An End to Race-Based School Integration?

The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in a couple of cases involving the assignment of kids to public schools based on race. According to this account in the Boston Globe, signs point to a possible overthrow of such policies:

The Supreme Court justices, hearing arguments on school integration, signaled yesterday that they are likely to bar the use of race when assigning students to public schools. Such a ruling could deal a blow to hundreds of school systems across the United States that use racial guidelines to maintain a semblance of classroom integration in cities whose neighborhoods are divided along racial lines......
Yesterday's argument also might mark the emergence of a five-member majority on the court that may be determined to outlaw the official use of racial guidelines in schools, colleges, and public agencies.

"The purpose of the Equal Protection clause is to ensure that people are treated as individuals rather than based on the color of their skin," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said.

Three years ago, the court upheld affirmative action at universities. But that 5-to-4 decision depended on the now-retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

......At issue were the racial integration guidelines adopted by school boards in Seattle and Louisville, Ky. The two cases are Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education.

.......The court will issue a ruling in several months.

........The justices who spoke during the argument all agreed that racial integration is a laudable goal. However, a narrow majority -- in comments, questions, and past decisions -- made clear their belief that the Constitution forbids shifting children from one school to another based on their race.

The very valuable ScotusBlog guides you to lots of other writeups of the arguments, and to MP3s of the arguments, if you want to think about the meaning of equal protection of the law when it comes to race and public education while jogging.

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  • Paul||

    I wonder if this will be an opportunity for Seattle Public Schools, and all the other urban districts to do the Right Thing(tm) and reform their funding system.

    All public schools should get even funding, regardless of which tax district you're in. This way, poorer, minority communities get the same resources as the Latte Sippers in Queen Anne.

    Unfortunately, in districts like Seattle (largely urban, white, liberal and wealthy), I suspect it's much easier to let the occasional token black kid through the door, than to let their district money get funneled to a poor neighborhood. We can't have any of that, can we?

  • lunchstealer||

    Hell, if you live in parts of Dallas, you could end up finding out that your principal has been quietly segregating the classes in your school for years. Her tearful defense - "I was doing it to make the minority students more comfortable!"

  • ||

    Paul hits the real problem. Public school funding is just odd. I'm not sold that it is the way to go, but okay, we've decided that we need a monopoly public school system. What sense does it make to fund it unevenly? You've resigned yourself to no competition and mediocrity, the least you could do is get the access bit right as an offset.

    Secret wish: Funding is evenly applied and suddenly school choice becomes a big issue with people who actually vote.

  • ||

    "The Supreme Court justices, hearing arguments on school integration, signaled yesterday that they are likely to bar the use of race when assigning students to public schools."

    Gosh, they've been arguing about that since at least 1954. Can't they make up their minds?

    If the Supremes decide to forbid racial discrimination, maybe the granola-oriented, multicultural types can secede from the public schools and set up their own network of private multicultural schools (some such already exist, believe it or not, based on the assumption that the government schools aren't multicultural enough).

  • ||

    It all comes down to Teachers, Students and Parents though. You can fund all the computer systems, pay teachers 60k/year, and have all the latest and greatest books, but poor discipline, poor teacher competency, parent univolvement and befuddling bureaucracy will cause failure anyway. The only way to conquer this is accountability, efficiency and knowing the rules. And this can only be available through choice unless the entire education department is scrapped and redone. So in the end, the Supreme Court's decision may have an impact, but the more important issue will get passed over.

  • ||

    Many of you who voted Democrat may have forgotten that just as many attacks on the constitution have come from the courts in the last 50 years as from legislators.

    Roberts and Alito won't need to get pork for their districts to get reelected. They'll be interpreting the consitution for the next couple decades in a way that is at least close to being consistent with the founders intent.

    They won't be sickening moderatss like O'Conner was who I got the feeling read the paper every morning, saw where the middle was and decided that's how she'd get everybody to like her.

    As with Joe Liberman in the senate, these types of moderates pretty much always come down on the side of big government.

