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  • Author or Editor: Charity Anderson x
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School segregation—the uneven distribution of students across schools, based on their socioeconomic status (SES), sex, race/ethnicity, or other ascribed characteristics—has important implications for educational inequality, social cohesion, and intergenerational mobility (Bonal and Bellei, 2019). While this topic has drawn special attention in the US, due, in part, to the 1954 Brown v. the Board of Education Supreme Court case, between-school segregation is a concern to policymakers and researchers worldwide. School segregation by race dominates much of the research on this topic in the US, but studies of school segregation by SES predominate internationally. This chapter summarizes what we know about betweenschool segregation by SES, describing the strongest international evidence we have, drawing attention to the consequences of segregation and the benefits of integration, and concluding with a discussion of solutions. Residential segregation, migration movements, economic inequalities, and even education policies themselves have shaped a growing process of school segregation between the world’s most disadvantaged students and the wealthiest. School composition matters, and it impacts students’ short- and long-term academic and social-emotional outcomes. Student performance is more strongly related to SES than to other school compositional characteristics, such as gender, immigrant status, or race/ethnicity. Indeed, research indicates that disadvantaged students who attend schools with more affluent peers see a range of positive effects, including increased achievement, motivation, and resiliency (Van Ewijk and Sleegers, 2010; Agasisti et al, 2021). A school’s average SES is highly predictive of its academic climate and instructional quality, both factors associated with educational outcomes.

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COVID-19 has forced all facets of daily life to shift. This has been particularly difficult for institutions like schools that depend on in-person, daily instruction. Across the United States, students, their families, schools, and districts have had to scramble to ensure instruction continues. With little precedent, responses have varied greatly, leaving the potential for unequal provision. In particular, the national patchwork of responses to the pandemic has exacerbated the uneven provision of special education in the US, potentially increasing the achievement gap between students with disabilities and their general-education peers, and contributing to academic and social regression.

Students with disabilities (SWD) in the US are guaranteed rights under various federal and state laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The latter mandates that a “free appropriate public education” and related accommodations, supports, interventions, and services be provided to SWD. Federal and state legislatures and courts have repeatedly found such rights under IDEA to be mandatory and non-negotiable, even when difficult or expensive to provide. At the end of April 2020, the US Department of Education sent a report to Congress reaffirming the rights of SWD to have equal access to education during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report stated that the Department would not request waiver authority to give school districts the option to forgo critical provisions of IDEA. IDEA, however, does not address how schools should respond during crises like COVID-19, leaving states and districts to decide how to deliver special education to SWD.

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