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Tackling Racial Segregation One Policy at a Time: Why School Desegregation Only Went So Far

by Amy Stuart Wells, Jennifer Jellison Holme, Awo Korantemaa Atanda & Anita Tijerina Revilla - 2005

This article provides an overview of the major findings from the "Understanding Race and Education Study," a 5-year research project conducted by the authors at Teachers College Columbia University and UCLA. The central theme to emerge from the 5-year historical case study of six racially diverse high schools and their graduates from the late 1970s was that school desegregation faced enormous political obstacles in local communities, which compromised its effect. At the same time, this fairly radical policy fundamentally changed the people who lived through it but had a more limited impact on the society as a whole. This article presents data from this study of 540 interviews and document collection from these six sites, which show that in the 1970s racially diverse public schools were challenged because educators either tried to or were forced to facilitate racial integration amid a society that remained segregated in terms of housing and other social institutions. This context compromised many of the goals of desegregation as politically powerful Whites resisted meaningful equality within desegregated schools and Blacks and Latinos were often angered and frustrated by this resistance. Nonetheless, desegregation made the vast majority of the students who attended these schools less racially prejudiced and more comfortable around people of different backgrounds. After high school, however, their lives, mirroring the larger society, have been far more segregated. They lament that school desegregation was supposed to prepare them for the "real world," but that world is far more segregated than their schools.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 9, 2005, p. 2141-2177
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12156, Date Accessed: 1/26/2021 10:50:12 PM

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About the Author
  • Amy Stuart Wells
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    AMY STUART WELLS is a Professor of Sociology and Education and the Coordinator of Policy Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research and writing have focused broadly on issues of race and education and more specifically on educational policies, such as school desegregation, school choice, charter schools, and tracking and how they shape and constrain opportunities for students of color. Wells is the author and editor of numerous books and articles, including coeditor with Janice Petrovich of Bringing Equity Back: Research for a New Era in Educational Policy Making (2005, Teachers College Press); coauthor with Jennifer Jellison Holme, Anita Tijerina Revilla, and Awo Korantemaa Atanda of a report from their study of race and education titled How Desegregation Changed Us: The Effects of Racially Mixed Schools on Students and Society (2004, http://www.tc.columbia.edu/desegregation); editor of Where Charter School Policy Fails: The Problems of Accountability and Equity (2002, Teachers College Press); and coauthor with Robert L. Crain of Stepping over the Color Line: African American Students in White Suburban Schools (Yale University Press, 1997).
  • Jennifer Holme
    University of California at Los Angeles
    JENNIFER JELLISON HOLME is an Assistant Research Educationist in the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA) in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. She received her received her Ed.M. at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and her Ph.D. in educational policy studies at UCLA. She has worked previously as a researcher on the UCLA Charter School Study and on the Harvard Project on School Desegregation. Her areas of expertise include school desegregation and the sociology of school choice. Holme recently published “Learning Through Experience: What Graduates Gained by Attending Desegregated High Schools” with Amy Stuart Wells and Anita Tijerina Revilla in Equity and Excellence in Education (February, 2005). She also authored “Buying Homes, Buying Schools: School Choice and the Social Construction of School Quality” in the Harvard Educational Review (Summer, 2002). She has also coauthored numerous journal articles and book chapters, including “Power and Pluralism: The Story of A Racially Diverse Charter High School” (coauthor with Amy Stuart Wells and Ash Vasudeva) in B. Fuller (Ed.), Inside Charter Schools (Harvard University Press, 2000); “Charter Schools and Racial and Social Class Segregation: Yet Another Sorting Machine?”(coauthor with Amy Stuart Wells, Alejandra Lopez, and Camille Wilson Cooper) in R. Kahlenberg (Ed.), A Notion at Risk (The Century Foundation, 2000).
  • Awo Atanda
    Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
    AWO KORANTEMAA ATANDA, is a Survey Specialist at Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Her research interests include educational policy, race and education, school choice policy, and school desegregation. Her dissertation (2003) is titled, “Telling Their Story: The Perceptions, Reflections and Experiences of EOP Alumni From a Technical University.” Recent publications include coauthor with Amy Stuart Wells, Anita Tijerina Revilla, and Jennifer Jellison Holme of “The Space Between School Desegregation Court Orders and Outcomes: The Struggle to Challenge White Privilege” (Virginia Law Review, 2004); and coauthor with Amy Stuart Wells, Anita Tijerina Revilla, and Jennifer Jellison Holme of “Against the Tide: Desegregated High Schools and Their 1980 Graduates” (Phi Delta Kappan, May 2004).
  • Anita Revilla
    University of Nevada at Las Vegas
    ANITA TIJERINA REVILLA is an assistant professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Her areas of expertise include Chicana/Latina/Latino studies, gender/feminist studies, race/ethnic studies, and education. Her independent research focuses on the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality in the experiences women and men of color, especially related to feminist and Queer activism, social movements, and social justice education. Her recent publications include coauthor with Amy Stuart Wells and Jennifer Jellison Holme of “‘We Didn’t See Color . . .’: The Salience of Colorblindness in Desegregated Schools” in Michele Fine, Lois Weis, Linda Powell Pruitt, and April Burns (Eds.), Off White: Readings on Power, Privilege, and Resistance (New York: Routledge Press, 2004); “Raza Womyn Engaged in Love and Revolution: Chicana Student Activists Creating Safe Spaces within the University” in Cleveland Marshall State Law Review; and “Raza Womyn Mujerstoria [Herstory]: Chicana/Latina Student Activism in Los Angeles” in Villanova Law Review.
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