    The easiest way in the world to be popular is to beat up on oil companies or drug users and of course, spend money.

  • ||

    "Paul hits the real problem. Public school funding is just odd. I'm not sold that it is the way to go, but okay, we've decided that we need a monopoly public school system. What sense does it make to fund it unevenly? You've resigned yourself to no competition and mediocrity, the least you could do is get the access bit right as an offset.

    Secret wish: Funding is evenly applied and suddenly school choice becomes a big issue with people who actually vote."

    NJ has been doing this, and more, since 1998, when the NJ Supreme Court in Abbott v. Burke ordered more state funding for certain poor districts. The funding for poor districts, taken from rich people in other parts of the state through income taxes, make the per student spending in the "Abbott" districts significantly more than in rich districts. The result- very marginal improvements in testing scores in some districts and no improvement at all in others, notably Newark. My conclusion- the argument that it's all about money misses the mark.

  • ||

    ...we've decided that we need a monopoly public school system. - Jason Ligon



    Well, that was one dumb decision.

    If we have to have state involvement in education, let's fund children, not institutions. Have the money follow the student. Ideally, that would be in the form of a scholarship that could be used at any accredited school, be it bog-standard government hellhole, magnet school, public charter or private school. Now, I'd like this to be a transitional system leading to all schools being privatized, and local property tax as a funding source is a clunky fit with a choice system. In the end, I'd prefer that parents pay tuition, backstopped by United Way/Community Chest-style fundraising programs for those who can't make the nut. That's way off in the future, though.

    Kevin

  • ||

    There is the public school racket, in which homeowners and taxpayers fork out stupendous sums of money to feed a socialistic extravaganza in which, when its employees can spare time from administration, "professional development" sabbaticals, and fund-raising for the Democratic Party, boys are pressed to act like girls, and dosed with calming drugs if they refuse so to act; girls are encouraged to act like boys by taking up advanced science, math, and strenuous sports, which few of them have any liking or aptitude for; and boys and girls alike are indoctrinated in the dubious dogmas of "diversity" and political correctness.
    The Dream Palace of Educational Theorists

  • ||

    School districts have different funding because people in those districts vote to pay more taxes for their schools.
    If you take that money from the people who are willing to pay more in taxes, and give it to people who aren't, why the hell would anybody vote for more taxes for their district?
    It would just kill all the funding for the decent school districts, and require more state and federal aid, which means less local control.
    Privatizing schools would be my preferred option, but if we're going to have a public school system local funding is much preferable to state funding.
    And if we really want to use the state to promote equality state education funds should primarily to poor school districts.

  • ||

    CharlesWT...While Derbyshire is an interesting and compelling conservative figure, I'd hardly take this article as a rational realistic assessment of public schools in America.

    Derbyshire obviously has nothing more than opinion and hyperbole going for him. My advice? Enjoy his criticisms with a grain of salt and don't take them too seriously.

    In principle, I'm opposed to racial quotas that supplant merit-based systems. But I'm equally dubious of the libertarian dream of completely privatized schools systems.

    Successful, productive societies in this world are filled with adults who can read and write and add - and (mostly) learned to do so at public expense in compulsory educational systems.

    Failing societies throughout this world are filled with illiterates who had no such opportunities and are easily lead and controlled by folks who learned to read, write and add because their parents were elites and able to afford and justify private education.

    I have no problem with school choice or even vouchers as long as a public school system is left intact. I send my own kids to private schools so I obviously have no problem with them.

    Our nation did just fine with mostly public schools until the last 2 or 3 decades when high productivity made it possible for theorist dillitants to start screwing with basic education (IOW, trying to fix something that wasn't broken).

    Add to this politicians screwing with education and you now have a mess. Things need fixing but that is hardly an indictment against public education.

    That said, the reality is that cultural dynamics in most U.S. cities result in de facto segregation and massive inequalities of opportunity between races.

    It's disingenuous to suggest that eliminating integration methods AND eliminating public schools will magically solve the problem.

