At Risk Children in Resegregated Schools: An Analysis of the Achievement Gap

Article excerpt

Historically, political mad social forces have strategically converged to directly influence the formulation and implementation of education policies that seek to equalize educational opportunities for members of minority groups. Such has been the case with school desegregation efforts. Since the 1954 Brown Decision, powerful interest groups have sought and secured the assistance of the courts in providing legal support in abandoning desegregation initiatives. Unfortunately, fifty years after Brown, legal scholars and social scientists continue to debate the merits of school desegregation mandates. As the debate intensifies, desegregation policies continue to be scrutinized and quietly dismantled. As we watch, the public schools resegregate, it is obvious that the promises of Brown have not been fulfilled. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the achievement gap between resegregated and desegregated schools in the city of Norfolk.

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The conservatism surrounding the Reagan Era provided the sociopolitical context to abandon school desegregation initiatives. During the Reagan Presidency, the United States Justice Department adopted a hands off approach to enforcing states to comply with desegregation mandates. The Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II Administrations did not take a firm stand on school desegregation. The political ideology of the Reagan Administration reflected a desire to move towards a color-blind society in which race was a neutral issue in public policy formulation. As Reynolds (1982) noted, President Regan believed that many of the public policies from the 1980s created externalities, which resulted in practices that discriminated against European Americans and therefore were both morally wrong and unconstitutional. This legal shift away from Brown continues.

The 1990s ended active federal judicial involvement in school desegregation. This decade was characterized by increased legal challenges to mandated school desegregation policies. Several public school districts ceased enforcing segregation plans and returned to neighborhood schools. During this decade, the courts began to establish legal standards that facilitated the resegregation of the public schools. In 1984, the Oklahoma school board decided to return to neighborhood schools for grades 1-4 and to establish racially balanced fifth grade centers. The new plan meant that 11 of the 64 schools in the city would become more than 90 percent African American. Twenty-two of the schools would have a student population 90 percent or more European American. This new plan met with protest among the various stakeholders; however, the plan became effective in 1985.

In 1986, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the respondents could challenge the student reassignment plan because the district was still under a 1972 court mandate. The case was remanded to the District Court. The District Court ruled that the original desegregation plan was not relevant and that the district had acted in good faith in complying with the 1972 mandate. The District Court further asserted that the new student assignment plan was not implemented with the intention of discriminating against African American students. The Court of Appeals reversed the ruling of the district court. The Oklahoma School Board challenged the circuit court's decision. In the School Board of Education Oklahoma City v Dowell, 1991, the United States Supreme Court ruled that once a previously segregated school district has implemented "practicable" strategies to eliminate segregation, it can be declared unitary and released from court ordered busing. The court also stipulated that the districts could be released from court ordered desegregation if the students and faculty were desegregated and the district met other desegregation requirements. This gave the school district the legal sanction to dismantle desegregation efforts and to return to resegregate. …