ERIC Identifier: ED419029
Publication Date: 1998-04-00
Author: Weiler, Jeanne
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education New York NY.
Recent Changes in School Desegregation. ERIC/CUE Digest Number 133.
This digest presents some of the major trends and changes that are taking place in school desegregation in the 1990s. One of the most prominent current trends is the increasing number of court cases which release school districts from court supervision of their desegregation efforts (known as granting "unitary" status). The result has been that many urban school districts are moving toward increasing resegregation of their schools as students return to neighborhood schools (Orfield, 1996).
A second important trend in school desegregation is increased attention to access to education and academic performance of minority students (Willis, 1994). Both school districts involved in court cases and those involved in desegregation planning have shifted attention away from a focus on desegregation efforts, which primarily concern student assignment to achieve racial integration, and toward increased attention to issues related to within-school equity and integration.
During the 1970s
and 1980s, the focus of desegregation was on the physical
integration of African American and white students through such
measures as busing, school choice, magnet schools, use of ratios,
redrawn school district boundaries, mandatory and voluntary intra-
and interdistrict transfers, and consolidation of city districts
with suburban districts (Willis, 1994). While many of these efforts
are continuing in school districts across the nation, courts are
declaring more and more large urban districts unitary (e.g., Denver,
CO; Wilmington, DE; Savannah, GA; Kansas City, KS; Cincinnati and
Cleveland, OH; Oklahoma City, OK; Buffalo, NY; and Austin,
TX). THE U.S. SUPREME COURT
THE U.S. SUPREME COURTIn Board of Education of Oklahoma v. Dowell (1991), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that formerly segregated school districts could be released from court-ordered busing once they have taken all "practicable" steps to eliminate the legacy of segregation. This meant that districts could be freed from court oversight if they had desegregated their students and faculty and met the other requirements of mandatory desegregation, such as transportation and facilities. The court further ruled that school districts are not responsible for remedying local conditions, such as segregated housing patterns (Fife, 1996). In essence, with this ruling, the Supreme Court made it easier for districts to be declared unitary, or to be released from desegregation orders (Orfield, 1996).
In the case of Freeman v. Pitts, the 1992 Supreme Court ruling held that Federal district courts can have discretion to order incremental withdrawal of court supervision over school districts (Fife, 1996). In other words, a school district does not need to achieve unitary status in all six of the "Green factors"--student assignment, faculty, staff, transportation, extracurricular activities, and facilities--before being released from court supervision. The Green factors, codified by the Supreme Court decision in Green v. School Board of New Kent County, are typical components of a school system where desegregation is mandatory. Thus, the Freeman decision effectively weakened the Green standards by allowing schools to desegregate incrementally, although it did not release districts from their obligation to desegregate (Fife, 1996).
Missouri v. Jenkins is one of the most
complex desegregation cases to date in the United States. Since
1985, the state of Missouri has spent $1.4 billion on the
court-ordered desegregation plan for the Kansas City school
district. In 1995, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a
desegregation plan does not have to continue just because minority
student achievement scores remain below the national average. The
state of Missouri could not be required to provide funding for
programs and various kinds of school improvement activities, or to
pay for a plan aimed at attracting white students from suburban
districts for an undetermined amount of time, simply because
minority student achievement scores remained below the national
average. The state could only be required to do what is practicable
for remedying the vestiges of past discrimination; it was not
responsible for remedying inequities that may exist between students
within schools (Fife, 1996). Recently, a Federal judge ruled that
the state be freed from financial responsibility by approving a
settlement paying $315 million that would cut out $100 million in
annual state subsidy for school desegregation efforts after 1999.
The court ordered that the district narrow the gap in test scores
between black and white students by the end of 1998-99 (Hendrie,
this belief in the value of neighborhood schools, the reality is
that many urban students return to schools that are segregated and
inferior. Often new funding for upgrading school facilities and
educational programs is promised but not delivered. However, as is
the case with many large urban schools, even an infusion of extra
funds is often not enough to transform a school, as schools must
struggle with the profound and increasing poverty and joblessness in
their local communities.
This means that a student who moves
from an integrated school back to a segregated neighborhood school
will most likely exchange the resources of a middle-class school for
a poverty-stricken one, the result of the end of court-mandated
busing or desegregation choice plans. High poverty schools have
generally lower levels of educational performance and are less
likely to prepare students for college than more affluent
As more school districts have
fulfilled their responsibilities insofar as the above-described
Green factors are concerned, plaintiffs in desegregation cases have
shifted their focus to what are sometimes referred to
as "educational vestiges." They argue that the educational
achievement of racial and ethnic minority students continues to lag
behind that of white students in the school district, and that this
achievement gap, a vestige of legalized segregation, must be
eliminated before a school district can be released from court
orders (Lindseth, 1997). This argument is critical, and it will most
likely be the subject of further Supreme Court decisions. The gap in
performance on standardized test scores between white students and
African American and Latino students, and differences in the choice
of courses and curriculum available to different groups of students,
is leading to serious examination of what happens to minority
students within individual schools and classrooms. It will most
likely lead to an era of desegregation cases that focus on
within-school integration (Willis, 1994).
