....As the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling is marked, the country's public schools are, in effect, resegregating, according to federal Census and Education Department data.
Educators, federal monitors and civil rights activists are warning that an unequal educational system -- one based on wealth and cutting along racial lines -- is returning to classrooms in Little Rock and the rest of the country, creating a skills gap between white and minority students.
"It's an elephant under the rug: It's an obvious problem we're ignoring," says Gary Orfield of Harvard University's Civil Rights Project. "We've abandoned the tools we had."
Well ... yes and no. The system was never set up to deal with private schools, where a large proportion of within-city whites are going, and frankly, could never have been so. It wasn't set up to work between cities and towns, which would have been the only answer to physical white flight. To be sure, the Supreme Court deciding that desegregation plans were not ever decided to run in perpetuity -- despite the fact that they could only work if they ran in perpetuity, because they were based on residence patterns, which change -- did deal a blow to the desegregation efforts. That said, what was at issue in Brown was never residential segregation per se; it was official state-sponsored segregation.
Of course, the other elephant under the table that nobody is talking about is that by and large, resegregation in and of itself doesn't bother a lot of people all that much, as long as it's not mandated. The issue is the allocation of resources. When you have people leaving the city, and withdrawing their children (and therefore their interest) and removing them to private schools, you remove the ability of the city/town/state to provide for those schools, because the tax base declines, and the number of people who give a damn decline. If you can equalize resources -- which is difficult, because it would require the state to control all aspects of education, in order to deal with desperately unequal resources from town to town -- then you can at least in theory give people from a wealthier district the same education received by people in a poorer district. It's that equalization that's proved to be so troublingly difficult, never mind deciding how distribution should be managed to deal with current underfunding and past inequality. Kansas is going several rounds with its court system on that very issue.Posted by iain at May 19, 2004 03:44 PM