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A Policy Paradox: Support for Limited Government Grows as Increased Governmental Action for School Integration Needed


by Erica Frankenberg - September 22, 2011

Despite the current political climate, at a time of growing diversity and deepening inequality, more governmental action, not less, is needed to comprehensively address persisting segregation in schools and in our society. Federal guidance and financial support for integration have made a difference in the past, and the government itself shoulders some of the blame for continuing patterns of segregation. Government will be crucial to helping communities thoughtfully understand what options exist today, and to helping to bridge education and other related policies such as housing to find comprehensive solutions to our persisting racial and economic inequality.

In the last few years, the rise of the Tea Party as the latest incarnation of groups advocating for limited government, coupled with the economic downturn, has not only caused massive cuts for school districts, but also fueled political backlash against governmental institutions. One of the most local and universal of such institutions are our public schools and teachers, with which virtually every household has current or prior experience. As attacks across the country on the need for “big government” grow—as well as gaps in state budgets—public spending on K-12 schools (and higher education) is a target in state houses and local communities. Some preliminary evidence suggests that black and Latino students and families may be especially hard hit as a result. Despite the current political climate, at a time of growing diversity and deepening inequality, more governmental action, not less, is needed to comprehensively address persisting segregation in schools and in our society.


While the role of government in general is currently being questioned, skepticism about governmental policies regarding integration is not new. For decades now, most Supreme Court decisions have steadily limited the responsibility of school boards (an agent of the state government to carry out its constitutional obligation to educate children) with regards to eliminating racially isolated schools (Boger & Orfield, 2005; Orfield & Eaton, 1996; Ryan, 2010). More recently the Court has even limited governments from voluntarily adopting race-conscious integration policies (Parents Involved, 2007). These newer education decisions (since the mid-1970s) have largely considered school segregation as a legally separate matter from patterns of residential segregation. Contemporary residential segregation, what the Supreme Court called “private action” in its 1991 Freeman decision and beyond the scope of government remedial action, actually has a strong link to prior governmental policies. In earlier decisions such as Swann, the Justices realized the impact school assignment policies had on housing patterns (in addition to the influence of housing patterns on school composition). Other non-educational governmental policies helped to influence the growth of white suburbia and the concentration of blacks in central cities, patterns that are only slowly becoming less intense over time (Massey & Denton, 1993). At a time in which the wealth gap between whites and blacks and Hispanics is larger than ever, and when evidence exists that economics alone do not explain the residential segregation still existing (Harris & Mcardle, 2004), if the market is exacerbating inequality and segregation, it may be time to re-examine what role government action can and should take.


Beyond judicial assessments of policies that are aimed at integrating schools, social science research suggests that governmental policies may, to the contrary, not have gone far enough. Two major reasons are: 1) the limited nature of many desegregation plans, and 2) the growth of school choice. In many metropolitan areas, after the 1974 Milliken decision, the share of these metro areas’ students subject to desegregation plans—particularly outside of the South—was quite small, despite the fact that plans that encompass more of a metropolitan area may be the most stable (Orfield, 2001). A handful of metros have plans that cross school district boundaries (Holme & Wells, 2008), but these are the exception rather than the rule, and the vast majority of existing segregation is that between school districts (Reardon & Yun, 2005). Likewise, as school choice has grown, both as a part of integration plans and independent of any desire for further integration, for a variety of reasons choice may, and indeed often does, stratify students. Schools of choice, including charter schools, require families to know about these options, how to apply for admission, and sometimes even require family-provided transportation to and from the school. Others, again unlike traditional public schools, may even have certain requirements for families (e.g., certain amount of family involvement at school) or may not offer special educational programs students need. Each of these characteristics likely structures which families know about school choices, use them, and remain in them.


