Friday, June 29, 2007

Equal Opportunity and Diversity: A Teacher's Perspective

In response to yesterday’s Supreme Court rulings on school integration, Michael Petrilli of the National Review published a 10 item “to do list”, directed towards educators and activists who “really care about the future of black and brown students.” Petrilli argued that surest way to achieve an integrated society is to improve the quality of education in urban school districts by hiring better teachers, giving principals control of budgets and hiring, implementing strict discipline programs, and holding both teachers and schools accountable for their academic results. Such an approach, he argues, will “make more difference to [minority] kids than the skin color of those in the adjoining desks.” As a former teacher, I agree with many of Petrilli’s recommendations for improving the quality of urban school districts,but I disagree with his proposition that the goals of integration and educational excellence are mutually exclusive.

I spent the entirety of my teaching career in segregated schools, many of which produced outstanding students. I taught for three years in a public school in a large city that was 100% African American and Hispanic, but my students scored higher on the state achievement tests than any urban students in the state, and as high as students in the wealthy suburbs nearby. The school I taught in had a small student body, complete control over hiring and finances, a strict discipline policy, and teachers from Ivy League universities. I cannot say that my students’ ability to learn reading or math was compromised by the fact that there were no white students in the school. However, I am certain that their cultural understanding was limited as a result.

I taught world geography and culture, and was constantly amazed by how isolated my students were from other cultural groups. Many of them had never eaten Chinese food and had no idea that Judaism even existed, despite the fact that there were large Chinese and Jewish neighborhoods less than 1 mile away. Though my African American and Hispanic students were curious and eager to learn about the world around them, I always felt that their understanding of other cultures and experiences was purely academic. With no personal connections to what we were learning, other cultures remained profoundly foreign.

I had similar experiences when I taught for a year at a private school in Seattle with no African American or Hispanic students. One day, my students were studying imperialism and reading Rudyard Kipling’s poem The White Man’s Burden. We talked about Kipling’s use of the n-word in the poem, a conversation which I concluded by saying, “But, of course, we don’t use that word today.” One of my students, a bright, kind, and funny kid, raised his hand, and said, in all earnestness, “Why not? There aren’t any black people here.” Though I expected that my students would want to discuss the statement, they were completely disinterested in the impact of racial slurs on society as a whole. Without any contact with people of other ethnic or racial groups, my students had no clear sense of empathy for them, and no desire to delve deeply into the experiences of other people.

What scares me most about the rollback on Brown’s promise of school integration is not the impact it may have on academic achievement (although I do think that school districts, spooked by this ruling, will be reluctant to even talk about race in schools, thus making it extremely difficult to provide at risk students with the additional resources they need). Rather, I’m troubled by the possibility that more children in this country will be educated in a segregated environment, lacking the understanding, empathy, and personal connection to people of other backgrounds which is necessary to participate in both American democracy and a global society.

In light of yesterday’s ruling, those of us who truly care about the education of students of color must continue to advocate for BOTH educational excellence in our schools AND for diverse and integrated learning environments. To reach one goal and not the other would be a specious victory.


Press Releases--School Segregation Cases

-The Civil Rights Project, UCLA
-NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
-United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
-National Organization of Women (NOW)
-Minority Corporate Counsel Association
-Ms. Magazine
-National School Boards Association
-Equal Justice Society
-Legal Momentum
-Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
-Magnet Schools of America
-Public Education Network (PEN)


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Joint Statement of Nine University-Based Civil Rights Centers on Today’s Supreme Court Rulings on Voluntary School Desegregation

June 28, 2007--This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged the well-documented benefits of racially and ethnically diverse schools, but severely limited the very tools school districts need to achieve integration and avoid segregation.

Ironically, today’s decision comes at a time when, more than ever, social science research offers powerful evidence of the strong benefits of diversity for students, communities, and a democratic society. Similarly, research has also long demonstrated the detrimental effects of segregation and its ever-present attendant, concentrated poverty, in our public schools on educational opportunity, race relations and the psychological development of young people.

Public policy, thus, should encourage rather than hamstring local educators who have come to recognize both the benefits of desegregation and racial/economic diversity and the harmful effects of segregation. Like educators in Louisville and Seattle, so many local educators across the country had voluntarily taken action to foster diverse learning experiences in public schools, usually through choice-based programs that allow parents greater opportunities to choose their children’s schools. Educators took such actions voluntarily and not because any court had ordered “busing” or “mandatory” desegregation.

Today’s decision striking down the student assignment plans in these two districts is inconsistent with the ever-growing body of research accumulated during a half century in studies of both segregated and desegregated schools. The ruling comes at a time when school segregation rates for racial minority students are rising in every region of the nation following earlier Supreme Court decisions leading to the termination of desegregation court orders. It is a trend lamented by experienced educators who have not merely studied the research, but who have decades of on-the-ground experience with the harm of racial and economic segregation.

Although today’s ruling is a disappointment, the majority of the Court recognized that integration is a compelling interest and that there are some legally acceptable techniques including zoning and site selection and that choice plans that consider multiple factors could be upheld with appropriate educational justification. In reviewing today’s decision, it appears that several avenues for maintaining diversity are still open and legally permissible. Also, courts generally grant communities time to come into compliance with rulings such as this.

Each one of our centers, located across the nation, pledges to work in the coming months and years with educators and advocates in local communities who wish to foster integration, avoid segregation and keep the uniquely American aspiration of Brown alive. Permissible options may include race-conscious efforts that do not single out any one student on the basis of his or her race such as siting schools in areas that would naturally draw students from a mixture of racial/ethnic backgrounds or magnet schools that have special programs that draw students from different backgrounds. Some communities have crafted assignment plans that bring together students from various geographic areas of cities (or metropolitan areas) into individual schools. Similarly, under the No Child Left Behind Act, children in schools in need of improvement are permitted transfer to other schools within their district. If interdistrict transfers were permitted, this too, might be lead to greater racial and economic diversity.

School districts under existing court orders to remedy racial discrimination are not affected by this ruling. Districts should continue to thoughtfully consider the consequences of ending their desegregation plans given today’s decision. School districts should also investigate the experience of other districts, the consequences of abandoning integration policies, and carefully consider all their options before deciding how to change their existing policies. We will make every effort to put districts in touch with legal and educational experts from their region to think about ways to comply with the Court decision with the least adverse consequences.

Similarly, we will collaboratively document the effects of the Court ruling on rates of segregation, student achievement, graduation rates and the nature of educational opportunity in what we expect will be an increasing number of racially segregated schools. Just as important, our centers will continue to study and report on what is known about how to construct successful multiracial schools. In our increasingly multiracial, multiethnic and multi-linguistic nation, it is more crucial than ever that we continue to develop and promote working models of educational institutions that approximate the larger society students will someday join. Although the Court has spoken, the American people and their elected representatives have not yet responded. When they do, it is our hope and firm belief that today’s decision will be regarded as ill-reasoned, ill-advised, but not insurmountable obstacle to realizing our cherished ideal of a vibrant integrated society.

A variety of academic institutions and research organizations, including the American Educational Research Association and the American Psychological Association, had submitted briefs to the Court in these cases about the benefits of diversity and harms of segregation. The general findings bear repeating.

Generally, students in segregated, high-poverty schools -- disproportionate numbers of whom are African-American, Latino and economically disadvantaged -- are taught by less qualified, less experienced teachers. The course offerings in such schools are generally severely limited, including a lack of college preparatory instruction often required for college entry and the levels of academic competition are usually not nearly as rigorous as a student would experience in predominantly middle-class more diverse schools. Further, these schools have far lower relative graduation rates (research strongly suggests that concentrated poverty and segregation itself – as independent variables – contribute to low relative graduation rates). Such schools are often overwhelmed with myriad social problems that are symptoms of poverty. In addition, both white and nonwhite students lose increasingly critical opportunities to deepen understanding of complex social and political issues and to prepare for successful life, work and citizenship in our profoundly changing society. Research demonstrates that racially and ethnically mixed schools promote cross-racial understanding in ways not possible in segregated school environments, making integrated student bodies essential ingredients in preparing children for citizenship and work in a society where whites are projected to be a minority group by 2050.