    If history is any guide, the reality is that quite the obvious will happen. In the end, I want an effective solution more than I want a principled one. I don't see privatizing all education doing anything but guranteeing and perpetuating racial disparities rather than solving them.

    So I can agree with you that the current situation sucks and doesn't work. But to use it as justification for kicking education out from under underpriviledged children in the name of libertarian principles is sick and downright evil.

  • Paul||

    The result- very marginal improvements in testing scores in some districts and no improvement at all in others, notably Newark. My conclusion- the argument that it's all about money misses the mark.

    Geof:

    In essence, we're both exactly correct.

    Me: It is about the money, because wealthy white neighborhoods don't want to lose their 'laptop in every hand' funding. They throw the minorities a bone, and feel good about themselves by wanting 'some color' in their schools.

    You: Throwing money at schools has never made dramatic effect on overall performance.

    The point: Education issues are far more complex than just moving some darker skins in amongst the lighter ones. Often times, the kids with darker skins whose parents are sending them to the good schools in the white neighborhoods have a common thread. Their parents care enough about their education, have the will, the ambition and the sense of priorities to push their kids in the right direction. The darker skinned kids would probably still do ok, even if they remained in the poorer schools.

    Having said that, however, I still think that schools should be evenly funded. I believe this precisely because it's the first step in addressing the overall education gap. No one can claim that this school or that school is underfunded and therefore disadvantaged. Everyone's on even footing. Once that's taken care of, then individual school competency can be targeted. But until you solve the funding issue, the incompetent schools can simply cry foul on their funds.

    Solving education is a multipronged approach. Funding is the first stab. Taking a white school with 1000 students, and a minority school with 1000 students, and putting 40 of those minority kids in with the white ones isn't changing the world. It's stroking someones sense of egalitarianism.

    Travis:

    School districts have different funding because people in those districts vote to pay more taxes for their schools.
    If you take that money from the people who are willing to pay more in taxes, and give it to people who aren't, why the hell would anybody vote for more taxes for their district?


    I know why schools are funded the way they are, it just needs to change- especially in denser urban districts.

    When the City of Seattle puts a school levy on the ballot, it's not for one neighborhood, it's for all the schools in all the neighborhoods. All of this money needs to be put into one bucket and distributed evenly from there. Currently, it's not. That's why I say it's about the money, Travis. The people in the wealthy neighborhoods won't give up their money for the poorer schools. They'd rather throw a bone to the minority community instead of stepping up.

  • ||

    Paul

    Why not "even funding" of everything, not just education?

    Why HAVE local governments?

    Why HAVE state governments?

    Why HAVE national governments?

    Any formula that shifts tax resources AWAY from accountability is a recipe for waste.

  • ||

    Paul,
    You should really read about the history of Abbott in NJ. They haven't just thrown poor districts a bone by busing some black kids to white schools. They have taken significant amounts of state funds and given them to the poor districts so that funding is tilted toward the poor. The average per student spending in NJ is something like 10k (more than almost any state). The Abbott districts get something like 14k.

    "Having said that, however, I still think that schools should be evenly funded. I believe this precisely because it's the first step in addressing the overall education gap. No one can claim that this school or that school is underfunded and therefore disadvantaged."

    I would like this to have happened in NJ. It hasn't. Instead, in the face of dismal test results, the argument has become that the poor districts need even more money because they are dealing with kids from disadvantaged backgrounds and home lives. You see, there's always an excuse that doesn't involve the administrators and teachers. Fortunately, it looks like the legislature is starting to push back after the latest funding crisis.

  • ||

    Why is there such animosity towards "wealthy" districts fully-funding their schools? What - did those rich kids get a good education "on the backs of the poor?" Sigh. Class envy.

    In the words of the Clintons - "we are only doing the best for our daugter(children)"

    And comparing educational funding between the US/rest of the world, money clearly isn't the problem.

  • ||

    "If we have to have state involvement in education, let's fund children, not institutions. Have the money follow the student"

    kevrob nailed it. If subsidizing the educational system is a necessity, then give it directly to the student. There will be no more worries about whom is getting a larger slice of the pie. At that point let individual families take responsibility for their children's success or failure. Plus it will increase competition for 'customers' not government approval, which inevitably increases quality.

