TribLive Digs Into Past & Present Of Pittsburgh School Segregation

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Screengrab of the data visualization

If you haven’t done so already, I would highly recommend Segregation in Pittsburgh-area schools an enduring issue, Natasha Lindstrom’s recent Trib Live deep dive into longstanding school segregation in Pittsburgh and surrounding school districts.

The story, like last week’s WNYC piece, explodes the notion that school segregation isn’t an issue outside of the South:

“More than six decades after the landmark ruling, schools in the Northeast are some of the most segregated in the nation and schools in the South are among the most integrated, Department of Education and private research show.”

“Fifty-three percent of Pittsburgh Public Schools students are black, but blacks make up just 26.5 percent of the population of Pittsburgh and Mt. Oliver, the two municipalities within district boundaries.”

“I think that’s not intuitive — even though the data is out there,” Lindstrom said in a recent phone interview. “It seems like the perception isn’t that way.

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Lindstom previously worked in Orange County, then did some freelancing for the Hechinger Report, and has been in Pittsburgh now two years. She’s officially on the metro desk, an enterprise reporter not solely focused on education. (The education beat reporter is Liz Behrman, who recently replaced Megan Harris.)

The piece focuses on City Charter High School, which fought for a downtown site to promote diversity. As shown in the images accompanying the piece (above is an example), the school requires a class in cultural literacy required for 9th grade students.

One of the most interesting aspects of the piece is that it opens with a white kid transferring to an integrated school, rather than the other way around. Lindstrom calls focusing on a white kid’s experience of integration as the “anti-anecdote.”

“Wyatt Schueler rarely saw a person who was not white during the eight years he attended Catholic school in Pittsburgh’s North Hills… Nearly four years later, just a few months from graduation, the varied blend of races and backgrounds is one of the 17-year-old’s favorite things about his school.”

Lindstrom also went the extra mile and found a 76 year old board member who was involved in a previous attempt to integrate the Pittsburgh schools and had this to say about those efforts:

“I feel in my heart that we gave it the good ol’ all-American try,” said Evelyn Neiser, 76, who was a Pittsburgh school board member during those decades and recalls angry protests and parent backlash to the mandate. “We tried to make it work.”

Of course, not all integrated schools succeed. One example that got cut, according to Lindstrom, was Colfax Middle school. “There are a lot of those as well.”

Possible followups according to Lindstrom include solutions, faculty diversity, and how to teach kids in diverse schools cultural literacy.

You can follow her work here: @newsnatasha. Follow Behrman at @Ebehrman.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.