In the 2004-05 school year, more than 42 percent of students in our public schools are nonwhite. Our two largest regions – the South and West – have a markedly multiracial enrollment with white students in the minority. Experience has long shown that increased racial segregation brings with it increased economic segregation. In many cases, it also brings linguistic segregation.

Cutting off remedies to segregation, in the manner that the Court has done today, will not make these inequalities disappear. There exists no evidence that current educational policies will significantly reduce the large racial and economic gaps in achievement and graduation rates. The concomitant rise of segregation and educational inequality has long been evident in districts that had been forced by lower federal courts to drop desegregation policies. Civil rights groups and local communities will, and should, aggressively pursue every permissible route to provide more equitable opportunities for students in resegregated schools.

The nation's highest court upheld the sham of Plessy v. Ferguson’s "separate but equal" doctrine for 58 years until it held in Brown v. Board of Education that it was unworkable where schools were concerned. As a result of today’s decision, and in light of the Supreme Court’s devastating 1973 holding in Rodriguez, that there is no Constitutional right to equal funding of public education, the Court more deeply institutionalizes “separate and unequal” for minority children.

As Justice Douglas observed in 1974, dissenting in Milliken v. Bradley, limiting the scope of permissible desegregation “puts the problem of [minorities] and our society back to the period that antedated the ‘separate but equal’ regime of Plessy v. Ferguson.” The legal standard now, it seems, is “separate but nothing.” This policy accepts racial and ethnic inequality and leaves minorities at the mercy of state and local politics, in much the same way we did before Brown. As segregation deepens, communities and citizens should closely monitor what happens to achievement, graduation levels, college access and persistence, and success in adult life.

Brown v. Board of Education has long been widely celebrated as the greatest Supreme Court decision of the last century. It recognized that "separate but equal" was a legal fiction and it was the trigger for the dismantling of hundreds of apartheid laws of the Southern and Border states. After Congress enacted the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Supreme Court in Green v. New Kent County supported mandatory and comprehensive desegregation, the schools in the South became the most integrated in the nation for the next third of a century. The legacy of the widely celebrated Brown decision, though, has been undermined in a series of Supreme Court decisions over the past three decades which includes today’s ruling. We have already lost much of the progress in desegregation achieved in the last 40 years for black students. Latino students, now our largest minority group face even more extreme isolation and educational inequality, often facing triple segregation by ethnicity, poverty, and language.

When the Court handed down Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, there were no civil rights research centers in the nation's great universities documenting the negative results. A small cadre of dedicated lawyers and scholars at the preeminent historically black Howard University Law School, aided by a few researchers led to the legal theories and cases that culminated with the triumph of Brown.

The national debate on this issue is far from over. Today, ever more researchers and advocates are watching. As civil-rights research centers, we consider it our duty to carefully document the consequences of today’s ruling and to assist school districts struggling with decisions about what direction to take now. We stand even more strongly committed to making the aspiration of equal life chances, most clearly manifest in the Brown decision, alive in our time.

-Campaign for Educational Equity, Teachers College, Columbia University
-Center for Civil Rights Center, University of North Carolina School of Law
-Center for Multicultural Education, University of Washington
-Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
-Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, Harvard University
-The Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity, University of California at Berkeley
-The Civil Rights Project, Harvard University and University of California at Los Angeles
-Institute for Race and Poverty, University of Minnesota
-Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, Ohio State University


Louisville: The Response

For school districts around the country worried about the future of diversity in their own schools, take heart: Louisville, whose integration plan was invalidated by the Court's decision today, has declared their intention to remain a committed role model in finding a way to give all of their children the inclusive, integrated education they deserve.

Among the voices speaking out about this commitment:

  • Incoming JCPS Superintendent Sheldon Berman states here that the district will not allow its schools to lapse back into segregation.

  • Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville branch of the NAACP promised his organization's support here.

  • Pat Todd, the district’s director of student assignment, emphasizes that Louisville will take its time determining how to make their plan in line with the decision here.

  • The Louisville Courier-Journal provides a question and answer sheet based on a Louisville School District press conference here.

  • JCPS school officials issue a post-decision press release here.


New York Times Editorial ("Resegregation Now") Blasts Roberts and Majority

"The Supreme Court ruled 53 years ago in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated education is inherently unequal, and it ordered the nation’s schools to integrate. Today, the court switched sides and told two cities that they cannot take modest steps to bring public school students of different races together. It was a sad day for the court and for the ideal of racial equality."

"Since 1954, the Supreme Court has been the nation’s driving force for integration. Its orders required segregated buses and public buildings, parks and playgrounds to open up to all Americans. It wasn’t always easy: governors, senators and angry mobs talked of massive resistance. But the court never wavered, and in many of the most important cases it spoke unanimously."

'Today, the court’s radical new majority turned its back on that proud tradition in a 5-4 ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts. It has been some time since the court, which has grown more conservative by the year, did much to compel local governments to promote racial integration. But now it is moving in reverse, broadly ordering the public schools to become more segregated."

Click here for the full editorial.

Also, click here for an informative Linda Greenhouse analysis in the NYT.


MALDEF Condemns Narrow Supreme Court Ruling

Today, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) condemned the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling overturning circuit court decisions that allowed the limited use of race in voluntary school integration plans. Ruling against plans by the Seattle, Washington and Jefferson County, Kentucky public schools, " a fractured majority of the U.S. Supreme Court deprived Latino children - and all American children - the hope of quality education in a diverse environment to prepare them for the 21st century," stated John Trasviña, MALDEF President and General Counsel. "Four Justices, led by Chief Justice Roberts, have turned their backs on the promise of Brown v. Board of Education and held that achieving racial diversity in public schools is not a compelling government interest and is never constitutionally sound.

MALDEF submitted a brief to the Court in support of the limited use of race in voluntary local school integration plans. MALDEF's brief was joined by 16 Latino organizations urging the Court to take into account the cases' effect upon Latino students, who are more likely than other students to be enrolled in segregated public schools.

"At the same time, Justice Kennedy, the key swing vote on the current Court, held that such plans may be constitutionally sound as long as race is only one limited factor among other considerations used in making school assignments. Justice Kennedy's opinion leaves the door open for schools to consider race in a limited way to foster diversity," stated MALDEF Litigation Director Cynthia Valenzuela. "Schools should take that opportunity and design integration plans that use race as one of several factors in making school assignments."

"Our nation's public schools are more segregated than they were before the Court\'s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education," added Peter Zamora, Washington, D.C. Regional Counsel and Co-Chair of the Hispanic Education Coalition. "MALDEF will work with local school districts to reverse this disturbing trend and ensure that schools create school integration plans that reflect our national commitment to desegregation while complying with the strict constitutional limits set forth in these cases."


Louisville Courier Journal: "Thwarting Equity"

The Louisville Courier Journal's editorial eloquently expresses that community's disappointment in today's decision and its determination to continue the struggle for integration. The passages below are stirring:

"Faced with a choice between continuing or ending Jefferson County’s opportunity-enhancing, popularly supported and nationally acclaimed plan for keeping its once-segregated schools racially integrated and equitable, the Court chose, 5-to-4, to end it.

In doing so, the majority declared unconstitutional the very same race-conscious assignment practices that its civil-rights minded predecessors had deemed constitutionally necessary.

It declared impermissible the very same achievement of integration that those earlier jurists had so wisely required, with such profoundly gratifying results for our society.

As a result, the near total racial isolation and educational despair that pervade so many American cities today are considered constitutionally just; the racial diversity and educational opportunity that Jefferson County has voluntarily and proudly attained are rejected as constitutionally unjust.

A more bitter or unjustified blow is hard to conceive.

