Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Beyond the Rhetoric of Desegregation

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Beyond the Rhetoric of Desegregation

Article excerpt

A recent report from the Harvard Project on School Desegregation documented serious problems with educational programs intended to equalize racially segregated schools. As expected, the report, "Still Separate, Still Unequal," triggered defensive reactions from educators who have a professional stake in programs the project criticized.

One of the most bold - and most misleading - attacks appeared on this page on May 4 by John Murphy, school superintendent in Charlotte, N.C. Sadly, Murphy's arguments are typical of how debate about equal opportunity has been mishandled.

Murphy is upset because he is the former superintendent in Prince George's County, Md. - one of the four school districts the project criticized. In a nutshell, "Still Separate, Still Unequal" showed that officials didn't properly evaluate programs for minority students. Neither could officials provide data to show that educational compensation remedies improved educational opportunities for minority children. The project found "educational compensation" of the type approved by the Supreme Court under Milliken vs. Bradley II in 1977 to be vulnerable to politics, budgetary constraints and apathy.

The findings contradict Murphy's public relations campaign, which cast the Prince George schools as nothing short of miracle makers.

One of the favorite words used in distorting discussions about inequality and education is busing. Opponents of desegregation policies throw around this ambiguous word to provoke fear and to censor full examinations about ways to redress segregation's harms.

Murphy wants to pretend that "Still Separate, Still Unequal" is all about busing. But he's not telling the truth. The report is about the alternative to racial integration that was left after the Supreme Court, under Milliken vs. Bradley in 1974, blocked city-suburban desegregation and confined millions of minority students to segregated schools. The report finds flaws with the monetary alternative, but nowhere does it advocate court-ordered busing.

Another tactic is to charge supporters of desegregation with overemphasizing racial balance numbers and ignoring education. But anyone who is familiar with my work knows my goal is getting equal opportunity, quality education and stable integration for minority students, not mechanistic desegregation by the numbers.

I have never testified for a simple racial balance plan in a heavily minority district. I rejected that model in the first federal case in which I testified - in St. Louis - where I called for integration in the city, mostly through magnet choices, policies to combat housing segregation and allowing black students to transfer to suburban schools.

The plan I monitor for the court in San Francisco has undergone serious evaluation to ensure quality education. San Francisco's evaluators agreed that remedial programs within the desegregated system produced no results for minority children. …

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