    Increasing choice is the solution, not decreasing it. I pity both sides of this case, neither outcome will really increase opportunities for anyone. However forcing any individual to attend a specific school because of some lame social engineering theory is just unconstitutional.

  • ||

    ...forcing any individual to attend a specific school because of some lame social engineering theory is just unconstitutional.

    I don't think social engineering theory has much to do with this.

    Most folks (libertarians and republican extremists being notable exceptions) agree that some form of public education is necessary and integral to a functioning productive society.

    In the u.s., the desire to produce this has been confronted by other issues including racism, poorly reasoned changes in teaching techniques, politics and stupid parenting.

    Methods of increasing choice are probably good ideas and forcing people to attend certain schools may be unconstitutional but...

    ...the reason individuals are forced to attend specific public schools has more to do with patchwork political solutions than some well-thought out theory.

  • ||

    ...in the face of dismal test results, the argument has become that the poor districts need even more money because they are dealing with kids from disadvantaged backgrounds and home lives. - Geof



    That's why a "money follows the student" model is better. Student A, with no noted developmental disabilities, could get the normal scholarship amount. Student B, who has some documented special needs, can get a premium attached to his.

    Back in the real world, our state has tried to deal with the integration problem, but nothing seems to work. Our largest city was under a federal Court Order that demanded that some minority students be bused out of their neignhborhoods into the mostly white areas where the district had built newer schools. This didn't work, as the Order stopped at the city limits, and families fleeing busing and crime exercised the most expensive versions of school choice: they bought a house in the suburbs or sent their kids to parochial school. The City responded by developing magnet schools, and got a limited Open Enrollment bill through the legislature. A minority student from the city district could enroll in a suburban school that participated in the program, and a suburban kid could choose to go to school in the city. State aid based on the number of students participating was supposed to be an incentive. While I'm sure the program improved the education of most students who took part, it had little or no effect on the overall racial makeup of area publik skools. That continues to be an artifact of residential patterns. The city district became "majority minority" years ago. Plenty of white folks live in the city, they just move out of the reach of the awful government school system when they have kids. Plenty of white "empty nesters" sell the big suburban house when the kids graduate college and move back into town. Condo sales to childless professionals and to retirees have contributed to a downtown building boom.

    We have one of the nation's few tax-funded private school choice programs. It is restricted to low-income families, so one odd development is that the private schools that in most of the country are seen as a safe harbor for white parents afraid of integration don't serve that function. The racial makeup of the local Catholic and Lutheran schools is probably more in line with what the anti-segregation reformers had in mind a half-century ago than the trainwreck that has been made out of the public system!

    Local school systems here already get ~2/3 of their revenue from state aid. It would make complete sense to divorce the government schools entirely from the property tax, and restrict its use to local services more connected to owning property. If we cut the connection between buying an expensive house and assuring a slot in a less incompetent school for one's child, a solution might be in sight.

    One big caveat: both the Open Enrollment program and school choice may succeed, to the extent that they do, as much if not more because they give minority parents who give a damn about the proper education of their children something to do about it. The programs may just be acting as a filter that separates the children of involved parents from those whose folks do little or nothing to push their kids to learn. Sitting next to white kids isn't a magic bullet. One of the Catholic Diocese's High Schools that was slated to close in the 1980s was reborn as an independent Catholic shool, with an almost all-minority enrollment. 75%+ of its students are in the choice program. 88% of all their graduates go on to college. I'm sure that's not due to the presence of a few white kids.

    As for keeping the publik skools alive, I expect that any privatization program will have to phase them out, rather than close them precipitously. Perhaps they could be transformed into charter schools before they gain complete autonomy.

    madpad, as for attendance at publik skools being the result of some theory, aren't you familiar with Horace Mann, John Dewey, or the entire Edublob that spawned in their wake? The Common School, run by arms of the state, was expressly a tool to "Americanize" the sons and daughters of immigrants, socialize them to citizenship, and keep children out of the work force until such time as they were needed to replace their elders. Of course, more modern theorists have stood much of this earlier thought on its head, with the idea of "Americanizing" becoming anethema to many caught in the clutches of the multicult.