The only thing worse would be for people of good will here to stagger under that blow and give up.

What we have gained for our children and for our community’s social health is far too important to lose, and despite the callous, ideological lockstep of this decision, there remains a glimmer of hope.

School authorities may still “find a way to achieve the compelling interests they face without resorting to widespread governmental allocation of benefits and burdens on the basis of racial classification.”

That is precisely the challenge that the school board, its new superintendent and federal District Court Judge John G. Heyburn must accept and meet.

Other means must be found to preserve both the diversity and choice that families of both races value so highly. Simply returning to segregated neighborhood schools would sacrifice far too much of both.

As Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the stirring minority dissent, “This is a decision the Court and the Nation will come to regret.”

The same shouldn’t be said of our response."


More "Grutter-ization" of Schools

Jack Balkin joins the growing crowd of voices who, in trying to make sense of Justice Kennedy's pivotal concurrence, have labeled it an extension of Grutter in elementary and secondary schools. He also notes that Kennedy is in some ways an unlikely proponent of Grutter:

"Grutter becomes the model, if not in the plurality opinion, then in Justice Kennedy's...And that is quite interesting, precisely because Kennedy himself did not join the majority opinion in Grutter. In one stroke he has signalled that he is more or less on board with Grutter. That is good news for people who were worried that all affirmative action policies were now in danger following Justice O'Connor's retirement. Kennedy may not uphold the next affirmative action policy that comes before the Court. But his position on affirmative action is not the same as the plurality's, much less that of Justice Thomas."


Ted Shaw to Appear on News Hour with Jim Lehrer Tonight

On Friday, he will appear on Friday's Democracy Now with Amy Goodman and NPR's Tell Me More.


Original Plaintiff in Louisville Desegregation Case Decries Today's Ruling

Suzy Post, the mother of five children in Louisville public schools and the only living plaintiff from the original Louisville desegregation lawsuit published this piece in the Louisville Courier-Journal

Today's Supreme Court decision undermining Jefferson County’s student assignment plan, adopted after a federal court of appeals ruled in 1975 that our schools were racially segregated, is a massive step backwards for all of our parents and children who prize educational excellence.

The 1975 lawsuit was brought by the Kentucky Civil Liberties Union and then merged with another brought by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights. The reason the lawsuit was brought was that Louisville and Jefferson County public schools were racially identifiable. That is, you could look at a school’s student population and identify it as white or black by the racial preponderance in a specific school.

Experience has shown that segregating students in this manner insures inequity to the student population with the fewest resources. For example, white students in white schools disproportionately came from relatively financially secure families. However black students in black schools came disproportionately from families with fewer financial resources.

This inequity translated into unequal school resources. For example, when the lawsuit was filed, Central High School had broken or missing seats in its auditorium. Many of its windows were broken, and there was no vegetation surrounding the school. After U.S. District Court Judge James Gordon ruled that the board must design a student assignment plan that allowed schools to escape from the racially identifiable tag, white parents whose children would be bused to Central got busy, and voilà! Almost overnight the chairs had seats, the broken windows were replaced, and trees were planted on the school playground.

Maybe more important, students who had had no experience with kids of different races were going to the same classes together. The busing plan, which was implemented three years after the filing of the lawsuit, was one that the majority of this county’s population soon endorsed.

Yes, there was white flight, and some kids left public school altogether. But the vast majority stayed, and after a tense opening, and some minor problems related to the busing of students, the plan was accepted by our community. The present Supreme Court’s treatment of Brown v. Board of Education — in which the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that “separate was not equal” when it came to the delivery of public education — is in a word, despicable.

This decision will undo years of good community relations among different races in our city, it will adulterate our educational goals once again, and it will be a tragic step back to a time when we lived segregated lives, with segregated schools and segregated relationships.

Make no mistake: Black, white, Latino and Asians interacting on a daily basis has a profound relationship to the vitality of our community and to positive community growth. Just as immigration has made this country vibrant, so has integrated education made it more possible. We will not be grateful for this decision or for the capriciousness of the lawsuit that produced this outcome. Tragic may be too dramatic an adjective to use in describing this giant step backward, but to my mind, it fits.


Council of the Great City Schools Views Ruling as a "Pronounced Step Backwards"

Statement by Michael Casserly. Executive Director, Council of the Great City Schools

The Council of the Great City Schools, the coalition of the nation’s largest city school districts—including Louisville and Seattle, denounces today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down student assignment plans in Louisville and Seattle designed to promote racial diversity in their public schools.

Today’s troubling decision will make it harder for these and other cities to maintain an integrated student body, prevent racial resegregation, improve academic performance, and build a more equitable and competitive America. The ruling now forbids school systems across the nation from using the same strategies that the federal courts once ordered them to implement.

The Council is heartened that a majority of the Court reaffirms that there is a compelling interest in achieving diversity in public school classrooms, and that race-conscious strategies can be consistent with the Constitution. As a practical matter, however, the Court has left school districts across the land with few viable alternatives for using race in pursuit of that interest. School districts now have even fewer options to achieve the racial diversity that was possible before the decision.

Therefore, the Council decries the court’s ruling in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District and Crystal D. Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education as a deliberate and pronounced step backwards in the nation’s long march toward racial equality. And the Council views the Bush Administration’s stance in promoting this outcome as deplorable.


Campaign For Educational Equity at Teacher's College Condemns Court's Ruling

The Campaign for Educational Equity, based at Teachers College, Columbia University, has denounced today’s decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in the school diversity cases, Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education (Louisville, KY.) and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District. While the Court’s decision to strike down two comprehensive voluntary integration plans was blunted by Justice Kennedy’s separate opinion that some use of race in assigning students to schools is permissible, school districts’ options for implementing comprehensive integration plans have been narrowed considerably, Campaign leaders said.

“While Kennedy’s decisions is significant in guarding against a legal precedent that race cannot be considered at all, school officials across the country will be more challenged in their effort to achieve racial integration in practice. This is a setback on the road to a more racially integrated and equal society, but not as bad as it could have been,” said Amy Stuart Wells, Deputy Director of The Campaign and Professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College.

An amicus brief written by Dr. Wells, one of the nation's leading experts on desegregation, was part of the evidence the Court considered in the case.

“By holding that two well-conceived and comprehensive plans for undoing racial isolation in large urban school systems are unconstitutional, a majority of this court has tied the hands of hundreds of locally elected public education officials trying to balance and stabilize their schools,” Wells said. “Such a ruling is clearly out of touch with the values of our increasingly diverse society and the overwhelming evidence of social science research.”

Despite the legal precedent established by the Court in its landmark 1954 decision, Brown v. Board of Education, American schools have steadily re-segregated since the 1980s, as many standing Court orders to districts to integrate were lifted. Today’s decision limits integration efforts even further by making it more difficult for local school officials to devise and implement voluntary – as opposed to court-mandated -- efforts to racially balance their schools.

“Although we strongly disagree with the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment adopted by Chief Justice Roberts and three other members of the Court, we are heartened by Justice Kennedy’s concurring decision which leaves the door open for pursuing alternative methods to avoid racial isolation in the public schools,” said Michael A. Rebell, Executive Director of The Campaign for Educational Equity. “Kennedy represented the key swing vote in this 5-4 decision, and that means that his interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment will be the key precedent in this area.” Justice Kennedy agreed with the Chief Justice and three members of the Court that the particular voluntary desegregation plans in Louisville and Seattle were not “narrowly tailored” and thus, that they did not pass constitutional muster. However, Kennedy wrote clearly in his separate opinion that “To the extent the plurality opinion suggests the Constitution mandates that state and local school authorities must accept the status quo of racial isolation in schools, it is, in my view, profoundly mistaken...”

Enacted in 2001, the Jefferson County plan, which includes the city of Louisville, stipulates that all schools -- including magnet schools -- must have a minimum black enrollment of 15 percent and a maximum of 50 percent. The Seattle “Open Choice” plan is designed to make high schools mirror, as closely as possible, the city's overall racial composition of 60 percent minority and 40 percent white.

