Connecting Education, Housing, and Transportation to Expand Opportunity

As educators, parents, business and community leaders, we face a common challenge: How do we prepare our country’s increasingly diverse students for an increasingly diverse and interconnected world? Doing this work cannot just be about holding our students to high achievement standards, although that is incredibly important. The answer also has to be about broader exposure.

If we want to raise competent global citizens, we must focus on diversity, too.

Students need access to a rigorous, diversified, and well-rounded education that includes not just math and English language arts, but the full range of courses necessary to thrive in today’s knowledge-based economy — classes like history and civics, the arts and sciences, world languages, and computer coding. We owe it to our children to provide them with the kind of education that can open their hearts and minds to passions that they might not have known existed, and to the opportunities and experiences that lie beyond their neighborhoods.

Diversity in what our children learn is important; so, too, is the diversity of students in our schools. All children deserve the opportunity to grow, learn, and play alongside peers who have walked a different path and gained various perspectives by virtue of their race, family income, language spoken at home, or other circumstances. And all students derive important benefits from attending diverse schools, with especially powerful results for low-income students.

Today’s students also need to be prepared to engage and collaborate with a global workforce. Research has shown that diverse organizations can produce strong outcomes.

Yet, young people in many of our communities are more isolated by race and income today than young people were even a decade or two ago. Today, low-income students are six times more likely to attend high-poverty schools than their more affluent peers.

Recognizing that full access to opportunity is affected by education, housing, and transportation — especially in our low-income communities — the U.S. Departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation are calling on local leaders to coordinate efforts in these areas to ensure that every child and family is provided with the tools they need to thrive.

A new letter issued jointly by these agencies today encourages local stakeholders and state and local officials to work together to address issues such as struggling schools, high rates of crime, and inadequate access to services and jobs. The letter promotes regional planning, increased collaboration across sectors, and strong community involvement to expand equal access to the many benefits provided by excellent schools, affordable housing, and reliable transportation.

For educators and administrators in states and local districts, steps to increase diversity in their schools and communities and narrow opportunity gaps could include:

· Developing strategies for drawing school attendance boundaries and selecting sites for new schools with the aim of providing equal access to quality schools and increasing the diversity of the communities served by these schools;

· Consulting with transportation and housing authorities and agencies to ensure students can take safe routes to school and that high-performing schools serve diverse populations, including high-needs students; and

· Working with transportation and housing agencies to share important information about school performance, graduation rates, and demographic composition to create housing and school choice opportunities that best address the unique needs of communities and expand access to an excellent education to every child.

Doing everything we can to ensure more of our children and families access the incredible opportunities that a great education and safe, affordable housing and transportation make possible won’t just benefit our most disadvantaged communities. It also will ensure that we, as a nation, can live up to our highest ideal — that with hard work and determination, every one of us can succeed.