Enter the Young: Complex Questions (Part 2 of 3)

In my last post, I cited a new report by Joe Cortright at City Observatory that describes an increase in the number of young and educated workers moving to America’s inner cities over the last decade. I argued that the influx of this critical demographic into areas with high concentrations of failing schools has the potential to be beneficial for education reform efforts.

But it doesn’t come without risks.

When a lot more young, educated, white people with expanding earning potential take up residence in areas historically populated by poor people of color, gentrification is likely to occur and create tension along race and class lines.

The dynamics behind gentrification are complex and far reaching. I don’t pretend to be an expert in the subject and my thoughts are evolving as I learn more, but I did find some through lines to education. Some see in it the potential for more diverse schools in an age of segregation while others view it as gutting neighborhood schools. For me, the issues mostly present in the form of vexing questions related to talent.

  • Can cities coordinate their economic, housing, social, and education policies to mitigate predictable situations like gentrification while attracting talent vital to economic and education improvement efforts?
  • Can long-time residents welcome “outsiders” and their new ideas while maintaining their community’s rich history and social capital?
  • What (if any) are the effects of droves of new, childless young professionals on a community’s schools? Can they be channeled into a force for good through tutoring or volunteering?
  • If these young and educated professionals stay in the inner cities and have kids, will where they decide to send their kids to school diversify or further segregate schools?

These are knotty issues for which there are no silver bullets. Still, I believe that great talent, whether native or from elsewhere, is a critical component of improving school systems that fail millions of low-income students every year. But any strategy city, education, and community leaders implement to court and retain young, educated professionals from outside their community must be done with circumspect.

What might this look like? Next week, I’ll explore six city-level strategies to harness critical talent for education reform.