Wells’ brief -- filed through the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) and co-signed by Jay Heubert, also of Teachers College; Linda Darling-Hammond, of Stanford University; Jomills Braddock, of the University of Miami; Jeannie Oakes of UCLA, along with Rebell – documents the benefits of integrated schooling, both to graduates themselves and society as a whole. It also chronicles repeated previous rulings of by the Court that support precisely the kinds of integration efforts undertaken by the Seattle and Jefferson County districts. Federal appeals courts had previously affirmed the validity of the Jefferson County and Seattle plans.

Kennedy’s decision, while striking down the Louisville and Seattle plans, would allow districts to use other measures, such as strategic “site selection of new schools; drawing attendance zones with general recognition of neighborhood demographics; allocating resources for special programs; and recruiting students and faculty in a targeted fashion.”

Such measures, Wells notes, are helpful, but are less likely to have kind of comprehensive, systemic impact on racial integration that the Louisville and Seattle plans have had. “This will be the new challenge for school districts and our society,” she said. “To accomplish an important societal goal – racially integrated public schools – via far more limited means.”

Teachers College’s Campaign for Educational Equity was founded in 2005 to further the College’s commitment to assuring all children access to a more equal and meaningful education. The mission of the Campaign is to study the barriers to greater equality in education and to advocate for policies and practices that assure students from all racial/ethnic and social class backgrounds have equal educational opportunities. Through its research initiative and policy programs, the Campaign is helping to broaden understanding of such opportunities by examining, among other things, the role of community, segregation, and concentrated poverty in the lives of children and in their school experiences.

In November, the Campaign will host a major equity symposium, which will explore the implications of Justice Kennedy’s decision in depth and will consider the broad variety of avenues for helping school districts achieve and maintain racial diversity that are allowed under that ruling. Speakers and presenters will include Legal Defense Fund Director Ted Shaw, Harvard Law School’s Lani Guinier; and Hoover Institute scholar and frequent court critic Eric Hanushek.

The Symposium will also highlight the research and legal theories that contribute to understanding of Chief Justice Roberts’ decision which, according to Wells, ignores not only solid social science evidence, but also the beliefs of the vast majority of Americans who say that diversity in public education is important for the future of U.S. democracy and America’s standing in a global economy.

“The overwhelming body of evidence shows that integrated education provides benefits not only to minority students, but also majority students and the population at large,” Wells said.

Both Rebell and Wells vowed the The Campaign will work with educators and political leaders to continue to identify constitutionally appropriate methods for helping school districts achieve and maintain public school diversity, since there are strong benefits to the students and society for doing so…

“We stand committed to partnering with local leaders in Louisville, Seattle and other community around the country in pursuit of the crucial goal of diverse, inclusive quality education for all of our children,” said Rebell. “In addition we plan to work with the U.S. Congress to strengthen the No Child Left Behind Act and with state courts which are enforcing educational guarantees in state constitutions to continue to implement the vision of equal educational opportunity which was articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown.”


School Integration and Grutter

While advocates and analysts on both sides of the Seattle and Louisville cases have been debating what they mean for the legacy of Brown, Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog examines how today's rulings follow in the steps of a more recent education case, Grutter v. Bollinger:

"One reading of today’s decision in the race cases is that the Supreme Court has outlawed programs that seek to increase racial diversity in the schools. Justice Kennedy’s concurrence does not adopt that view, however. And because his is the fifth vote, it is controlling. The better view, I think, is that the Court today has come close to extending the Grutter model to the lower school context, holding that school districts may account for race as one factor among many in student placement."

Goldstein goes on to discuss what the decision leaves open:

"Here is what is not perfectly clear, and regrettably so. Justice Kennedy leaves open the substantial prospect that schools can use the Grutter model of employing race as one of many factors, even absent a showing that other efforts that do not involve the express use of race have failed. But he does not clearly decide the issue, which is the major open jurisprudential question."

In a later post, Goldstein expands on his conclusions:

"So, progressives may be relatively sanguine about the decision. (And conservatives may be disappointed.) For liberals, it could have been – indeed, after argument, it was widely expected to be – much worse." On the other hand, he notes, "Justice Kennedy’s proposed alternative that schools consider race as one among many factors in admissions (a la Grutter) strikes me as impractical. K-12 school assignment is not comparable to the admissions process for college and graduate programs. For resource reasons at the very least, school districts must paint with a much broader brush."


Equal Justice Society: Critical but Optimistic

(June 28, 2007) - The Equal Justice Society issued the following statement today regarding the Supreme Court decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education:

"We're encouraged that school districts may continue to use available tools to achieve the critical goals of equal educational opportunity and inclusion that a majority of the Court endorsed today," said Charles Ogletree, Harvard Law School Jesse Climenko Professor of Law, founding and executive director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, and board chair of the Equal Justice Society.

"Just as race can still be considered to achieve the goal of attaining integration and diversity in K-12 education," continued Ogletree, "this decision continues to endorse the core ruling of the University of Michigan affirmative action decisions and the ability to use race as a factor to achieve the compelling interest of diversity in education."

"Although the Court struck down the specific school integration plans, a majority of the Justices recognize and acknowledge that educational diversity and eliminating segregation in all its divisive forms remains a compelling governmental interest. Fortunately, school districts can continue to take race into account to achieve these important ends," said Kimberly Thomas Rapp, EJS director of law and public policy.

"While we disagree with the ruling since it limits options available to school districts to eliminate racial segregation, we agree with the majority of Justices that believe school districts can affirmatively consider race as a factor among many when pursuing diversity and inclusion in our schools. Many options remain open to schools that allow districts to take race into account, including factors such as site selection, drawing attendance zones and magnet schools," said Thomas Rapp.

"It's troubling that four members of the Court -- including the two most recent Justices nominated by President Bush -- would have outlawed almost all effective efforts to promote inclusion in our nation's schools. They would have preferred to tear apart Brown v. Board of Education, which ended de jure segregation, from its historical roots and would have used it to blind school districts to existing racial segregation in their communities. The extreme position taken by these Justices highlights the importance of closer scrutiny of justices and judges nominated by the President."


National School Board Assocation Press Release--Disappointed but not Defeated

"NSBA Disappointed, but Hopeful, as Supreme Court Strikes Down Seattle, Louisville School District Voluntary Integration Plans"

Alexandria, VA – June 28 - The National School Boards Association (NSBA) today expressed disappointment in the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to strike down the voluntary integration plans of the Seattle and Louisville school districts, but maintained hope that a majority of the court recognized the ability of school boards to continue to maintain racial diversity as a legitimate educational goal. The cases were Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District #1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., who wrote the majority opinion in the combined cases, said that the two school districts have "failed to provide the necessary support for the proposition that there is no other way than individual racial classifications to avoid racial isolation in their school districts."

“Despite the majority opinion, we are pleased with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s separate concurrence that explicitly rejected the plurality’s contention that racial diversity constituted racial balancing, which is constitutionally impermissible,” said NSBA General Counsel Francisco Negrón. Justice Kennedy and four other members of the court constituting a majority recognize that diversity as an educational goal remains a compelling government interest.

"We hope that school boards will continue to pursue those educational priorities through careful race-conscious policies,” said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant. These measures could include school site selection, magnet programs, and attendance zones. NSBA is also advising school boards to engage their local communities and meet with experts to devise specific policies to meet their goal of classroom diversity.

“I see hope in this decision because Justice Kennedy left open the possibility of the use of race to achieve classroom diversity,” Negrón said. “He did not give us a lot of guidance on how the plan must be devised, but he expressed confidence in the ability of school boards and communities to bring the kind of creativity and energy that is essential to the very important goal of diversity as an educational goal."

“School districts have a compelling reason to create a diverse learning environment because it helps improve student achievement and prepares students to live and work in an increasingly diverse society,” Bryant said."

