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July 19, 2008

Missing The Point On Deseg Decision

One year on, it appears that too many on the Left don't get the point on last year's Supreme Court decisions upholding Brown v. Board of Education's essential ruling that race-based school decisions on where children should attend school were a violation of the Constitution.

With its decision in Meredith, the court was forcing Louisville to rethink the way it would assign elementary-school students and, in the process, to confront some tricky questions. Is the purpose of integration simply to mix students of different colors for the sake of equity or to foster greater familiarity and comfort among the races? Should integration necessarily translate into concrete gains like greater achievement for all students? If so, is mixing students by race the most effective mechanism for attaining it?

The problem, of course, is that INTEGRATION of schools is not a requirement under the US Constitution -- ending de jure segregation is the standard which has to be met. Thus, when I go to work this fall at a school that is around 90% Hispanic, there is no Constitutional violation provided the school receives appropriate resources and the attendance zone decisions are not made on racial criteria -- the residential patterns of the district and the district and the geographic reality of an interstate highway that serves as the north/south attendance boundary between my district's high schools serve as a legitimate basis for de facto differences in the ethnic make up of the two schools.

Desegregation, properly understood in light of Brown, requires that race-based government action not result in segregation of schools. Equity requires color-blindness only. It does not mean achieving "balance" everywhere, regardless of geographic realities and parental choice. And while "familiarity" and "comfort" may be nice goals, being treated as an individual rather than a member of a group who must atone for ethnic sins (or be compensated for the ethnic sins of others) is the Constitutional standard.

And improving achievement is an entirely separate goal from the mixing of races in some bureaucratically defined proportion -- which is why the kids at the school I'm moving to performed at the same high level on my subject's TAKS test as did kids at the more ethnically diverse school where I taught last year. It comes down to how and where you focus your efforts and money in order to maximize achievement by every student -- and the expectations you set for the students to accomplish that end.





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