Sunday, December 03, 2006

Supreme Court to Review Desegregation Cases

The United States Supreme Court hears oral arguments this week on a pair of cases reviewing the constitutionality of racial balancing in the public schools. The cases, Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education and Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, offer the potential for some of the most important decisions on civil rights in decades.

The stakes are high,
as noted in this article from Newsweek:

Depending on how the high court rules, hundreds of school districts around the country may have to abandon—or at least adjust—student assignment policies that use race as a factor. “But the stakes are much higher than that,” says Duke University law professor Neil Siegel. “It really could be the final legacy of Brown,” he says, referring to the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling that said “separate but equal” facilities were not good enough. The court later embraced affirmative action in the 1978 Bakke decision; in a 1991 case from Oklahoma City, the court made it easier for school districts to abandon forced busing efforts once they’d desegregated. The last time the court addressed the issue—in two University of Michigan cases in 2003—it ruled against strict formulas that award admissions points based on race, but permitted a “holistic review” that considers race.
The Newsweek piece goes on to note that the Court's new conservatives -- John Roberts and Samuel Alito -- look to be particularly interested in revisting some recent civil rights rulings. Also noteworthy is how the lower court decisions provide an especially ripe circumstance for the Court to return the country to race-neutral educational programs:

No one is being denied a slot at a top law school—all the students get an education. The question is how far school districts can go in using race to decide exactly how and where that happens. In the Seattle case, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski, a conservative Reagan appointee, wrote a striking opinion upholding the plan: “No race is turned away from government service or services. The plan does not segregate the races; to the contrary, it seeks to promote integration. There is no attempt to give members of particular races political power based on skin color. There is no competition between the races, and no race is given a preference over another. That a student is denied the school of his choice may be disappointing, but it carries no racial stigma and says nothing at all about that individual’s aptitude or ability.”
Further, a Time article on the cases suggested that there's little evidence that racial balancing policies are improving educational outcomes:

Thirty years of seating black students next to white ones has failed to close Jefferson County's achievement gap. Black high school students still trail their white counterparts by 25% in reading-proficiency tests and by 34% in math. The gap is closely linked to factors like parents' education level and income, which no amount of school balancing is likely to fix. "We have the most integrated school system in the country," says Carmen Weathers, a retired Jefferson County schoolteacher. "That sounds good on a business brochure, but it has nothing to do with education."
So what's the justification for busing if schools are not seeing gains in achievement? Diversity, of course. George Will attacked the politically correct basis for the Seattle School District's busing programs in today's Washington Post:

Although Seattle never had segregated schools, the district discusses its racial preferences with reference to "segregation" and "integration." But a statement by the district reveals that racial preferences are supposed to serve social engineering: "Diversity in the classroom increases the likelihood that children will discuss racial or ethnic issues and be more likely to socialize with people of different races." Or different skin tones....

Until June, the school district's Web site declared that "cultural racism" includes "emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology," "having a future time orientation" (planning ahead) and "defining one form of English as standard." The site also asserted that only whites can be racists, and disparaged assimilation as the "giving up" of one's culture. After this propaganda provoked outrage, the district, saying it needed to "provide more context to readers" about "institutional racism," put up a page saying that the district's intention is to avoid "unsuccessful concepts such as a melting pot or colorblind mentality."
Over at the Los Angeles Times, Edward Lazarus suggests that if the Court strikes down the desegregation programs, remedial efforts to achieve diversity in the schools may have reached the end of the line.

I laid out my views on school busing programs in an earlier post. Integration is an important aspect of black opportunity and advancement. However, forced busing has never been the ideal program to achieve that end, especially in districts where legal segregation never existed. The degree of racial segregation in the United States today is in dispute, in any case. The most important thing blacks can do is cultivate a culture of learning and educational achievement. Perhaps "having a future time orientation" -- which a large proportion of my black students obviously lack -- wouldn't hurt either.

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