School desegregation back in the news

BlogHer Original Post

I wrote early this year about my own experiences as a high school student in a magnet program established at a time when magnet programs were one tool in desegregating schools in the U.S. My experience was as a white student in a school where representation by ethnicity was carefully balanced, with no one group constituting more than about 20 percent of the student body. Now, a new study by sociologist Robert Crosnoe from the University of Texas at Austin suggests that there are

some hidden academic and psychological risks of integrating low-income students in schools with predominantly middle- and upper-class student populations.

This is the opposite situation, ethnically and racially speaking, from the one I experienced. Crosnoe's research discovered that

low-income students were more likely to be enrolled in lower-level math and science courses when they attended schools with mostly middle- and upper-class students, than in schools with low-income student bodies. For example, low-income students, on average, completed geometry by the end of high school when attending schools with predominantly poor or working class student bodies. Their comparable low-income counterparts in predominantly middle- or upper-class schools, however, tended to reach only as far as algebra I.
Likewise, low-income students who attended schools with wealthier student populations were more likely to feel isolated and have negative feelings about themselves. These results were even more pronounced for black and Hispanic students.

Crosnoe concludes that to sustain the initial academic achievement gains seen under socioeconomic desegregation, schools need to go beyond statistical integration to social integration of disadvantaged groups into the rest of the student body.

This isn't the only desegregation story in the news lately. Check out the story of how charter schools in Little Rock, Arkansas may be harming desegregation efforts, despite claims to the contrary. At stake in Pulaski County, where Little Rock sits, is whether two school districts can be released from court-supervised desegregation regimes.

A similar question is being raised in South Carolina, where some people are concerned that Riverview Charter School in Beaufort County is "too white." In a district that is 45% white and 34% African American, Riverview finds itself in this situation:

Despite efforts to recruit applications from African-American students, fewer than 10% of the applicants for Riverview were African-American students and the selection lottery resulted in a proposed school enrollment that would be over 76% White and slightly less than 10% African-American students. If permitted to open as a racially identifiable White school, Riverview would violate the District’s Desegregation Plan.

Meanwhile, a federal judge has released Chicago Public Schools from a federal desegregation decree. It's an interesting move that highlights some of the controversies in a district that has made the headlines this week for the bludgeoning death of Chicago teenager Derrion Albert at the hands of other teenagers.  Specifically, the Albert tragedy has brought to light the closing of some Chicago schools and the subsequent reassignment of students to schools outside their neighborhoods. This shift has resulted in turf wars marked by fights similar to the one that killed Albert. The end of federally supervised desegregation efforts has put school programs such as busing, magnet programs, and bilingual education in limbo, and may mean fewer resources for schools in a district where resources are clearly insufficient:

Without the decree, CPS will no longer be compelled to target money to its 43 magnet and 23 selective schools. Those schools now get extra teachers paid for by the board, for specialty programs in areas such as language and fine arts. Further, the fate of the magnet cluster program is up in the air. That program, essentially a shadow of the full-fledged magnet school program, provides 229 neighborhood elementary schools with small grants that pay for extras in areas such as science and technology.

Some people are asking whether the end of the desegregation order means fewer black students will get admitted to Chicago's magnet and selective enrollment schools. These schools may resegregate if schools are allowed to rely on equal distribution of students based on socioeconomic status rather than race, said ACLU director Harvey Grossman, who pointed to school districts in San Francisco and Cambridge, Massachusetts as case studies in resegregation.

Meanwhile, further south, U.S. district judge Samuel H. Mays is overseeing a 46-year-old desegregation lawsuit in Jackson-Madison County in Tennessee. According to Tajuana Cheshier,

Mays granted the school system partial unitary status in August, noting that the system had made progress in removing racial disparities in the following monitored areas: faculty assignment, facilities, extra-curricular activities and transportation.
[...]
If Mays approves full unitary status, the lawsuit would end and the system would regain local control of faculty and staff assignment, extracurricular activities, facilities, transportation and student assignment.

In addition to desegregation efforts at 12 of the district's 14 elementary schools, at issue in the case are the differences between Madison Academic Magnet High School and JCM, another high school in the district; monitors are considering whether JCM offers inferior facilities when compared with Madison and other area high schools and whether JCM needs a new building to fulfill the terms of the desegregation agreement.

One of the trends pushing desegregation nationally is the desire of black and Latino families to move to the suburbs, while white families are relocating to cities.  But there are similiarly forces pushing back against desegregation.

Michelle Goldberg writes at the American Prospect about the intertwining of conservative politics, a particular brand of Christian faith, and race. The photos accompanying her article--of Tea Party protesters—underscore the points she is making about race and desegregation. Specifically, she writes that the resurgence of Christian conservativism in the 1970s can be attributed to ongoing school desegregation:

The Columbia historian Randall Balmer has shown that Christian conservatives were not, contrary to their own mythology, initially mobilized by their outrage at Roe vs. Wade. Rather, what spurred them into action was the IRS's attempt to revoke the tax-exempt status of whites only Christian schools, schools that had been created specifically to evade desegregation.

Her photos in particular make me wonder about the thoughts of some of these protesters regarding ongoing desegregation efforts across the country.

Meanwhile, the city council of Charlottesville, Virginia is offering an apology for its mid-20th-century resistance to desegregation:

The action, known as Massive Resistance, was supported and advocated by Sen. Harry Byrd Sr. in an attempt to block the 1954 U.S. Supreme County decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which called for the desegregation of all public schools as “inherently unequal.” Virginia’s then-governor James Lindsay Almond Jr. ordered the immediate closure of the schools in Charlottesville, Warren County High School in Front Royal and six schools in Norfolk.
Fifty years later, City Council is considering a formal apology for the closing of the schools and for the impact Massive Resistance had on city residents. A resolution, discussed by Council on September 21, calls the school closings “a disgraceful act,” and praises the courage of the families of the 12 students who eventually integrated the city’s school system.

What are your thoughts on race, schools, socioeconomics, and desegregation? What has been your experience?  What troubles you, and what gives you reason to be optimistic?

Leslie Madsen-Brooks develops learning experiences for K-12, university, and museum clients. She blogs at The Clutter Museum, Museum Blogging, and is the founder of Eager Mondays, a consultancy providing unconventional professional development.

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