NSBA’s complete amicus brief, as well as more resources on the cases, can be found at

The National School Boards Association, a federation of state school boards associations representing more than 95,000 local school board members, closely monitors the courts and regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs in cases that affect the nation’s 50 million public school students.


Statement from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on the Supreme Court's Rulings in Seattle and Louisville School Cases

Today's decision striking down voluntary school integration plans in Louisville, KY and Seattle, WA is a step backward from Brown v. Board of Education. LDF is deeply disappointed that five Justices of the Supreme Court today struck down the voluntary racial integration plans of the Seattle, Washington, and Louisville, Kentucky, school systems as unconstitutional because they were not "narrowly tailored" to take race into account to the minimum extent necessary.

We stand with local governments, school boards, and families committed to providing a high-quality, inclusive, integrated and diverse education for all students. Americans have long understood, and the courts, Congress and local governments have repeatedly recognized that to strive for anything less would do a grave disservice to our children and to the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education and that unanimous decision's mandate to end racially-segregated schools.

We believe that the four dissenting Justices, who joined in an opinion authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, explained the compelling necessity for the measures pursued by these school systems to avoid racially isolated schooling and unequal opportunities for children -- especially but not solely minority children -- that inevitably accompany those circumstances.

It is critically important to realize that today's decision does not categorically reject the use of race-conscious measures, or hold that it is unconstitutional for school districts to take steps, including steps that have a racial component, to create racially and ethnically diverse schools. While this split decision has both positive and negative implications for our nation and Constitution, we are very pleased that a majority of the Justices recognize educational diversity and overcoming our history of segregation to be compelling governmental interests -- among our country's highest priorities -- that can be pursued through careful race-conscious efforts.

Although Justice Kennedy concurred with the Chief Justice John Roberts's opinion in finding the specifics of the plans at issue to be unconstitutional, Kennedy refrained from joining them in their conclusion that the school districts did not have an interest in providing their children with an inclusive, integrated education. "My views do not allow me to join the balance of the opinion by The Chief Justice, which seems to me to be inconsistent in both its approach and its implications with the history, meaning, and reach of the Equal Protection Clause [of the Fourteenth Amendment]," he wrote.

Instead Justice Kennedy stated unequivocally: "To the extent the plurality opinion suggests the Constitution mandates that state and local school authorities must accept the status quo of racial isolation in schools, it is, in my view, profoundly mistaken..." Further, he wrote, "A compelling interest exists in avoiding racial isolation, an interest that a school district, in its discretion and expertise, may choose to pursue."

To achieve such a goal, a majority of the Justices made clear that a range of other, affirmative measures remain available to communities committed to diversity in schools. Justice Kennedy delineated a number of these options, including, strategic site selection of new schools; drawing attendance zones with consideration of neighborhood demographics; allocating resources for special programs; recruiting students and faculty in a targeted fashion; and tracking enrollments, performance and other statistics by race.

Even Chief Justice Roberts's opinion reaffirmed the holding of Grutter that "[t]he importance of . . . individualized consideration" in the program was "paramount, and consideration of race was one factor in a highly individualized, holistic review."

In 1954, the Brown Court spoke in one voice of the importance of education in the battle against prejudice and inequity, as the foundation of "our most basic public responsibilities... of good citizenship." It also stated that education "is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment."

Instead of speaking with one voice, today a deeply divided Court has narrowed the voluntary integration options for schools seeking to fulfill Brown's promise.

Today, the nation's public schools are more segregated than they were in 1970. It is of vital importance for communities to identify ways of fashioning solutions to this problem and to put these plans into action. These decisions have made their job much harder and, as a result, put America that much further away from providing the kind of educational experience necessary for America to not just compete but also thrive in the 21st century.

We call on communities and leaders around our country to pursue the tools that remain available to achieve the important goals of equal educational opportunity and inclusion that a majority of the Court endorsed today.

Americans value the differences that have made our nation as technologically, culturally, and ideologically innovative as it is today. We will remain a country committed to diversity -- no court decision can change that.


Reactions to the Opinions

The Associated Press publishes reactions to today's opinions in the school segregation cases. Some examples include:

"This is a very lame excuse to tell a school system that they don't have to use race as an arbiter to help kids achieve and get a fair deal. In a world that still has the vestiges of racism, that's a ridiculous rational." - Warlene Gary, CEO of the National Parent Teacher Association.
"Today's decision turns back the clock on equality in our schools... Today's decision is false to Brown's promise of equality, making it far more difficult for local school boards to voluntarily bring students of different races together in the classroom. Fortunately, the Court's ruling does not entirely close the door on progress, and school districts must find a way to ensure that it continues."" - Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
"I'm confident the Jefferson County Public Schools leadership team will develop new guidelines for student assignment that will continue this community's commitment to diversity and educational excellence." - Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson.
"The Supreme Court decision in the school desegregation cases is appalling. Ever since Brown v. Board of Education, it has been settled law that the Constitution requires racially mixed schools. Today's decision turns Brown upside down and ignores decades of constitutional history. If this isn't judicial activism, I don't know what is." -Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
"The premise is laid for the resegregation of America and the denial of opportunity. ... Inheritance and access will not be counterbalanced by equal protection." - the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
"It so limits what the districts can do, this decision. ... You need some mechanism to more assertively balance school enrollment." - Amy Stuart Wells, professor of sociology and education at Columbia University.
"A majority of the court still agrees that racial diversity is a boon to education, yet every time schools reach for that goal, the Supreme Court moves the goal posts." - Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
"Today's Supreme Court ruling has placed a serious obstacle in the way of achieving the vision of America first outlined in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education, where we see racially integrated education as the best way to reflect our great diversity, unite our nation, and make real our promise of equal opportunity for all." - Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
"These decisions take away the right of local communities to ensure that all students benefit from racially diverse classrooms. Recent evidence shows that integrated schools promote minority academic achievement, and can help close the achievement gap." - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.
"I believed so much in what we are doing I just felt we had to win. The goal here is to make sure all kids have access to great schools." - Kathleen Brose, president of Parents Involved in Community Schools, who sued the Seattle school district after her daughter failed to get into a highly regarded high school.


Guest Blogger: Seattle Schools and Bakke

by Professor Jim Ryan, UVA Law School

A quick reaction to today’s decision in the Seattle and Louisville cases:

It is easy to conclude that today’s decision is a defeat for those interested in maintaining or increasing racial integration in public schools. After all, a majority of the Court struck down two plans – one from Seattle and the other from Louisville – that used race in an attempt to integrate schools. But this reaction misses the more important and surely more enduring principle contained in today’s opinion: school districts can use race-conscious measures to achieve integrated schools.

That principle is contained in Justice Kennedy’s opinion, which is the controlling opinion for the Court. Justice Kennedy accepts that achieving diversity and overcoming racial isolation in public schools are compelling interests. He concluded that the use of race by Seattle and Louisville was too crude, involving individual classifications that divided students into white and black, or white and other. He explicitly endorses, however, a host of other means by which race can be taken into account, including race-conscious drawing of attendance zones, race-conscious siting of schools, and recruiting students in a “targeted fashion.” He also endorses the consideration of race of students as one of a number of factors when determining student assignment.

If this sounds somewhat familiar, it should. In many ways, Kennedy’s opinion is like Justice Powell’s opinion in Bakke. Powell, like Kennedy, disagreed with all of his other colleagues, and wrote an opinion for himself that was nonetheless controlling. Powell rejected the notion that race-based affirmative action programs should trigger little scrutiny, and he rejected the notion that race-based affirmative action programs should never be allowed. Instead, he concluded that race could be taken into account when admitting students to universities, provided that students were considered on an individualized basis and race was one factor among many.

