Many of the white parents’ fears were prejudice, plain and simple. But Scott-Railton knew that the parents were right about one thing: Integrating the school could mean that the school’s rating would drop, and schools with lower ratings tend to pay a penalty in the highly competitive college process. Universities tend to give a leg up to affluent, high test-scoring suburban schools—which then incentivizes wealthier parents to seek out segregation. But what if those incentives could be changed?
And thus Scott-Railton’s idea was born: to take demographics of schools into account in college admissions—giving priority to applicants who attended schools with a certain threshold of low-income students (say, above 40 percent). In other words, admissions officers would look favorably on students who attended an economically integrated school, much as they do those who have had unusual travel experiences or outstanding extracurricular achievements.
In a nutshell, he argues, this idea would drive integration in three ways: It would create an incentive for middle class and wealthy parents to enroll their students in socioeconomically integrated schools, it would create countervailing considerations for white parents considering leaving currently integrated school districts, and it would provide an incentive for private schools to enroll more low-income students. Middle-class students would likely benefit more from Scott-Railton’s idea than low-income students, since his proposal doesn’t inherently change the financial barriers to attending college. But millions more would benefit from the increased K–12 integration, which decades of research show improves public schooling.
I would wonder how many colleges have to do this in order for it to be effective — and what sort of hi-jinks might ensue from wealthier families trying to intentionally make use of these policies. But it’s probably worth a try!