Meanwhile, contrary to some assumptions, public opinion indicates extremely high levels of support for integrated schools and neighborhoods, although there are differences by race as to ideal composition (Charles, 2005). The public, when forced by opinion polls to choose between integrated and neighborhood schools as a (somewhat artificial) zero-sum tradeoff, does indicate more support for the latter than the former. However, though such polling questions are far less frequent, when asked about more far-reaching governmental policies to accomplish integration—which may be necessary, given support for neighborhood schools and residential segregation—substantial support exists among respondents (Frankenberg & Jacobsen, forthcoming).


Those in the classroom every day agree that it is important for students’ education to have diverse student bodies—and they value the importance of faculty diversity as well (Frankenberg, 2009a). Today, many court-mandated teacher desegregation policies have ended. What’s more, despite the 1968 Green decision describing the integration of faculties as one of the six factors to desegregate a school thoroughly and research indicating the importance for white and nonwhite students alike to have a diverse teaching staff, the racial composition of teachers often reflects that of students. In suburban schools (and some urban as well) with high percentages of white students, there are few, if any, teachers of color, while black and Latino teachers remain disproportionately concentrated in urban, high minority and high poverty schools (Frankenberg, 2009b; Parker, 2009). As white teachers still comprise the overwhelming majority of the teaching force, and more experienced teachers leave schools with higher shares of black and Hispanic students, this faculty segregation and mobility has implications for integration and student performance (Clotfelter, Ladd, & Vigdor, 2005) as well as for student engagement and other important functions that stem from positive faculty-student relationships. While it doesn’t address issues of faculty segregation at the school building level, an encouraging first step in Wake County, North Carolina, are efforts by the new superintendent to attract a more racially diverse pool of teachers (LeClaire, 2011). Ironically this is occurring as the district faces widespread backlash from teachers and principals as well as other community members and national leaders who disagree with the school board’s decision to end its student diversity policy.


As we’ve learned more about the educational importance of integrated schools (for students and teachers) in addition to the constitutional arguments that prompted desegregation cases in the 20th century, the demographic transformation currently underway has added urgency to policy efforts. Ten states currently have a majority of students of color in K-12 public schools (Orfield, 2009) and whites are already a minority among newborns in the U.S. Formerly homogeneous suburban communities are rapidly gaining students of color and may be experiencing schools with substantial shares of diverse students for the first time. With higher dropout rates among schools where black and Latinos are concentrated, the growth of these groups means that the country risks future generations with educational attainment lower than the present one. This trend not only harms those individuals, but also is a significant obstacle for the U.S. in terms of having an educated citizenry and workforce in the global economy.


With unprecedented demographic change, challenging economic circumstances, and ambiguous judicial guidance, school boards and local communities may understand the importance of integration among students, teachers, and neighborhoods—but may also be just as confused about what can and cannot be done. This August marked the third beginning of an academic year under the Obama Administration, and as schools welcome new students, the U.S. Department of Education’s August 2008 letter interpreting the Parents Involved decision remains the official statement of the federal government on what is permissible in terms of race-conscious education policy.1 Civil rights groups had expected this misleading guidance to be quickly removed or replaced by the Administration in 2009 (Le, forthcoming). Further, the civil rights record midway through Obama’s term is mixed (Frankenberg & Siegel-Hawley, 2011). One small grant program in 2009 provided some of the first funding in several decades for redesigning integration plans to comply with Parents Involved. Federal guidance and financial support for integration have made a difference in the past, and as described, the government itself shoulders some of the blame for continuing patterns of segregation. Government, including the federal government, will be crucial to helping communities thoughtfully understand what options exist today, and to helping to bridge education and other related policies such as housing to find comprehensive solutions to our persisting racial and economic inequality (Frankenberg & DeBray, forthcoming).


Note


1. Available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/raceassignmentese.html. It is anticipated that new guidance may be forthcoming.


References


Boger, J. C., & Orfield, G. (2005). School resegregation: Must the South turn back? Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.


Charles, C. Z. (2005). Can we live together? Racial preferences and neighborhood outcomes. In Briggs, X.D., (Ed.), The geography of opportunity: Race and housing choice in metropolitan America (pp. 45-80). Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution.