At the time Bakke was decided, it, too, was easy to interpret as a defeat. After all, the Court struck down the immediate plan at issue in that case, just like it struck down the plans at issue in the Seattle and Louisville cases. Over time, however, it became clear that Justice Powell’s opinion provided ample opportunities for universities to take race into account, in a careful and narrowly tailored way, when admitting students. Affirmative action admissions programs on college campuses not only survived, but flourished and still exist today.

In thinking about the Seattle Schools case, one would do well to keep Powell’s opinion in Bakke in mind. At the end of the day, the real story here is not that these plans were struck down, despite what tomorrow’s headlines might say. The real story is that the Court, through Justice Kennedy, approved the careful and considered use of race-conscious measures to achieve integrated schools. The Court, in other words, did not prohibit the use of race, but explained how it could be used. On a day when many who champion school integration will find reason to feel dismayed, I should think the example of Justice Powell’s opinion in Bakke should give them cause for cautious optimism. After all, Powell’s opinion ultimately mattered more than the specific plan struck down in Bakke. So, too, I would predict, will Justice Kennedy’s opinion matter more than the specific results in these cases.


Boalt Hall Releases Media Advisory

Berkeley, CA—June 28, 2007.

The United States Supreme Court today sent school districts “back to the drawing board” in devising student assignment plans to promote racial integration, even as it recognized the compelling importance of avoiding racial isolation and achieving a diverse student body in public schools, according to Goodwin Liu, assistant professor of law and co-director of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law.

Although the Court held unconstitutional voluntary school integration policies in Seattle, WA, and Louisville, KY, the cases ended in a “4-1-4” split among the nine Justices. Four Justices, in an opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, endorsed a broad rule against the use of race in student assignment. Four other Justices, in a dissenting opinion authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, would have upheld the plans. Justice Kennedy, in a separate and controlling opinion, strongly endorsed the goal of racial integration in public schools while significantly limiting the use of race to classify individual students on the basis of race.

“Today a five-Justice majority of the Court recognized that racial integration of public schools remains a compelling and enduring aspiration for our society,” said Professor Liu. “Justice Kennedy’s controlling opinion leaves open several avenues for race-conscious measures to achieve integration, including strategic attendance zoning and school siting decisions as well as magnet schools and special programs. The upshot is that the Court has sent school districts literally back to the drawing board to devise creative assignment plans to integrate our public schools.”

“It is significant that a majority of the Court—Justice Kennedy and the four dissenting Justices—rejected Chief Justice Roberts’s attempt to read Brown v. Board of Education as a categorical rule of colorblindness,” according to Professor Liu. “It is remarkable that the Chief Justice of the United States would cite Brown to defeat not defend school integration, and five Justices rejected this view as deeply a historical.”


Guest Blogger: Louisville Mother Responds

by Fran Ellers, mother of two children in Jefferson County Public Schools, ages 9 and 11

I’m so disappointed – for my two kids, for our school system, and for students and families across the U.S. My son has six or seven running buddies at his elementary school, only one of whom is from our same neighborhood. The rest are from throughout the county and include children of other races and socioeconomic backgrounds. If we return to a system of neighborhood schools, that learning experience will be lost.

My middle-school daughter’s reaction: “You mean we don’t have to have integrated schools anymore? That sucks!”

I’m sure our school board and new superintendent will look closely at alternatives to promote diversity in schools, but I’m not sure what would be legal or workable. Because Louisville neighborhoods are so segregated, I’m wondering if the school system could substitute zip codes for race to ensure that schools are integrated. Even if that’s legal, however, I’m not sure our community would accept it. It could be more easily attacked by both white and black parents as inconveniencing families based on where they live.


Guest Blogger: Roberts v. Kennedy in the School Integration Cases

by Samuel Bagenstos, Constitutional Law Professor, Washington University, Saint Louis

At the end of his opinion in the school integration cases today, speaking for himself and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, Chief Justice Roberts reduces the matter to a simple point: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Here, he echoes Professor William Van Alstyne’s retort to Justice Blackmun’s famous statement in Bakke that “[t]o get beyond racism, we must first take account of race.” In response to that statement, Professor Van Alstyne wrote that “one gets beyond racism by getting beyond it now: by a complete, resolute, and credible commitment never to tolerate in one’s own life—or in the life or practices of one's government—the differential treatment of other human beings by race.”

But there is a disconnect here. The Louisville and Seattle school districts did not claim that they needed to engage in race-conscious student assignment to keep themselves from discriminating on the basis of race. As Chief Justice Roberts explained, the Louisville school district had already been declared unitary by a federal court, and there had never been any finding or admission of discrimination by the Seattle school district. The school districts contended instead that (among other things) racially identifiable housing patterns—themselves significantly the result of private discrimination—led to racially identifiable schools. Does a school system help us get beyond racism if it is forced to rely on and entrench the results of private housing segregation in school assignments? Do schools that are de facto segregated, as a result of these patterns, help us “stop discrimination on the basis of race”?

Chief Justice Roberts gives us no reason to believe that a rule of formal governmental race-blindness, that entrenches and enforces the results of private racial discrimination, will “stop discrimination on the basis of race.” He gives us nothing more than the platitude that when the government takes race into account it “reinforce[s] the belief, held by too many for too much of our history, that individuals should be judged by the color of their skin.” (Here he quotes from a 1993 opinion involving racial gerrymandering in redistricting.) Chief Justice Roberts is making an awfully doubtful empirical assertion here, without providing any empirical evidence. And the normative premise that school districts must take private discrimination as they find it, with their hands tied from responding to it, seems to me totally unjustifiable. Remember that here we are dealing with school districts that voluntarily chose to adopt integration plans—this isn’t a case involving court-ordered integration.

Justice Kennedy, by contrast, gets this key point: “To the extent that the plurality opinion suggests that the Constitution mandates that state and local school authorities must accept the status quo of racial isolation in schools, it is, in my view, profoundly mistaken.” Justice Kennedy’s concurrence in the judgment is far from perfect, but it is the first time that he has made clear in an opinion his understanding of the problem of private discrimination.

Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion will draw a lot of attention and criticism today—as well it should. The idea that school integration is at all the same as dividing students into different schools on the basis of race is offensive and blinkered. But Justice Kennedy’s opinion will be more important at the end of the day: It recognizes that school districts have a constitutionally permissible role in alleviating the effects of private discrimination—and that they may take account of race in doing so, so long as racial classifications of individual students are used only as a last resort. Given what might have happened in this case—and what Chief Justice Roberts wanted to have happen in this case—Justice Kennedy’s separate opinion leaves school districts a lot of space to do the right thing.


Where do we go from here?

In the immediate wake of this morning's decisions, school districts around the country are understandably concerned about their future ability to design, or continue to implement, plans to provide all of their students with an integrated education. An article in the Cincinnati Enquirer illustrates the worries of many communities: "Cincinnati Public Schools uses race as one of several factors in assigning students to its magnet schools, elementary schools that use specialized styles of education such as Montessori or Paidiea methods, or focus on particular subjects such as foreign languages." Given the reversal of the Seattle and Louisville plans today, what does the future hold for districts like Cincinnati?

It is important for these districts to realize that there is no need to be overly hasty in responding to these decisions, nor is there need to despair entirely. Certainly, the Court's dismantling programs that were the result of two communities' hard work and commitment to equal opportunity is a disappointment. But today's rulings were not a complete loss for those committed to fighting segregation and racial isolation in schools. A majority of the Court did recognize the importance of racial diversity in education, and found the pursuit of such diversity to be a compelling governmental interest. Although the particular combination of strategic elements in the Seattle and Louisville plans were found to be unconstitutional, five justices agreed that race can be used as a component of school integration efforts. Some options still available to schools were delineated by Justice Kennedy (in addition to several race-neutral strategies, which a majority of the court found to be unaffected by today's decision), and in the coming days and weeks, communities, local governments, and civil rights experts should take their time in working together to find effective, permissible plans to implement for their students.


Majority of Court Finds School Diversity a Compelling Interest

Along with Stevens, Breyer, Souter, and Ginsburg, Kennedy, in a separate opinion, finds that there is a compelling interest in diversity and integration in America's schools.

