Integrating school districts is daunting

School districts are permitted under federal law to use race as one factor in devising voluntary integration plans.  But how to do so remains one of the most controversial issues in education today (“Rollback of Affirmative Action Guidelines Could Reshape K-12 School Districts,” The Wall Street Journal, Jul. 14).

Jefferson County School District in Louisville, Ky. found that out when it attempted to have black students constituting no less than 15 percent and no more than 50 percent, with bused students providing the desired balance.  The plan was rejected by the court.

The problem is that schools have no control over housing patterns.  I remember vividly what happened at the high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District where I spent my entire 28-year career after the court ordered busing to achieve a stipulated racial balance.  Although black and white parents supported the goal of integrating schools, they opposed busing.

I don’t think much has changed in this regard.  Until neighborhoods are racially integrated, most parents will continue to oppose busing and other forced strategies.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

2 Replies to “Integrating school districts is daunting”

  1. Forced school integration — based on either race or income — is a political non-starter that, even if it were accepted politically, would do little to improve academic outcomes for the minority or low-income students.

    There is little reason to believe that what the school provides — teachers, facilities, curriculum, support services — are significantly better in white or higher-income areas than in black or lower-income areas. Indeed, today (as opposed to pre-Brown vs. Bd of Ed), many inner-city minority school systems spend as much or more per student as suburban white school systems.

    The minority inner-city schools and the white suburban schools are obviously different, with the minority inner-city schools having far inferior academic outcomes relative to the white suburban schools. But, the factors causing the differences stem largely from differences in the students rather than differences in what the school provides.

    The minority inner-city schools enroll many — usually an overwhelming majority — of students who start kindergarten far below “grade level” re qualities needed for academic success — i.e., vocabulary size, cognitive skill strengths, neural pathway development. The white suburban schools enroll students who usually start kindergarten at or above grade level regarding these qualities.

    Students who start kindergarten below grade level fall further behind each year, find academic work to be difficult/frustrating, and engage in minor misbehavior to relieve the frustration/gain peer approval. In the minority inner-city schools there are so many of these students in most classes that the minor misbehavior becomes endemic, chaos ensues, and anti-academic-achievement peer pressure dominates. In the suburban white schools, there relatively few such students, so classroom behavior is usually relatively acceptable, instruction is relatively orderly, and pro-academic-achievement peer pressure dominates.

    Forced integration that moves a very small number of the below-grade-level at kindergarten students from an inner-city minority school to a suburban white school will help those reassigned students somewhat — they will no longer be exposed to endemic minor misbehavior, chaotic classes or anti-academic-achievement peer pressure. But, they themselves will still be below grade level and find academic work to be difficult/frustrating. So, they may have better academic outcomes than they would have had in the inner-city minority school, but they will still be — at best — average students.

    Of course, if forced integration moves more than a very small number of the below-grade-level kindergarten students from an inner-city minority school to a suburban white school, the classroom ambience in the suburban white school will deteriorate. As soon as that happens, the suburban white parents will flee.

    The real answer is not forced integration but rather reforms focused on improving inner-city minority students’ experiences from birth through kindergarten.


  2. Labor Lawyer: No matter how hard we try to engineer equal outcomes, we will fail. Busing was a legal remedy that never worked and never will. You’re quite right that schools can do only so much. What takes place at home and in neighborhoods is more important. Yet many parents resent intervention, seeing it as meddling by outsiders. I think it’s time to get realistic about the achievement gap.


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