Schools Slipping Back to Segregation, New Book Finds

Urban school districts across the country have shifted back to managing segregated schools following the recent lifting of court-ordered desgregation plans, a new book finds.

The book, "From the Courtroom to the Classroom: The Shifting Landscape of School Desegregation," was edited by Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development faculty Claire Smrekar and Ellen Goldring and published by Harvard University Press.

"As the return to neighborhood schools accelerates, schools resegregate, and magnet programs assume new roles, this book provides timely information on critical social and academic outcomes for children," Smrekar said.

School desegregation, once a central piece of social and educational policy, has been ended by an increasing number of federal courts in recent years in urban school districts. When desegration polices are removed, schools are designated as "unitary," which means they are expected to implement a variety of policies focusing on school improvement, school choice and neighborhood schools, among other alternatives. Racial balancing of schools is no longer a priority.

"The significance of this book is rooted in the need for a better understanding of new policies on race and schools, the social and political context of choice, and the consequences of these reform strategies for school systems in urban America and for the lives of educators, students and their families," Goldring said.

The book comes on the heels of the June 28, 2007, U.S. Supreme Court decision (Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 and Crystal D. Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education) that limits the use of race in student assignment and school choice plans.

The book focuses on four key objectives:

- Identify a set of important trends in the socio-demographic composition of schools following the end of court-ordered desegregation. How have districts responded to the end of court-ordered desegregation plans in terms of student and staff assignment? What priorities drive the new district policies on racial and socio-economic desegregation and student assignment? How will the PICS opinion shape district policies in the future?

- Explore the implications of new policies on race and school choice across multiple levels and contexts, including classroom and school, and at school district and national levels. What do patterns of achievement among white, African American and Latino students suggest regarding the impact of these new policies?

- Scrutinize the conditions in school districts that served as landmark legal cases in the march toward desegregation in the United States. What is the impact of new student assignment plans on racial and socio-economic segregation/integration patterns in these historically significant districts?

- Examine the aftermath of desegregation, including both social and academic outcomes, against the growing evidence of resegregation across urban school districts in the United States. Does race matter? What is the role of expanded school choice programs (e.g., magnet schools) under these conditions?

"This book makes compelling the need to connect the imperatives of new policies on race and schooling to the practices of educational leaders facing the demands of diversity, equity, choice and excellence for all students. Student assignment policies represent some of the most complex and controversial decisions made by local school boards across the country," Smrekar, associate professor of public policy and education, and Goldring, professor of educational policy and leadership, said. "It is our hope that this data may provide essential guideposts for districts considering the consequences of unitary status under the more restrictive new legal constraints regarding the use of race. This book is designed to highlight the short- and long-term implications of these decisions for schoolchildren, their families and communities."