    As a libertarian, I have my own theory. Education should no more be in the hands of the state than the press, broadcasting or the churches. These institutions form the minds of the citizenry, and in a republic the citizens should choose the government, not vice versa.

    Kevin

  • ||

    -madpad

    I have always been ambivalent about public education. An educated society benefits everyone, however I only believe this is achievable through individual choice, not government assignment. Therefore everyone should have a 'base level' of opportunity to receive an education, which is why I support a voucher-based system. This would solve all egalitarian issues that the government could possibly have any influence on. Outside of that there is a 'horse led to water' aspect to the problem that no government action can solve. Just because someone warms a seat in a classroom does not mean that they will be educated.

    I used the term social engineering as a description of the race quota aspect of the case. I see no other way to describe it. Although patchwork political solutions may be the mechanism of said engineering, I still think that 'engineering' is the goal. If the desire is to educate, then let everyone choose and then educate. It really isn't that hard.

  • ||

    aren't you familiar with...

    I am...and my statement doesn't shortchange the influences you cite. BTW, Horace Mann's influence served the country rather well for quite a long time. And much of Dewey's work was bastardized and misinterpereted.

    All I'm saying is who ultimately is worried about pedagogical theory when some schools can't afford pens and paper while other schools have t.v. stations?

    Greater choice is a good idea for a lot of practical reasons. But getting rid of public schools completely - using choice as the sole reasoning - makes no sense.

    I do, however, like the idea of the money following the student. I can see many ways in which that might work and work well.

  • ||

    Well said steve...I follow your reasoning.

  • ||

    madpad:

    Yeah, I thought you might know about those guys. The ideas of Dewey and Mann could be taken too far, notably when Oregon Klansmen attempted to outlaw private schools in the early 1920s. Only a U.S. Supreme Court case stopped that from happening.

    I still think that while Universal Education is a good idea, Universal Schooling is unnecessary, and Univeral Government Schooling is actively harmful to society.

    Kevin

  • ||

    still think that while Universal Education is a good idea,

    Amen, brother.

    Universal Schooling is unnecessary,

    possibly...lot's of factors and even more potential exceptions come to mind. But you've probably got that one nailed.

    and Univeral Government Schooling is actively harmful to society.

    Only in the enforced absence of alternatives...which would make it not Universal I suppose. But then we'd be splitting hairs.

    Hey, you make good points all. I personally would like to see a thriving private school system that competes with a thriving public school system.

    I'm, by and large, a free marketer. But a wise adherant is aware of the limitations of his philosophy...lest he become a fanatic. While I believe in fee market options as an alternative to public education, I don't buy free market as a replacement. At least not yet.

  • Mike Laursen||

    If we have to have state involvement in education, let's fund children, not institutions. Have the money follow the student.

    I agree. One hurdle: it would require a database for tracking students. Here in California, educators have been talking about creating a statewide student database for years, but they never get anywhere with the idea.

    Some possible reasons:

    * The State of California has a hell of a time creating databases in general. When the DMV tried to modernize, we ended up with a very expensive debacle. I'm not sure of all the reasons they can't crank out a database, but politics and Computer Science don't seem to mix well.

    * Even though we have a centralized school system, there are lots and lots of districts, all with different ways of doing things.

    * Not keeping it simple. The Santa Clara County education board is developing a system that tries to track every single answer each child gives on their tests. They have ambitions to sell the system to other school districts in the state.

    * There may be elements of the educational establishment who don't want student tracking. It would make our drop out rates much more obvious. Right now, kids silently drop out by saying they are transferring to another school, then never showing up in the Fall.

  • Mike Laursen||

    I'm, by and large, a free marketer. But a wise adherant is aware of the limitations of his philosophy...lest he become a fanatic.