Clotfelter, C. T., Ladd, H. F., & Vigdor, J. (2005). Who teaches whom? Race and the distribution of novice teachers. Economics of Education Review, 24(4), 377–392.


Frankenberg, E., & Jacobsen, R. (forthcoming). Trends-- School integration polls. Public Opinion Quarterly.


Frankenberg, E. (2009a).  The segregation of American teachers. Education Policy Analysis Archives 17(1).


Frankenberg, E. (2009b). The demographic context of urban schools and districts. Equity and Excellence in Education 42(3), 255-271.


Frankenberg, E., & Siegel-Hawley, G. (2011). Choosing diversity: School choice and racial integration in the age of Obama. Stanford Journal on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, 6(2), 219-252.


Frankenberg, E., & DeBray, E. (Eds.). (forthcoming). Integrating schools in a changing society: New policies and legal options for a multiracial generation. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.


Harris, D. J., & Mcardle, N. (2004). More than money: The spatial mismatch between where homeowners of color in metro Boston can afford to live and where they actually reside. Cambridge, MA: Metro Boston Equity Initiative, Harvard Civil Rights Project.


Holme, J., & Wells, A.S. (2008). School choice beyond district borders: Lessons for the reauthorization of NCLB from interdistrict desegregation and open enrollment plans. In R. Kahlenberg (Ed.), Improving on No Child Left Behind: Getting education reform back on track, pp. 139-215. New York: Century Foundation.


Le, C. Q. (forthcoming). Advancing the integration agenda under the Obama Administration and beyond. In E. Frankenberg & E. DeBray (Eds.), Integrating schools in a changing society: New policies and legal options for a multiracial generation. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.


LeClaire, B. (2011, May 7). Tata finishes first 90 days as superintendent. Raleigh Public Record. Retrieved from http://www.raleighpublicrecord.org/news/2011/05/07/tata-finishes-first-90-days-as-superintendent/


Massey, D., & Denton, N.A. (1993). American apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Orfield, G., & Eaton, S. (1996). Dismantling desegregation: The quiet reversal of Brown v. Board of Education. New York: The New Press.


Orfield, G. (2001). Metropolitan school desegregation. In j. a. powell, G. Kearney, & V. Kay (Eds.), In pursuit of a dream deferred (pp. 121-157). Peter Lang: New York.


Orfield, G. (2009). Reviving the goal of an integrated society: A 21st century challenge. Los Angeles: UCLA Civil Rights Project.


Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District #1, 127 S.Ct. 2738 (2007).


Parker, W. (2009). Desegregating teachers. Washington University Law Review, 86(1), 2-53.


Reardon, S., & Yun, J. T. (2005). Integrating neighborhoods, segregating schools: The retreat from school desegregation in the South, 1990-2000. In. J.C. Boger & G. Orfield (Eds.), School resegregation: Must the South turn back? (pp. 51-69). Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.


Ryan, J. (2010). Five miles away, a world apart: Two schools and the story of educational opportunity in modern America. Cambridge: Oxford University Press.





Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 22, 2011
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16548, Date Accessed: 12/3/2021 11:15:50 PM

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About the Author
  • Erica Frankenberg
    Pennsylvania State University
    E-mail Author
    ERICA FRANKENBERG is an assistant professor in the Department of Education Policy Studies in the College of Education at the Pennsylvania State University. She received her Ed.D. in Administration, Planning and Social Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2008. Her research interests focus on racial desegregation and inequality in K-12 schools, and the connections between school segregation policies and other metropolitan policies. Her work has been published in several education policy and law journals and she is a contributing co-editor of Integrating schools in a changing society: New policies and legal options for a multiracial generation. With Kathryn McDermott and Elizabeth DeBray, she is the recipient of a grant from the Spencer Foundation to study the implementation of the federal Technical Assistance for Student Assignment Plans (TASAP) grants in 2011-2012.
 
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