Despite his concurrence in the judgment of the plurality opinion that the particular school plans at issue did not have enough justification for their consideration of the race of individual students, Justice Kennedy wrote in favor of the ability, and, indeed, importance of school districts to pursue integrated schools. In his opinion, Kennedy stated that the racial diversity of particular schools could be considered in this pursuit:

"The plurality opinion is too dismissive of the legitimate interest government has in ensuring all people have equal opportunity regardless of their race. The plurality's postulate that "[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," is not sufficient to decide these cases. Fifty years of experience since Brown v. Board of Education should teach us that the problem before us defies so easy a solution. School districts can seek to reach Brown's objective of equal educational opportunity. The plurality opinion is at least open to the interpretation that the Constitution requires school districts to ignore the problem of de facto resegregation in schooling. I cannot endorse that conclusion. To the extent the plurality opinion suggests the Constitution mandates that state and local school authorities must accept the status quo of racial isolation in schools, it is, in my view, profoundly mistaken...

In administering public schools, it is permissible to consider the schools' racial makeup and adopt general policies to encourage a diverse student body, one aspect of which is its racial composition. Cf. Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U. S. 306. School authorities concerned that their student bodies' racial compositions interfere with offering an equal educational opportunity to all are free to devise race-conscious measures to address the problem in a general way and without treating each student in different fashion based solely on a systematic, individual typing by race. Such measures may include strategic site selection of new schools; drawing attendance zones with general recognition of neighborhood demographics; allocating resources for special programs; recruiting students and faculty in a targeted fashion; and tracking enrollments, performance, and other statistics by race." (emphasis added)


Civil Rights Project website

The Civil Rights Project has moved its website to UCLA. For links to CRP research on school integration and other statements that will be posted throughout the day, please visit:


Supreme Court Issues Decision in School Race Cases-- Roundup

-Click HERE for a copy of the Supreme Court's decision in the school race cases, issued this morning. Please visit us throughout the day for responses to the opinion and analysis of what it means for the future of school integration in America.

-The Associated Press, in the NYT, offers a preliminary description of the ruling here.

-The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has a website devoted to school integration, with a resource center, links to legal documents, and more.

-Below, you will find links to background information on these cases and school integration generally:

-To send us a post, email


Court strikes down school integration plans

Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion; Justice Kennedy did not join all of the majority opinion, but did join the result. The opinion will be available shortly.


Walter Dellinger on Brown and the School Cases

This morning, Slate features Walter Dellinger, in an email conversation with Dahlia Lithwick, titled "How Brown v. Board of Education Changed the South Forever"

Dellinger wrote earlier for Slate about the "mistake of historic proportions" that would be made if the Court struck down the Seattle and Louisville plans, noting that "[a] majority of the justices seem to believe that striking down these plans would relocate school assignments to some race-neutral Garden of Eden, a wondrous, mythical place in which race plays no role in which public schools pupils attend."


Decisions Expected To be Released Shortly

We will keep you posted as information is made public.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

News Roundup: The Value of Integration

Two recent stories in the news illustrate what's at stake in the Seattle and Louisville cases.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch recently reported that 16 school districts involved in a voluntary student transfer program have unanimously voted to extend the program for five years. Under the St. Louis program, over 8000 African American students from St. Louis attend school in the surrounding counties, and hundreds of white students from the counties attend magnet schools in the city. After reauthorizing the program, one superintendant hailed the program as a "very special thing."

Democratic Presidential candidate former Senator John Edwards also released a statement highlighting the importance of diversity in America's schools. Edwards stated, “On top of the damage the Court has already done this term, the decision expected tomorrow in the school diversity cases could set back the cause of ensuring that every child has an equal chance to succeed. As someone who grew up in the segregated South, it hurts me to say that more than 50 years after the Brown decision, we still have two school systems - one for people who live in the right neighborhoods and one for everyone else. We used to believe the Constitution required school desegregation, but now this Court is on the verge of making the radical decision that the Constitution prevents elected school boards from voluntarily desegregating schools.”


Guest Blogger: Intent Doctrine--Its Relationship to Seattle and Louisville School Cases and the Need to Preserve Brown's Legacy

by Nicholas Espíritu

For more than 30 years, the Supreme Court has advanced a constricted view of discrimination that all but prohibits redress of significant racial and social inequities. This constricted view has led us to question if it is constitutionally impermissible to actively seek racial integration in our public schools, given that a scant few decades ago the Constitution was interpreted as compelling governments and localities to remedy such racial inequities through race conscious plans.

Many of the problems stem from a Court-imposed ideology -- color-blindness -- that combined with the "intent doctrine" blinds government to a wide range of social inequality and racial discrimination. Under this jurisprudence, the Courts treats any use overt uses of race with its highest level of scrutiny, regardless of whether it is used for good or ill.

Actions that have a known harmful effect on racial groups, but do not overtly mention race, almost always survive constitutional scrutiny.

Recent events -- from Katrina to the recent school desegregation cases in Seattle and Louisville -- bring back into stark relief the continuing and lasting effects of entrenched inequality that remains unaddressed by the Court's cramped understanding of discrimination.

Without the ability to use race-conscious remedies, the oppression of opportunity caused by discrimination, including the resegregation of pubic schools, will remain inadequately addressed by law.

Read EJS's paper, "Relationship of the Intent Doctrine to Seattle and Louisville and the Need to Preserve Brown's Legacy" at


"Tearing Brown from its Historical Roots"

In a June 24 LA Times Op-Ed, Edward Lazarus anticipated that, in deciding the school segregation cases, the Court would: "read Brown not as mandating integration, or even as neutral on the point, but as affirmatively prohibiting voluntary measures to achieve integration if they involve race-conscious government action."

With tomorrow's opinion, the very meaning of Brown vs. Board, widely regarded as the most important case of the 20th century, is at stake. Lazarus explains:

"Under Roberts' [likely] reinterpretation of Brown, the decision's central message is that government must be strictly 'colorblind' because all racial classification is inherently pernicious. In this view, there is no legal or moral difference between a school assignment program (like those at issue in Brown) that enforces racial segregation and others (like Seattle's and Louisville's) that are designed to ensure some measure of integration."

Thus, "By flipping Brown from a decision outlawing racial exclusion into one outlawing racial inclusion, it would place the court's powerful moral and legal force behind the idea that the abstraction of colorblindness is of greater constitutional value than the ideal of racial diversity."


Guest Blogger: Worlds Apart

by J.S., 6th grade history teacher in New York City

I'm not generally a politically minded person, but I am a teacher who has worked in two vastly different types of educational settings. It is upsetting to me, given how segregated our public schools are, that policy-makers are being discouraged from finding viable and voluntary ways to solve this problem. And it IS a problem.

Two years ago, I taught at a public school with a student body that was 30% black and 67% hispanic in the neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. The school was run by an inefficient administration that was nonetheless bent on reminding the faculty at all times that they were subject to each and every administrative edict, no matter how nonsensical or inconvenient. The faculty was either inexperienced or burnt-out, with very few falling in the middle of that spectrum. New York City Teaching Fellows in their first two years of teaching comprised at least one-third of the faculty; I was one of them. Attendance was a significant issue, since at least a third of any given class was usually absent from school that day, and a significant proportion of students were classified as LTAs, or long-term absences, meaning that we hadn't seen them in months. Test scores also posed a problem, since only a slight percentage of the student body was equipped to legitimately pass the Regents each year. As a Special Education teacher, I taught 15-to-19-year-old students who read at 1st-5th grade levels and expended the majority of their energy on staying away from situations where they might "look dumb." This, of course, included actively engaging and learning the material, or even coming to school at all.

