Reversing the resegregation of many of the nation’s school districts may require congressional leadership and the president’s attention, said lawyers, policymakers and educators assembled on Capitol Hill Friday to discuss policies that would encourage more integrated schools.
The policy briefing, “New Initiatives for Integrated Education in the Obama Era: Reversing the Resegregation of the Past Two Decades,” drew about 75 attendees and gave several scholars the opportunity to share papers and research studies.
“Congress hasn’t done anything positive to help the desegregation of schools since the 1970s,” said the panel’s moderator, Dr. Gary Orfield, a professor from the University of California, Los Angeles and co-director of the Civil Rights Project /Proyecto Derechos Civiles.
At the end of the 1960s, Southern public schools were among some of the nation’s most integrated because of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. However, today, the region is experiencing an increasing amount of resegregated school districts.
Orfield said the nation has taken a step backwards on integration by cutting funding for such efforts.
“Students in segregated schools won’t learn how to live in integrated society,” said Orfield, whose Civil Rights Project has commissioned more than 400 studies and influenced the results of legal cases such as Grutter v. Bollinger, a 2003 case which upheld affirmative action.
Chinh Q. Le, practitioner in residence with the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall University School of Law, also argued that the federal government should have a role in advancing the cause.
Le, who formerly served as assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, authored “Racially Integrated Education and the Role of the Federal Government,” one of the five papers highlighted during the panel.
In his essay, Le examines the role of the federal government in school desegregation and outlines federal agencies and legal and policy tools that are likely to help with recent efforts to curb segregation in education.
“Leadership from Congress and the president has had just as much impact on education than court decisions,” Le said.
He added that magnet schools, which have been cited to encourage integrated schools, have become “diluted.”
“Magnet schools have not been revised in an innovative way since its (beginning) years ago,” Le said.
Political forces have instead refocused education reform attention on other issues such as accountability, school choice and standards in testing, he added.
Other panelists such as Francisco Negrón, who is general counsel of the National School Boards Association, said participation from the executive branch of government is needed and welcome but that educators and civil rights advocates must be mindful that much more is required for a positive outcome.
“We need to be cognizant of the fact that the way we run our schools is not at the federal level,” Negr
In response to an audience member’s comment that excellence without equity is impossible, Negrón agreed, adding however that “some people don’t see … the educational value” of diversity in education.
Two papers and research studies, “School Racial Composition and Young Children’s Cognitive Development: Isolating Family, Neighborhood and School Influences,” and “Federal Legislation to Promote Metropolitan Approaches to Educational and Housing Opportunities” shifted the conversation to one about educational quality and students’ environment.
“The stable, integrated community is the answer, not housing.” Negrón said.
Le added that there was an enduring relationship between school segregation and housing segregation.
Other papers and research study findings shared included a study about how key individuals in Omaha, Neb., fought for legislation to create a cooperative “learning community.” The initiative would unify 11 school districts in an effort to share resources and discourage socioeconomic disparities.
The event was also co-sponsored by Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina School of Law, the University of Georgia Education Policy and Evaluation Center and the Forum for Education and Democracy.
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