Shifting Demographics Bring De Facto Segregation Series: School Desegregation RACE AND CLASS COLLIDE. Today the Monitor Begins a Three-Part Series on the Progress of School Desegregation in the United States Nearly 40 Years after the Supreme Court Decision That Began the Process. Second of 3 Articles Appearing Today
Laurel Shaper Walters, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
IN 1954, when the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawed "separate but equal" schools, 1 in 10 public-school students was nonwhite. Today, the ratio is 1 in 3.
This demographic shift and a growing urban-suburban split is leading to the resegregation of American schools nearly 40 years after the Brown decision.
A combination of housing patterns, demographics, and decisions in federal desegregation court cases has left many inner-city school districts, particularly in the northern United States, with few white students and de facto segregation.
"You can't integrate an 85 percent-plus minority district," explains John Brittain, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in a Connecticut school-desegregation lawsuit.
"The old gap between white and black schools has now been replaced by the gap between inner-city and suburban schools," Mr. Brittain says.
In the decades since Brown, court-mandated desegregation policies have created successful integration throughout the South. Today, the most extreme educational segregation is in the North.
"Brown was about the South," says Gary Orfield, a school-desegregation expert at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. "Nobody understood Brown to be about the North and the black urban communities. The idea was to make the South more like the North."
That initial goal has been accomplished or even exceeded, Professor Orfield says. "Even though the South has far more blacks as a proportion of its population, black students there are in much more contact with white students."
ONE reason for the success of school desegregation in the South is that school districts there were more likely to incorporate suburban areas into a desegregation plan, says Douglas Massey, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago.
But in the northern states, attempts to desegregate schools "came up against a brick wall" with the 1973 Milliken v. Bradley Supreme Court decision, Professor Massey says. In rejecting a metropolitan plan that would have mixed Detroit's predominantly black schools with the largely white suburban school districts, the court ruled that urban-suburban integration is appropriate only if it can be proved that the suburbs helped create urban segregation.
"The Milliken v. Bradley case all but shut down the desegregation efforts, because even if you can show inner-city segregation, you cannot show that suburban segregation was responsible," Brittain says.
In deciding against the Detroit metropolitan plan, the United States Supreme Court deferred to the American tradition of community-based school systems and left the problem of segregation resulting from housing patterns unsolved.
"Class segregation is basically considered normal in our society," Orfield says. "Everybody thinks that they have a right to buy into a better school system if their income is high enough to move to a suburb."
But as underfunded urban schools sag under the weight of needy students and the US becomes more racially diverse, a reassessment is taking place. …