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Race Discrimination in Education: A Legal Perspective


by James Ryan 2003

This paper was prepared for the Panel on Methods for Assessing Discrimination, National Academy of Sciences, Committee on National Statistics. It describes the formal legal definitions of race discrimination in education, demonstrates how those definitions are applied in various contexts, and highlights the role that social science evidence has played and could play in the cases. The paper argues that what currently counts as race discrimination in education and how such discrimination is proven are, from a legal perspective, at once both straightforward and complex questions. They are straightforward because the formal legal definitions are simple enough to grasp. The questions are complex because at times the formal definitions of race discrimination are modified in their application, and also because some important questions about how to apply those definitions in a particular case or context remain unanswered. The paper offers some suggestions as to how these lingering questions could be answered and describes the limited role that social science evidence could play in shaping the answers. It also highlights the irony that, under the current legal definitions of race discrimination, it is much easier to block voluntary integration efforts designed to assist minority (and white) students than it is to block practices that unintentionally disadvantage minority students.


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This article was prepared for the Panel on Methods for Assessing Discrimination, National Academy of Sciences, Committee on National Statistics. Thanks to Marilyn Dabady, Samuel Lucas, Mike Klarman, and Michael A. Rebell for helpful comments and discussion, and to Megan Strackbein and Jessica Zeller for excellent research assistance.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 105 Number 6, 2003, p. 1087-1118
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11549, Date Accessed: 10/23/2017 9:29:30 AM

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About the Author
  • James Ryan
    University of Virginia Law School; Yale Law School
    E-mail Author
    JAMES E. RYAN is a professor at the University of Virginia Law School. He is a visiting professor at the Yale Law School for the 20022003 academic year. His scholarship focuses on various issues in law and education, including desegregation, school finance, and school choice. Recent publications include The Political Economy of School Choice, 111 Yale L. J. 2043 (2002) (with Michael Heise), and A Political History of the Establishment Clause, 100 Mich. L. Rev. 279 (2001) (with John C. Jeffries, Jr.).
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