Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Walking Backward Out the Schoolhouse Door

• December 07, 2010 • 5:29 PM

Desegregation of public schools peaked about two decades ago, and no one at the federal level is doing much to reverse the decline.

The NAACP held a conference last week in North Carolina to draw attention to a trend easily unnoticed in what many Americans have come to think of as the “post-racial” age ushered in by the nation’s first black president: Fifty years after the Civil Rights era, American public schools are resegregating.

More black students today attend “extremely segregated” schools than did in 1988, at the height of desegregation, the NAACP notes. It symbolically hosted the education conference in Raleigh, N.C., where the local school district has been wrestling with the controversial end to a busing program civil rights advocates fear will reverse years of model integration.

The fallout in North Carolina could mirror a dispiriting national shift. A 2003 Harvard study found that between 1960 and 1988, the percentage of black students attending majority white schools in the South rose from 0.1 percent to 43.5 percent. In 2000, that number was back down to 31 percent. A report published last year by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project revealed that 38.5 percent of black students during the 2006-07 school year were in “intensely segregated minority schools” (90 percent or more minority). In 1988, that figure was 33.5 percent.

“The reason that school segregation is still such an issue,” said Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, a research associate with the Civil Rights Project, “is that racially and socioeconomically isolated schools are associated with things like lower graduation rates, fewer highly qualified teachers, higher rates of teacher turnover, more instability in teacher populations.”

Other research, meanwhile, suggests that diverse schools are associated with a litany of social and individual benefits: higher academic achievement, access to more privileged social networks, more cross-racial friendships, greater feelings of civic and communal responsibility, and a decreased likelihood of accepting stereotypes.

[class name=”dont_print_this”]

Idea Lobby

THE IDEA LOBBY
Miller-McCune's Washington correspondent Emily Badger follows the ideas informing, explaining and influencing government, from the local think tank circuit to academic research that shapes D.C. policy from afar.

[/class] School districts have been moving away from integrated classrooms that could yield these benefits for several reasons, Siegel-Hawley says. A series of Supreme Court decisions since the 1990s, culminating with a key 2007 ruling, have disarmed integration initatives and left districts confused about their remaining options. The basic residential segregation that feeds segregated schools (and, more broadly, segregated school districts) persists. And the rise of school choice also contributes (a challenge Siegel-Hawley’s colleague recently discussed with Miller-McCune.com).

John Brittain, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia and the former chief counsel of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, cites one other factor.

“The federal government, both the executive branch and the legislative branch, have virtually abandoned school integration,” he said.

He’s one of many advocates who have been disappointed by the Obama administration’s slow response to the topic. Civil rights leaders have been waiting for guidance from the Department of Education interpreting the 2007 Supreme Court ruling, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1. The department is still posting on its website an old Bush-era memo that Brittain says ignores integration guidance proposed by the case’s deciding vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy.

“It left schools thinking that in the worst sense,” Brittain said, “school integration had pretty much come to an end unless it was a court-ordered school case.”

Parents Involved limited districts’ ability to consider the individual race of a student when making school assignment decisions. But Kennedy outlined another path — through strategic site selection, districts could build new schools or draw attendance zones with the demographics of a neighborhood in mind.

“These are mechanisms that are race-conscious because they’re taking race into account,” Brittain said. “But they do not lead to different treatment of students based upon a classification that tells each student he or she is to be defined by race in terms of where they go to school.”

The Obama administration has suggested to civil rights leaders that the new guidance is on the way.

“But it’s still taken them too long, even if they’ve got a plan,” Brittain said. “It shouldn’t take 22 months, going on two years, to do this.”

Other integration advocates have urged officials to publicly make the case that desegregation still matters — especially in an age when the nation’s broader demographics (and future work force) are shifting so rapidly.

“They’re trying so hard to get it so right,” Brittain said of the current administration, “that they end up doing so little, and it takes them so long.”

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Emily Badger
Emily Badger is a freelance writer living in the Washington, D.C. area who has contributed to The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor. She previously covered college sports for the Orlando Sentinel and lived and reported in France.

More From Emily Badger

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 19 • 4:00 PM

How a Drug Policy Reform Organization Thinks of the Children

This valuable, newly updated resource for parents is based in the real world.


December 19 • 2:00 PM

Where Did the Ouija Board Come From?

It wasn’t just a toy.


December 19 • 12:00 PM

Social Scientists Can Do More to Eradicate Racial Oppression

Using our knowledge of social systems, all social scientists—black or white, race scholar or not—have an opportunity to challenge white privilege.


December 19 • 10:17 AM

How Scientists Contribute to Bad Science Reporting

By not taking university press officers and research press releases seriously, scientists are often complicit in the media falsehoods they so often deride.


December 19 • 10:00 AM

Pentecostalism in West Africa: A Boon or Barrier to Disease?

How has Ghana stayed Ebola-free despite being at high risk for infection? A look at their American-style Pentecostalism, a religion that threatens to do more harm than good.


December 19 • 8:00 AM

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.


December 19 • 6:12 AM

All That ‘Call of Duty’ With Your Friends Has Not Made You a More Violent Person

But all that solo Call of Duty has.


December 19 • 4:00 AM

Food for Thought: WIC Works

New research finds participation in the federal WIC program, which subsidizes healthy foods for young children, is linked with stronger cognitive development and higher test scores.


December 18 • 4:00 PM

How I Navigated Life as a Newly Sober Mom

Saying “no” to my kids was harder than saying “no” to alcohol. But for their sake and mine, I had to learn to put myself first sometimes.


December 18 • 2:00 PM

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits

Because our interest in realism apparently only goes so far.


December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


December 17 • 2:00 PM

Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English.


December 17 • 12:41 PM

Why the College Football Playoff Is Terrible But Better Than Before

The sample size is still embarrassingly small, but at least there’s less room for the availability cascade.


December 17 • 11:06 AM

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.


December 17 • 10:37 AM

A Public Lynching in Sproul Plaza

When photographs of lynching victims showed up on a hallowed site of democracy in action, a provocation was issued—but to whom, by whom, and why?


December 17 • 8:00 AM

What Was the Job?

This was the year the job broke, the year we accepted a re-interpretation of its fundamental bargain and bought in to the push to get us to all work for ourselves rather than each other.


December 17 • 6:00 AM

White Kids Will Be Kids

Even the “good” kids—bound for college, upwardly mobile—sometimes break the law. The difference? They don’t have much to fear. A professor of race and social movements reflects on her teenage years and faces some uncomfortable realities.



December 16 • 4:00 PM

How Fear of Occupy Wall Street Undermined the Red Cross’ Sandy Relief Effort

Red Cross responders say there was a ban on working with the widely praised Occupy Sandy relief group because it was seen as politically unpalatable.


Follow us


Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.