Friday, January 25, 2008

Resegregation of U.S. Schools Deepening

The story appearing in the Christian Science Monitor breathlessly cries
At one time, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina was a model of court-ordered integration.

Today, nearly a decade after a court struck down its racial-balancing busing program, the school district is moving in the opposite direction. More than half of its elementary schools are either more than 90 percent black or 90 percent white.

"Charlotte is rapidly resegregating," says Carol Sawyer, a parent and member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Equity Committee.

It's a trend that is occurring around the country and is even more pronounced than expected in the wake of court cases dismantling both mandated and voluntary integration programs, a new report says. The most segregated schools, according to the report, which documents desegregation trends, are in big cities of the Northeast and Midwest. The South and West – and rural areas and small towns generally – offer minority students a bit more diversity.

Suburbs of large cities, meanwhile, are becoming the new frontier: areas to which many minorities are moving.

These places still have a chance to remain diverse communities but are showing signs of replicating the segregation patterns of the cities themselves.
Once again, even a reputable paper like the CSM gets things wrong.

Segregation, as it referred to in the landmark Brown v. Board case, which led to Charlotte-Mecklenburg's forced busing system, was about de jure segregation, that is segration by law. What is happening now is de facto segregation, segregation that is occuring for reasons other than a law that mandates a separation of the races.

The type of de facto segreation that is occuring now is the product of so many different influences it is hard to describe them all, but it boils down to a couple of key points-- housing costs, economics and choice. The fact is that the neighborhoods of Charlotte and other urban areas are themselves less racially diverse and since we still have, and will continue to have neighborhood schools, the schools have slowly become less racially diverse than in the past. People instinctively choose to live next to those that are most like them, which means they choose to live in neighborhoods where they have the most in common with their neighbors, including racial characteristics, education, background, employment, etc. That the schools are not fully segregated tells us that there are no legal mandates for racially segregated schools, but that there are economic and social forces at work that are creating de facto segregation.

So what is the solution? There is none. Sure, urban schools could continue to bus kids across town, but when parents and communities are demanding neighborhood schools, you can't have a neighborhood school whose population is different than the population of the community. But to truly "re-integrate" the schools, you would have to re-integrate the population, which as pointed has segregated itself based on social and financial strata. Forcing a change in housing patterns and social problems creates even more issues for the govnerment and social engineering has been notoriously unsuccessful.

Another, often overlooked, factor when talking about Brown v. Board, and desegration is that at its heart the argument that Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP were making was a question of resources, not necessarily integration. The blacks only schools received a far lesser share of the economic and professional resources of a geographic area. Marshall and the NAACP figured the only way to address that funding and resource gap was to do away with segregation, so that all schools would receive the same level of resource.

Today, a funding gap still persists in some areas, but in other areas of the country, the funding gap actually runs counter to what you might believe. A recent Education Trust report, The Funding Gap, actually indicates that some urban districts in Maryland, Ohio and Wyoming now provide more funding to high poverty schools than to other schools.

On the surface, the so-called resegregation of our schools seems like a real problem. The solution may not be more laws or voluntary integration plans, but more options for the education of our children. Be it charter schools, magnet schools, exchange programs, private scholarship programs or any combination of options, giving more choices will lead to better integration of schools. The one thing that should be avoided at all costs is any government invervention, it always makes things worse.

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