Saturday, August 10, 2002

Public schools are becoming increasingly divided by race, despite the rise in minority populations nationwide, according to a new study released yesterday by Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project.
The study found that integration among whites and blacks and Hispanics is decreasing or has been steady in all but some of the country’s largest school districts since 1986 nearly 50 years after state-sponsored school segregation was outlawed.
Chungmei Lee and Erica Frankenberg, researchers who conducted the study, said that the “resegregation trend” is a result of recent court rulings that dismantled race-based desegregation laws and reflects discouragement over stalled integration efforts.
“As courts across the country end long-running desegregation plans and, in some states, have forbidden the use of any racially conscious student assignment plans, the last 10 to 15 years has seen a steady unraveling of almost 25 years worth of increased integration,” the researchers wrote in the 23-page study.
According to its Web site, the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University is an “interdisciplinary initiative, whose mission is to mobilize the university’s resources and the broader academic community in support of the struggle for racial and ethnic justice.”
Miss Lee said integration is crucial to improving education and preparing students to live in a diverse culture.
She said successful integration is simply a matter of balancing resources, which are often in short supply in the poor neighborhoods where many minorities live.
“I think a lot of people think that nothing can be done and the efforts have failed,” she said.
The study has drawn some criticism from legal and education analysts who question its validity.
Chester Darling, an attorney representing parents fighting a desegregation policy in Lynn, Mass., questioned the study’s assumptions about diversity’s value and said any new push to create school diversity should be initiated by parents, not the federal government.
“When you have a government involved in enforcing a particular form of diversity, then you have a government making decisions that are illegal,” Mr. Darling said.
Casey Lartigue, an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington, said the study also doesn’t address what parents want. “Are people crying out for integrated schools or better schools?” he said. “If you give parents a choice, I think you’ll find that parents will choose good schools.”
The study found that the 20 most rapidly resegregating school districts are concentrated in the South, with eight in Texas and three in Georgia.
It found resegregation to be the most rapid in Clayton County, Ga., where the average black or Hispanic student goes to a school that is 23.1 percent white, down from 68.7 percent white in 1986. Prince William County, Va., and Baltimore County, Md., were also included in the list.
Fairfax County and Harford County, Md., were among the 20 school districts found to have the lowest white exposure to blacks. Fairfax, Prince William and Montgomery counties were among the school districts found to have the lowest white exposure to Hispanics.
In its conclusions, the study measured the changing “exposure index” between races in school districts with enrollments of more than 25,000 students. A black-white exposure index of 23 percent means the typical black student attends a school where 23 percent of the students are white.
In a sample of 185 of the districts, black exposure to whites increased in only four of the districts from 1986 to 2000. Hispanic exposure to whites rose in only three districts. White isolation increased in 53 districts, the study found.
Matt Moore, a policy analyst with the National Center for Policy Analysis in Texas, said the findings of the Harvard study could be reversed through school choice. “Competition will encourage the public school system to improve its schools,” he said.
The story is based in part on wire service reports.

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