Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Integration: A Tool or the Goal?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Integration: A Tool or the Goal?

Article excerpt

The recent Harvard University report attacking efforts in Prince George's County, Md., and three other school districts to compensate for the effects of racial segregation completely misses its target. The report sets up straw men and then, using sweeping generalizations, knocks them down one by one on the way to a predetermined outcome.

The attack by the project's director, Gary Orfield, on the segregation relief provided in accordance with the Supreme Court's 1977 Milliken vs. Bradley decision would, if successful, shatter the hopes and dreams of generations of African-Americans.

For those unfamiliar with the workings of Milliken, it provides that schools too isolated to be integrated by busing receive extra resources to meet the needs of poor minority students. In Prince George's County, such schools feature lower student-staff ratios, after-school tutorials, summer enrichment programs, improved computer instruction and active partnerships with parents.

Orfield's report argues that such programs fail because they do not live up to the legal obligation to "restore the victims of discriminatory conduct to the position they would have occupied in the absence of such conduct." But in fact, no remedy in our nation's 200-year history would do such a thing. And Orfield's own remedy of choice - court-ordered busing - would fail miserably to accomplish that goal.

Two decades and millions of bus trips later, the promise of court-ordered busing has fallen short where it matters most: in improving learning for African-American students. That doesn't mean desegregation does no good. Living and working with people of different races profits both children and society. But there is not a district in the nation where student achievement skyrocketed after busing. Herbert Walberg of the University of Illinois, an expert tracker of the effects of busing for 20 years, sums up the research: "Sometimes it (busing) helps, sometimes it hurts, and sometimes it doesn't do anything."

Orfield's relentless emphasis on the numbers is a betrayal of the original promise of the civil rights movement. The sole focus of court-ordered busing is numbers that look good - the right number of students of each race in a school. …

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