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Friday, June 29, 2007

Re: Comments - The Supreme Court Just Took Us Back to the Days of Segregation

(Posted 29 Jun 2007)
Jacob Andoh has posted one side of the reaction to the Supreme Court decision on race-based school assignments (PrinceGeorges_Discussion & PGPublicEd). Here is the most relevant part of an opposite view by Betsy Newmark, an AP history and government teacher at a charter school in Raleigh, NC. I have not included part the parts of her posting discussing coverage by the Wall Street Journal or another blogger's comments on the influence Justice Kennedy; they may be found at

Friday, June 29, 2007

Avoiding race in school assignment

While liberals howl about yesterday's decision somehow taking us back before the days of Brown v. Board of Education as if Jim Crow laws were just days away, let's all calm down. Chief Justice Roberts summed up the majority's view when he said "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." Opponents of this ruling are stuck in the position of arguing that discriminating on the basis of race is necessary in order to achieve the somewhat mystical benefits of having a diverse student body. Of course, diversity is being defined only on the basis of skin color.

The county where I live, Wake County, NC, decided seven years ago to stop assigning students to schools on the basis of race. Decades earlier Wake County had avoided the agonies of mandatory school busing by using a magnet school system. Exciting sounding school programs were placed in inner-city schools to entice white suburban students to those schools. I taught for twelve years at one of those magnet schools. The school that used to be the city's all-black middle school got a program for teaching the academically gifted as well as arts and sciences program to make it an inviting place for white students. And, by and large, the plan worked. The only ones who seemed to lose out were the black kids living in the area. There were black kids living across the street from the school who bused 45-60 minutes away to the suburban school to make room for those white kids coming in. These black kids often couldn't participate in after-school activities because they wouldn't be able to get a ride home. Their parents couldn't be active in their children's schools because they didn't have the transportation to get out there. But hey, we had the right racial mix. And then the kids automatically segregated themselves again by race in the cafeteria and on the playground.

But in 2000 Wake County decided to adopt a new policy. Instead of assigning kids to school based on race in the type of program that was struck down yesterday, Wake assigns them on the basis of socio-economic status. As Stuart Taylor posted yesterday in Slate's discussion of the Court decisions,
Some 40 school districts with about 2.5 million students, including Wake County, N.C. (Raleigh and suburbs), and San Francisco, already have such class-based programs. In Wake County, the school board replaced a long-established racial desegregation program in 2000 with one designed to keep the number of students eligible for subsidized lunches below 40 percent and the number who are not performing at grade level below 25 percent at every school.

Such socioeconomic integration is actually more effective than pure racial balancing at improving the academic performance of poor children of all races, studies show. …

And in many areas, 'socioeconomic integration also will produce a sizable amount of racial integration,' according to "A New Way on School Integration," [PDF] a recent paper by Richard D. Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation.
Of course, there are drawbacks to such a plan. Kids can still be bused all over town and our school system faces annual agonies as students are reassigned from school to school in order to maintain the right SES balance. Wake County credits the new program with raising reading scores.
In 2005, more than 80% of African-American grade-school students were reading at or above grade level, up from 57% in 1998.

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