Does Desegregation Help Close the Gap? (Testimony of Gary Orfield, March 22, 1996)

Article excerpt

Gary Orfield, Professor of Education and Social Policy, Graduate School of Education and the Kennedy School of Government; Director, Harvard Project on School Desegregation, Harvard University

Orfield was first examined by William L. Taylor, lead attorney for the Caldwell/NAACP plaintiffs.

TAYLOR: . . .Dr. Orfield, have you followed the progress of the desegregation plans that were adopted pursuant to court order in 1980 and by consent decree in 1983 since the plans have been in effect?

ORFIELD: Yes, I have.

TAYLOR: Have you familiarized yourself with what has happened in St. Louis over the past decade or 12 years or so?

ORFIELD: Well, I've reviewed the statistical reports that both parties have prepared, which have a great deal of data that's relevant; and I do think I could understand what's happened to the segregation levels. And we have computed those segregation levels independently in our project.

[Orfield identified reports by other witnesses such as Christine Rossell, David Armor, Leonard Stevens, and by representatives from the Voluntary Interdistrict Coordinating Committee and Civic Progress (a St. Louis civic group). He also cited statistics from the St. Louis school board. Taylor next asked Orfield to examine several pages from the so-called Danforth Report on the St. Louis public schools.]

TAYLOR: This exhibit talks about. graduation rates for Black males and White males at magnet integrated and nonintegrated [schools]...What does that tell you?

ORFIELD: Well, it just shows the extraordinarily low graduation rate at the nonintegrated schools. I think that's about as low as I've ever seen in any city that I'm familiar with in the United States, which includes Chicago and Los Angeles. . .

TAYLOR: All right. Now about the integrated schools?

ORFIELD: The integrated schools for Black males also have very low graduation rates.

TAYLOR: And how do these compare to the magnet schools?

ORFIELD: Magnet schools [have rates] over twice as high. . .

THE COURT: [Referring back to integrated schools] They're low for the White males, too, are they not?

ORFIELD: Of course, they are very low. It's an extraordinarily poor graduation rate for the entire population of those schools.

[Taylor presented figures for Black and White females, showing that, in St. Louis and across the country, girls do better in school than boys.]

THE COURT: The Black females are doing better than the White females, are they not?

ORFIELD: On some of those categories, yes.

THE COURT: How do you explain that?

ORFIELD: I think that the White students who are left in central city schools . . .are a very disadvantaged population. And we see great problems in all the districts that I know of that have a very small White residential population[s] in the nonmagnet schools.... There's about a 50% or a little more dropout rate for minority students and about a 33% dropout rate for White students, the last time I looked, and that's much higher than the national average, which is about 15% for White students. So you've got a very disadvantaged [White] population left, particularly in the nonselective central city schools, and that's really all you have in the cities that don't have magnet schools or desegregation plans in too many cases.

[Taylor asked Orfield to comment on a chart showing information on the graduation rates, SES, and college-going rates of St. Louis city students who attend suburban schools as part of the interdistrict transfer program.]

ORFIELD: Those statistics suggest a much higher completion rate in the suburban school districts-two times, three times as high. . .

TAYLOR: Is this information in accord with what you have observed in other school districts ... ?

ORFIELD: Well, I've never seen a graduation rate as low as the ones that I've seen here in [the] central city of St. …