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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

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.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 9, 2005, p. 2141-2177 ID Number: 12156, Date Accessed: 10/21/2018 1:36:37 PM

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