Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rollback: An Update on School Desegregation Efforts

This morning's Wall Street Journal has an update on the politics of school desegration efforts across the country. It turns out that in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling in June striking down voluntary desegration orders in Seattle and Louisville, a number of localities around the country have continued the use of school assignments plans in an effort to foster greater integration and more equal educational outcomes:

Among those reassigned is Kevin Keating, a white parent who is talking to lawyers about going to court to reverse the plan. I "just don't feel good putting [my son] in an inferior school," he says. His ammunition: the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling that consideration of race in school assignments is unconstitutional. Without the backing of the Supreme Court, Mr. Keating says his effort wouldn't have "much of a standing."

Five decades ago, federal courts began forcing reluctant districts to use race-based assignments to integrate schools. But in June, a bitterly divided Supreme Court reversed course, concluding that two race-based enrollment plans in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle were unconstitutional. "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," Chief Justice John Roberts declared.

Now, in an era when schools nationwide are becoming increasingly segregated, the ruling is affecting local school districts in ways large and small. Some districts are sidestepping the ruling by replacing measurements of race with household income. But many others, such as Milton, are adjusting their programs in the face of opposition that's been emboldened by the Supreme Court decision.

Read the whole thing.

I'll be writing more on the politics of race here at American Power. In particular, at some point I'll lay out in some detail the neoconservative position on the black freedom struggle and racial progess.

I will say for now though that, in one sense, utlimately, racial integration is the key to black upward mobility. Here my position reflects that of the NAACP's judicial protest strategy of the 20th century that sought to break down the old Jim Crow system of American racial apartheid.

Traditionally, civil rights activists held that historically separate facilities for the races were inherenty unequal, and in addition, many argued that integrating blacks into mainstream Anglo-White institutions would facilitate preparation for success in the dominant socio-economic system with its white-majority norms of attainment. Yet, in the post-civil rights era, we no longer have legally-imposed segregation of the races. To the extent we could describe today's racial separation as "segregation," we should think in terms of de facto circumstances leading to the concentration of minorities in particular residential areas (but see Abigail Thernstrom on the racial grievance industry's interest in pepetuating claims of "racial segregation" as a means to extract more public funding for schools in the post-forced busing era).

So, while I still think the goal of integrating the races is laudible - at least in the abstract sense of equalizing expectations across groups - there's really little justification for school assignment plans other than to promote "diversity" through racial balancing policies. Indeed, today's mandatory racial balancing plans in fact represent the exact opposite of the goal of the historic civil rights movement (the elimination of state-sponsored racial discrimination). The Supreme Court advanced this notion in its June ruling:

Although the push to integrate public schools is often associated with the civil-rights movement, these days many school administrators want to integrate schools for a more practical reason: to raise test scores. Studies show black and other minority students tend to perform better academically when they learn alongside white classmates. Districts face the threat of losing government funds if school test scores fail to meet a certain threshold.

But the Supreme Court's June ruling handed opponents powerful ammunition, and some experts say the ruling could further accelerate the resegregation of America's schools. While the famous 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education concluded that racially segregated schools are "inherently unequal," a string of federal court decisions in the 1990s curbed desegregation plans. In 2004, 73% of black students nationwide attended schools where minorities were the majority, compared with 66% in 1991, according to the Civil Rights Project at the University of California at Los Angeles.

In 2000, a group of parents sued the Seattle school district because their white children were denied admission into certain popular schools. Officials at those schools had imposed a racial quota to reflect the district's racial composition. Three years later, a group of white parents sued the Louisville school district for basing admissions on a plan that aimed to maintain black enrollment at any school between 15 percent and 50 percent.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that in both cases -- Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 and Crystal D. Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education -- the student-assignment systems were in violation of the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause, which says that "No state shall...deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

The statistics on racial imbalance are very interesting, as such numbers will likely reflect the dynamics of racial diversity in America's schools in the future. Rather than focusing on continuing the disruptive practices of school racial balancing programs, blacks need to look within, to the level of the black family, and begin to reverse the cultural aversion to educational success that's holding back members of the race.