July 29, 2007
Written by C.N.
You may have heard that in July 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court decided two landmark affirmative action cases. In both cases, the Court basically ruled that school desegregation plans that are based on race/ethnicity are unconstitutional. In other words, using the race/ethnicity of students to decide who goes to what school is illegal.
With that in mind, the question becomes, how about school desegregation plans that are based on social class instead — how effective are they at achieving racial/ethnic integration? Try shed light on this question, the New York Times examines the case of several public school districts around the country and finds that in many cases, using social class instead of race to achieve racial integration is not a magical cure-all:
San Francisco began considering factors like family income, instead of race, in school assignments when it modified a court-ordered desegregation plan in response to a lawsuit. But school officials have found that the 55,000-student city school district, with Chinese the dominant ethnic group followed by Hispanics, blacks and whites, is resegregrating.
The number of schools where students of a single racial or ethnic group make up 60 percent or more of the population in at least one grade is increasing sharply. In 2005-06, about 50 schools were segregated using that standard as measured by a court-appointed monitor. That was up from 30 schools in the 2001-02 school year, the year before the change, according to court filings. . . .
Many of these experiments are modest, involve small districts or have been in place only a few years. But the experiences of these districts show how difficult it can be to balance socioeconomic diversity, racial integration and academic success.
Only a few plans appear to have achieved all three goals. Others promote income diversity but not racial integration while still other plans are limited and their results inconclusive. Those who have studied them say a key to that outcome is how aggressively a plan shifts students around and whether there are many schools that can lure middle-class students from their neighborhoods into poor ones.
To be sure, racial integration in public schools is a complicated issue. In this context, the main point that I want to emphasize is that, while educational policy is not one of my specific areas of expertise, it seems to me that the fundamental problem here is that some schools have more money and other resources than others and that racial segregation is just a symptom of this basic inequality.
In other words, as a result of the larger issue of residential segregation, in many public school districts, Black students are frequently confined to neighborhoods where property values — and therefore property taxes that are used to fund schools in that district — are lower than in predominantly White suburbs. Therefore, while money doesn’t solve everything, these mainly Black schools have less money to hire high quality teachers and to buy equipment, materials, fix their infrastructure, fund extracurricular activities, etc.
Therefore, while I may be totally missing the picture, it seems to me that in order to fix the problem at its most basic level, what we need first is a reshuffling of funds before we try to reshuffle students. That is, some kind of redistribution of school funds seems to be the only solution that will begin the process of eventual racial integration.
Of course, affluent school districts won’t be keen to have some of their money taken away. But maybe they won’t have to — maybe the answer is for the state to redistribute funds from other projects or to generate new funds for these needy district some other way. The bottom line is, if educating our young people is the key to our future, we need to look at the root cause of the problem and then every option available to address that problem.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Racial Integration in Public Schools" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/07/racial-integration-in-public-schools/> ().
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