely never to be eradicated, meeting the needs of our students through mindful design of our learning environments (providing nutrition, access to books and technology, and efforts to reduce absenteeism) can narrow the gap in academic achievement among our poorest students leading to greater opportunities over a lifetime.

Full articles on this topic, and The Century Foundation study mentioned above, can be accessed through the following links:

Bazelon, E. (2015, February 2). The next kind of integration – class, race and Desegregating American schools. New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from

Kamenetz, A. (2016, February 29). When integrating A school, does it matter if you use class instead of race?. Retrieved March 24, 2016, from

Potter, H., Quick, K., & Davies, E. (2016, February 9). A new wave of school integration – The Century Foundation. Retrieved March 24, 2016, from Education,



Author: Jane Hoff

Middle School Librarian and Media Technician Guest Teacher, K - 12 BA, Sociocultural Anthropology, the University of Chicago, 1995 Graduate Student, Master of Library and Information Science, San Jose State University, CA

3 thoughts on “Re-framing the question of classroom diversity to address socioeconomic status rather than race or ethnicity”

  1. I like that you pointed out that socioeconomic status is the key factor affecting one’s success. I know that, in my hometown, many people are under the impression that race is what divides us the most. “The only African American family in town is poor because they are African American” and so on. But that’s not the case. Poverty doesn’t know one color from the next. It affects all races and is a true “leveler of mankind.” Good post and lots to think about with this one.


    1. Thanks Alli! It is interesting how poverty is discussed in the media leading, the public to believe poverty is a concern of African Americans, while statistics actually show that the majority of the impoverished Americans are white. Of course statistics also show that proportionally African Americans (26%) and Hispanics (24%) experience higher rates of poverty compared to white Americans (10%), but looking at the NUMBERS of people living in poverty suggests that those living in poverty are more evenly distributed between race/ethnicity in this country. You can check out the statistics here.


  2. Hi Jane,

    I like this article. I especially intrigued by the part about maintaining a 30% concentration of middle class students in a school can help improve the performance of the students. I know as a teacher at a school that is mostly of students from a low income background I have seen the difficulties that these students face. I think I am going to bring this up to a committee that I am apart of . We are responsible for coming up with policies related to recruitment and publicity and we discuss issues related to bringing new students into our school. I think I will discuss this and see if we can try to publicize ourselves to the community with this is mind.


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