    Oh, how I wish I wish I wish more Libertarians would take this nugget of wisdom to heart.

  • ||

    I'm not sure of all the reasons they can't crank out a database, but politics and Computer Science don't seem to mix well.

    In my (anecdotal) experience, this is a particular instance of a more general phenomenon: entrenched bureaucrats and process streamlining don't seem to mix well.

    Part of my job as a programmer is to automate away as much of a process as is practical (e.g., replacing filing cabinets with databases). When I start doing that, though, I sometimes threaten some underling's job. (When managers start drooling over the idea of, say, doubling productivity, that means either everyone will have to do twice as much work, or half of them will get laid off.)

    Unfortunately, I'm dependent on the underlings for an accurate, detailed description of what needs automating. Perhaps inevitably, I get incomplete or inconsistent answers to my questions, and the software ends up not doing what it needs to do.

    I've seen this happen on several of the projects I've been involved with, and I haven't been able to find a good solution to it.

  • ||

    Son of a!,

    I read your post with great empathy and bemusement. I'm an ex-IT & MIS guy. After working my way up from clone-building geek to MIS director, I reached a point where it was quit or get fired.

    I don't have a good answer for you, although unlike you, I wouldn't consider intentional sabotage to be the actual problem.

    In my experience, most underlings in an office/paper processing function don't have much of a clear idea what they're doing or why in the first place.

    Which is my way of saying that most politicians and line-level corporate employees don't know jack shit about abstract things like "data". The ones that do are exceptions.

    I'm now a graphic designer and multimedia producer who specializes in marketing. Much happier line of work.

  • ||

    Thanks for the props, Mr. Laursen. As you are no doubt already aware, that "nugget of wisdom" has many applications.

  • ||

    madpad:

    I guess you have a point. Hanlon's Razor, and all that.

    Your job certainly sounds cooler than mine. I wish I had the talent...

  • ||

    Son of a!

    I had to look up Hanlon's as I had forgotten it but, yeah...that's basically it. That's not to say there aren't malicious intents on occasion, but my experience tells me it's more usually bureaucratic inertia.

    Your job certainly sounds cooler than mine. I wish I had the talent...

    It has it's good and bad points but it suits me more than programming and database work. I'm glad to have the MIS skills, though. I come up with solutions most designers never would. And I can pull solid info out of a database better than anyone I know. Makes me more marketable.

    You also probably have more talent than you realize. I actually got into design work pretty much by accident.

  • Paul||

    [...]the argument has become that the poor districts need even more money because they are dealing with kids from disadvantaged backgrounds and home lives.[...]

    But Geoff, you and I aren't disagreeing on the fundamentals here. Both you and I (and everyone else with a brain that thinks logically) knows that that the real reason is because of a wide array of social issues-- funding only being a small part of it. But you're never going to get past the first hurdle when the white kids have a laptop in every hand, and the black kids are sharing 25 year old history books.

    Kevrob correctly noted that the funding should follow the student. Not to steal Kevrobs thunder, but that's basically what I was implicitly suggesting. If you 'even' the funding for the schools- it's obvious that each school won't get the exact same number of $'s. A formulary will have to be created by school size, read student population. In essence, the funding follows the students.

    Finklestein makes a notation about animosity towards wealthy districts and 'class warfare'. I'm assuming he's indirectly addressing my comments. There is no animosity towards wealthy districts. The only 'class warfare' is the constant harping that moving a few darkskinned kids through "racial tie-breakers" to predominantly white districts is going to create an egalitarian society. Hogwash. That's class warfare. Let people live where they want to live, and go to the school that's most convenient for them- but make sure the schools are on even footing when it comes to funding.

    Poor schools do have disadvantages-- many and varied. Why do we exacerbate those disadvantages (since we at least accept that there is a public school system, and sadly, it's here to stay) by giving them an underfunded education because the poor folks don't have the tax base?

    Activists of one stripe or another (especially of the liberal stripe) will always cry about lack of funding. But we really have little ground to stand on if we objectively underfund them.

  • han||

    This is not to say there are no interesting ways

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