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The Politics of Diversity: Integration in an Era of Political and Legal Uncertainty


by Sarah Diem & Erica Frankenberg — 2013

Background: The demographic landscape in the United States has shifted dramatically since Brown v. Board of Education, leading to more complex diversity in many school districts than the diversity contemplated nearly 60 years ago. Desegregation research has shown that countywide districts are better able to maintain diverse schools, have less White flight where enclaves do not exist, and maintain political support for high-quality, equitable schools in ways very different from the politics that exist in metropolitan areas in which city schools are separate from neighboring suburbs. While demographic diversity may provide an advantage in accomplishing integration (or allow for the possibility), as court oversight for desegregation fades, it is unclear whether the advantage of countywide districts will persist if this diversity results in more political opposition to pursuing voluntary integration.

Purpose: This article explores the diversity policies and politics of two countywide school districts in the South experiencing enclave growth at a time of legal and political ambiguity: Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) and the Wake County Public Schools System (WCPSS). Both districts’ voluntary desegregation efforts have been highly publicized as they are increasingly being affected by changing demographics and local politics. In this article, we seek to analyze how demographic change influences public support for and implementation of the districts’ diversity policies. We also examine how political debates around diversity have shifted in response to the changing legal context and enclave formation in both districts.

Data Collection and Analysis: Data collection in our two case study sites focuses on similar variables in each. As this article focuses on our initial investigation of the two school districts, laying the groundwork for our future empirical research, our analysis is primarily based on data collected from each school district’s website describing the diversity policies, demographic data trends within the district and community, as well as information on school board representation. We also used publicly available data from local, state, and federal data sources, including the American Community Survey and the 2010 Census, media articles from local newspapers (The Courier-Journal in Louisville and The News & Observer in Raleigh), legal documents such as court filings, and policy documents from the district. Through the document analysis, at each site we examined: (1) activities by district or community leaders to promote policies aimed at maintaining diversity; (2) any legal action and/or response affecting diversity policies, particularly the development of new suburban enclaves; and (3) past, present, and projected effects of diversity policies.

Conclusions: Whether JCPS and WCPSS are able to achieve diversity in a time of political and legal uncertainty has yet to be determined. As demographics change, enclave schools and communities increase, politics and policymaking become more and more influenced by politically savvy parents, and the future of diversity plans remains uncertain. However, the case for and benefits of integration may be clearer than ever. The question that remains is, to what depths are school districts willing to go to establish and maintain diverse environments that are key to achieving equity of opportunity for all students.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 11, 2013, p. 1-30
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17196, Date Accessed: 12/15/2017 9:14:05 AM

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About the Author
  • Sarah Diem
    University of Missouri
    E-mail Author
    SARAH DIEM is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri. Her research focuses on the social and cultural contexts of education, paying particular attention to how the politics and implementation of educational policy affect diversity outcomes. She is also interested in how conversations surrounding race and race relations are facilitated in the classroom and whether these discussions are preparing future school leaders to address critical issues that may impact the students and communities they will oversee. Dr. Diem is currently involved in a study with Erica Frankenberg that examines the impact of suburbanization on countywide districts’ diversity policies. She received her Ph.D. in Educational Policy and Planning from The University of Texas at Austin, M.P.A from the University of Oregon, and B.A. from The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Diem’s work has been published in Educational Administration Quarterly, The Urban Review, Education Policy Analysis Archives, and Journal of Research in Leadership Education. Dr. Diem is also co-editor of Global Leadership for Social Justice: Taking it from the Field to Practice.
  • Erica Frankenberg
    Pennsylvania State University
    E-mail Author
    ERICA FRANKENBERG (Ed.D., Harvard University, A.B., Dartmouth College) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education Policy Studies in the College of Education at the Pennsylvania State University. Her research interests focus on racial desegregation and inequality in K-12 schools, and the connections between school segregation and other metropolitan policies. Current research projects include studying suburban racial change, policy and politics of response to the Supreme Court’s decision about voluntary integration, and how school choice policies impact racial stratification. With Sarah Diem, she is involved in a study of how suburbanization affects diversity policies in countywide districts. Prior to joining the Penn State faculty, she was the Research and Policy Director for the Initiative on School Integration at the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA. Recent book publications include Educational Delusions? Why Choice Can Deepen Inequality and How to Make it Fair (with Gary Orfield), The Resegregation of Suburban Schools: A Hidden Crisis in American Education (with Gary Orfield), Integrating schools in a changing society: New policies and legal options for a multiracial generation (with Elizabeth DeBray), and Lessons in Integration: Realizing the Promise of Racial Diversity in America’s Schools (with Gary Orfield). Her work has also been published in education policy journals, law reviews, housing journals, and practitioner publications.
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