Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Still Striving for Racial Diversity in K-12 Schools

The School Law Blog highlighted this story last week out of Louisville in which the Jefferson County School Board released a new plan to consider race, income and education as factors in determining school assignments for students in an attempt to diversify teh student bodies at its schools.
Seven months after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the district's desegregation policy because it considered individual students' race in assigning them to schools, Superintendent Sheldon Berman unveiled a new proposal -- checked by the district's lawyers -- that he believes meets the court test.

"Our objective is to maintain schools that are racially, ethnically and economically diverse," Berman said. "It's a model based on geography, not race."

Under the proposal, all schools -- elementary, middle and high -- must enroll at least 15 percent and no more than 50 percent of their students from neighborhoods that have income and education levels below the district average and higher-than-average numbers of minorities.
The Supreme Court recently struck down a different plan put forth by Louisville schools, but failed to state any particular guidelines for school districts to consider when attempting to implement voluntary integration plans. Under that plan, the school district largely looked only at race. Now the plan is to look at race (again), income and education as factors.

The problem that I see, leaving aside the issues of transportation costs for busing students and an apparent quota of minority students, is that instead of just race, Jefferson County is now looking at using income and education as proxies for race. While the county asserts that the classifications will not be applied to individual students, it is not the intention that matters, but the practice and there are just too many variables.

But even assuming that this plan can withstand legal challenges (it is based on a Berkley California plan that has withstood challenges), it does not mean that the intregratin plan is a good one. First, I don't know if "diversity" in the student body means that a student gets a better education. I have not seen any proof of that and it would seem that other factors govern the success of a child's education far more that whether or not there are 15-50% minority students in his or her class.

Second, the apparent "evil" or "wrong" that Jefferson County is looking to correct is not a matter of race but de facto segregation based on a number of economic and social choices of people living in the area. While the socio-economic status of a family should not adversely impact the quality of education that a child receives, the fact is that the use of neighborhood schools will always result in some sort of de facto segregation as housing costs and personal choices dictate where people will live. If a person is faced with a choice between living in House A with neighbors who have a similar background and lifestyle or living in House B with neighbors totally unlike themselves and the cost of the housing and other factors are the same, there is little doubt that people will choose House A--no matter what their race, income or educaiton level might be.

Of course, very rarely are people given such a choice.

It seems more logical to focus on increasing the quality of instruction, facilities and curricula so that no matter where a student lives, they get as close to the same quality of education as any other student. If that means shifting resources between schools, so be it. But it shouldn't have to mean shifting students between schools to achieve some mythical "diversity" just because it sounds good.

The troubling aspect is that the school district does not intend to have the court review the plan in advance, which means the taxpayers of Louisville will have to pay for another trial and appeal likely to the Supreme court--that is a wise move also.

1 comment:

Will said...

I really enjoyed your post. I thought that in the spirit of striving for racial diversity I'd send you a link to a short film I made about a group of young activists who are misguided in their quest for diversity. It's called Color Me Blind. Hope you enjoy!