Such a situation sparked a desegregation case in Rockford, IL, People Who Care, et al. v. Rockford Board of Education (1993). The school district was under District Court order to address within-school integration in its high schools, all of which are racially balanced. The district was also ordered to implement a student assignment plan utilizing controlled choice; to develop programs for significant improvement in instruction and achievement in a subset of elementary schools that for a short period of time will remain minority, racially identifiable; and to integrate all courses and other educational services offered in middle and high school. The court had found the level of internal segregation within racially integrated schools severe, as the district had maintained separation of white and minority students in most courses and in extracurricular activities.
For many school districts engaged in desegregation planning, the emphasis on within-school integration addresses both integrated schools and racially identifiable schools (segregated schools) since a school district often has a combination of both schools. For integrated or racially balanced schools, plans are developed to address equitable participation and performance of minority students compared to white students attending the same schools.
Monitoring equity within
schools in the implementation of desegregation plans has often been
difficult, in part because of the reliance on inadequate data from
school districts. In the past, school districts were not required by
the courts to provide discrete information on different groups of
students. At best, statistical indicators such as achievement and
attendance data were provided for only two student categories: white
and minority. More recently, this limited categorization has been
considered inadequate as the demographics in school districts
change, and as school officials, plaintiffs, and court monitors ask
for a more extensive breakdown of data. Going beyond simple
separation by race, they seek data disaggregated by poverty status
and fluency of English, and equity indicators such as information on
enrollment levels in special education, extent of mainstreaming,
courses and grades of students, grade retention rates, graduation
rates, access to services, participation of parents, etc. (For a
complete list of equity indicators developed by the Southwest Center
for Educational Equity, see Willis, 1994.)
It is, however, unclear how
the judicial system will respond to desegregation efforts, as
advocates argue that diversity policies are in the national interest
and critics respond that they are unnecessary unless there are
specific wrongs to be righted. Legal challenges have already been
brought against two top high schools in the nation: Lowell High
School in San Francisco and Boston Latin School in Massachusetts. In
San Francisco, Chinese American students who were denied admission
brought a lawsuit against the school district, particularly centered
on Lowell High School, challenging the 40 percent cap on Chinese
American students. Before the court could rule, the school changed
its quota policy. Subsequently, a judge upheld the cap but left open
the possibility that it might be time to end the policy (Reinhard,
Archer, J. (1997, April 23). Conn. bill to seize Hartford school passes.Education Week, XVI(30), p.1, 30.
Fife, B.L. (1996, September). The Supreme Court and school desegregation since 1896. Equity and Excellence in Education, 29(2), 46-55. (EJ 535 176)
Hendrie, C. (1997, April 2). Judge decides state funds for desegregation to end in K.C. Education Week, XVI(27), p.1, 30.
Hendrie, C. (1997, April 30). Without court orders, schools ponder how to pursue diversity. Education Week, XVI(31).
Kunen, J.S. (1996, April 29). The end of integration. Time Magazine, 147(18).
Lindseth, A.A. (1997, April). The changing face of school desegregation. Paper prepared for the Conference on Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity in Public Schools, Atlanta, GA.
Neuborne, B. (1995). Brown at forty: Six visions. Teachers College Record, 96(4), 799-805. (EJ 510 938)
Orfield, G. (1996). Turning back to segregation. In G. Orfield, S. Eaton, & The Harvard Project on Desegregation (Eds.), Dismantling desegregation: The quiet reversal of Brown v. Board of Education (pp.1-22). New York: The New Press. (ED 410 363)
Orfield, G., Bachmeier, M.D., James, D.R., & Eitle, T. (1997, September). Deepening segregation in American public schools: A special report from the Harvard Project on School Desegregation. Equity and Excellence in Education, 30(2), 5-24.
Reinhard, B.(1997, May 21). Judge blocks bid to ax quotas in S.F. schools. Education Week, XVI(34), p.3.
Wells, A.S., & Crain, R. (1997). Stepping over the color line: African American students in white suburban schools. New Haven: Yale University Press. (ED 412 308)
Willis, H.D. (1994, November 1). The shifting focus in school desegregation. Paper presented to the SWRL Board of Directors and The 1995 Equity Conference.
This Digest was developed by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract no. RR93002016. The opinions in this Digest do not necessarily reflect the position or policies of OERI or the Department of Education.
Title: Recent Changes in School Desegregation. ERIC/CUE Digest Number 133.
Document Type: Information Analyses---ERIC Information Analysis Products (IAPs) (071); Information Analyses---ERIC Digests (Selected) in Full Text (073);
Available From: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education, Institute for Urban and Minority Education, Teachers College, Box 40, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027 (free).
Descriptors: Access to Education, Court Litigation, Desegregation Litigation, Desegregation Plans, Educational Trends, Elementary Secondary Education, Equal Education, Inner City, Racial Balance, School Desegregation, School Resegregation, United States History, Urban Problems, Urban Schools
Identifiers: ERIC Digests
©1999-2012 Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation. All rights reserved. Your privacy is guaranteed at