How Do We Get Diverse Schools?
The New York Times‘ Robert Barnes has a new piece chronicling the efforts of Seattle and Louisville, Kentucky school districts to maintain diverse schools in the three years since The Supreme Court invalidated their voluntary integration programs.
The cases, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, are perhaps the most important cases on school desegregation in decades. As expected (and confirmed in Barnes’ article), the decision gives school districts very little room to create more equitable and diverse schools:
The final product, which integrates schools based on socioeconomic factors rather than on race alone, has proven to be more complex and costly than the previous system. Long bus rides and complaints from a vocal minority of parents have threatened popular support of the plan. The school board has delayed full implementation. The legislature is contemplating whether to guarantee parents a spot in their neighborhood schools.
Consultants were hired, lawyers retained, census data scrubbed, boundaries redrawn, more buses bought, more routes proposed, new school choices offered and more lawsuits defended.
But life has been anything but simple for school officials here. They have steadfastly – or stubbornly, depending on the point of view – tried to maintain integrated classrooms despite the court’s command that officials not consider race when assigning children to schools.
The whole piece is worth reading. The money quote though comes from Jefferson County School Board Chairman Debbie Wesslund:
“There was no real opposition when we were designing the plan…But a great idea like diversity can get damaged by the reality of having to try to implement something.”
Americans overwhelmingly say they appreciate and value diversity. And I imagine that many understand that there are some children, most of them poor minorities and rural children, who go to really crappy schools. But we do seem to balk when it comes time to actually do something about either of these issues, particularly because to address them requires all Americans to make changes.
The article raises an important question about whether or not we have the commitment as a society to truly address unequal and racially segregated schools at all.
What do you think?