In the absence of a supportive administration or sufficient resources (we had to bring our own photocopy paper and guard it with our lives), the school hardly felt like a place where education was a priority. One of the most difficult consequences of this environment was how deeply the students had internalized the message that their education was not valuable. They knew that the school was not designed with their best interests in mind; moreover, they knew that attending all of their classes and working hard would not necessarily amount to much after graduation. Especially for the students in my Special Education classes, life in a gang was potentially more rewarding than the kind of low-paying work they would be eligible for upon graduation, if they made it that far. My students had come to believe, over time, that they did not deserve a good education. One of them asked me, upon learning that I had graduated from an Ivy League university, "What you doin' in a school like this? You shouldn't be here." Ignoring for the moment the fact that one's undergraduate degree has very little to do with one's merit as a teacher, my student's inference was clear: I live in the 'hood, so I'm not supposed to get the "good" teachers.

That was hard to take; it was even harder to face when I did in fact decide to leave for a school that was more supportive of its teachers and its students and where students had significantly more resources, both financial and educational, at their fingertips. My students now are mostly white, and they take for granted the luxury of attending a school that will furnish the resources, support, and experience to convey them smoothly into a bright future, if only they apply themselves. They do not know what it is to be disempowered or left behind. I can't help but feel that I abandoned the students at my first school, who were truly in need. If anything, students in inner-city schools need more resources, better teachers, and more love and support; not less. If we are not willing to distribute funds disproportionately to the schools whose students need these resources most, we at least need to support the efforts of those school districts that are willing to work to solve this problem in other ways. This is not an issue of race as much as it is an issue of investing in a common humanity, so that all children can grow up knowing that they deserve a good education. So long as the virtual apartheid in our schools persists, and so long as we continue to resist efforts at change, we are betraying ourselves. And if that argument is too "bleeding-heart liberal" for you, then consider this: what is going to happen to the army of less-well educated graduates without the skills or the experience to support themselves? The labor market has changed substantially in the last few decades; most types of work require a college degree at the least. What course of action will these abandoned students take when they find that the system has deserted them in almost imaginable way?


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Guest Blogger: Democracy, Integration, and the Classroom

by Cara Furman, New York City Elementary School Teacher

Since I began teaching, the first questions that people ask me about my school are where I teach, is it public, and what is the racial demographic. My impression is that when people are asking this, their interest is connected to what each answer connotes. When I explained that I worked at a private school on the Upper East Side, people asked about facilities, famous families and spoiled students. When I described my work at a public school in Harlem, people asked about behavior problems and test scores. They often offered consolation.

Now, when I share that I teach in the East Village, people seem less clear on how to categorize, which typically elicits questions about demographics. When I explain that my school is mixed racial and mixed income, people seem shocked and unable to categorize. "What is that like?" they ask, "I didn't know there were schools like that in New York." In fact, when my father came to visit my first and second grade classroom, he spoke later in awe to a friend: "its amazing, there's everyone, children with nannies and the children of nannies. About 17 different countries represented in a class of 21!"

In my current classroom, my students are learning about diversity and human relations from each other. After one student told another that he “didn’t like black people,” my class spent two hours (their choice) trying to figure out why the student had said that, what he meant, and what such comments mean in our society. For the first time all year, some of my shyer African American students rose to the center of the classroom articulating frustrations and hurt. White students who often dominate conversation took a back seat, listening and processing. These six and seven year olds, who typically start to fidget after 15 minutes, listened, spoke, and processed the incident instead of having free time. Within the conversation, for the first time in my teaching experience, Martin Luther King (who we had discussed months earlier) came alive for them in important ways as they debated whether anger was a fair response to the comment and then worked past their anger to try to explain to the student why he had hurt them. The conversation ultimately ended when the student refused to apologize and we seemed to have hit a stalemate. Yet, despite this result, my African American students (and their parents when told) expressed pride and some feelings of success. They had explained themselves and defended themselves. Nevertheless, I went home concerned that maybe I should have defended the African American students and punished the child for his comment. Yet, when the next day, the child returned to school prepared to apologize, I became convinced that dialogue in safe places--where students of different races share power--is the most effective tool against injustice.

Today, I am horrified that diverse classrooms, which teach children how to be human in a diverse world, are at risk. My research, conversations, and experience have made clear to me that, where the white community holds the power, there will never be equality when there is not integration. While we remain a nation just as representative as the students in my classroom, we are not a democracy where the people of these nations necessarily interact. In a country where, according to public school advocate, Debra Meier, schools provide one of the last places for people to have sustained interaction with those from a different background, schools are crucial to maintaining the interaction necessary for the democracy to viably exist. If we do not integrate our schools, if our human sense of community does not cross racial lines, then as long as one community has power and another does not, separate will always be unequal.


California school system also at risk

In the Los Angeles Times, Charlotte Hildebrand reminds us that the Supremes aren't the only ones pondering the future of voluntary desegregation plans. Read about the legal challenges to LAUSD's magnet school program here.

And a progressive desegregation decision of a different sort was rendered by the Huntington Beach Fourth of July parade board.


Not Integrated Enough: New York City Schools

Yesterday, in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decisions in the Seattle and Louisville cases, the New York Post’s headline story, “NOT WHITE ENOUGH,” described an eleven year old student denied entry from IS 239, Mark Twain School. The article stated that the student would have been admitted to the magnet school but for “racial quotas established in 1974 by a federal judge who ordered the school’s desegregation” and attempted to connect the story to the Seattle and Louisville cases. The Post noted that “The U.S. Supreme Court currently is considering a case that could end racial quotas in schools nationwide, including Mark Twain.”

Despite the Post’s contentions, the history of integration in IS 239 is substantially different from Seattle and Louisville. IS 239 was ordered to integrate after District Court Judge Weinstein found both de facto and de jure segregation. Both Seattle and Louisville implemented voluntary programs to combat de facto segregation in districts where they was either no history of de jure segregation, or where de jure segregation had fully disappeared. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s decision in the Seattle and Louisville cases will have little or no bearing on the IS 239 court order. It is also clear that under the court order, IS 239 has become a relatively integrated school. The majority of schools in New York City, not under such orders, have become increasingly segregated over the past thirty years.

IS 239 was ordered to desegregate by federal court order in 1972. In the ten years preceding the order, white enrollment at the Mark Twain School had dropped from 82% to only 18% of the total enrollment. The judge in the Mark Twain case, Hart v. Community School Board of Brooklyn, N.Y. Sch. D #21, attributed this change to both housing patterns and series of rezoning and school assignment decisions which had the “the natural and foreseeable consequence of decreasing the white student enrollment at Mark Twain.”

In order to counteract this combination of de jure and de facto segregation at IS 239, the court directed the involved parties to develop plans which would insure that the racial balance at Mark Twain remained within 10 percentage points of the district wide average. Two years later, the court accepted the plan proposed by the school board, under which the board would revise its school assignment policies to ensure a uniform racial balance throughout the district and establish IS 239 as a magnet school.

Thirty years after the court order in Hart, racial diversity at IS 239 has increased and remains constant. According to statistics published by the New York State Department of Education, approximately 53% of the school’s eighth grade class is white, 25% Asian, 12% African American, and 11% Hispanic. The situation at IS 239 stands in sharp contrast to the rest of New York City Public Schools. According to Association of the Bar of the City of New York’s (ABCNY) amicus brief in the Seattle and Louisville cases, New York’s public schools are the sixth most segregated in the nation for African American students, and the third most segregated for both Hispanic and Asian students.

The New York City Public Schools have, for the most part, failed to end segregation and its students suffer as a result. Segregated schools, points out the ABCNY, are “institutions of concentrated disadvantage that systematically fail minority students.” According to the New York Court of Appeals, public schools with the highest percentage of minority children “have the least experienced, the most uncertified teachers, the lowest-salaried teachers, and the highest rates of teacher turnover.” Indeed the majority of New York City Public Schools illustrate “what a twenty-first century American city’s school system may look like, absent the ability to consider race” to avoid segregation in the public schools.
To learn more about the effects of segregation on New York City Public Schools, read