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Delaware Integration Study Supports School-Housing Link

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Students from integrated neighborhoods made the largest academic gains in three years of court-ordered school desegregation in metropolitan Wilmington, Del., according to a major new study by researchers at Michigan State University.

These results, according to the researchers, provide strong evidence to support the theory that school desegregation works best in conjunction with efforts to desegregate housing.

The three-year study, one of the most comprehensive ever undertaken on metropolitan school desegregation, examined student achievement; the racial attitudes of students, parents, and teachers; student discipline; and participation in extracurri-cular activities. The school district studied, New Castle County, is one of the rare cases in which federal courts have ordered metropolitan desegregation based on proof of constitutional violations in several adjacent school systems.

The Wilmington city district, which was predominantly black, and 10 suburban systems were merged and desegregated in 1978 following a federal court order in the case, Evans v. Buchanan; a few days after the start of school that year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stop the plan.

Last year, the consolidated district was carved into four districts, each of which includes inner-city and suburban neighborhoods; busing for desegregation continues within each of the four new districts. Their combined enrollment is now slightly more than 50,000.

On average, all students in New Castle County gained one year in achievement more than expected during the first three years of busing, according to the study.

Academically, "everybody benefited," said Joe T. Darden, a co-director of the study. "The achievement level of students in neighborhoods that were not all black or all white improved at a greater rate."

Quicker Adjustments

Mr. Darden, professor of geography and urban affairs at the university, hypothesized that students from integrated neighborhoods showed faster academic progress because they adjusted more quickly to integrated schools than did students from all-white or all-black sections of the district.

"In order to maximize the benefits, you have to bring together schools and housing," Mr. Darden said. He suggested that local housing officials carefully consider the impact on schools when they decide, for example, where to locate subsidized housing.

He also recommended that desegregation plans "reward" residents of racially mixed neighborhoods by allowing the students who live in them to attend neighborhood schools.

Subject to Busing

Desegregation orders in many school districts allow such exemptions, but under New Castle County's 1978 order, students in integrated neighborhoods are subject to busing.

The study, supported by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and conducted by six researchers from the university's Urban Affairs Program, also found that:

The racial attitudes of both parents and students became "slightly less positive" immediately after desegregation began in the fall of 1978 and remained unchanged for the next two years. Students and parents from integrated neighborhoods were most likely to have positive attitudes toward other racial groups.

Black teachers were somewhat more likely than teachers of other races to have positive racial attitudes and to welcome desegregation. Teachers between 30 and 39 years old had the most positive racial attitudes, while teachers under the age of 30 had the least positive attitudes. Mr. Darden said he was "puzzled" by the difference between the two age groups.

Participation in extracurricular activities appears to be linked to the rapidity with which desegregation takes place. In districts such as New Castle County, which desegregated all schools and all grade levels in one school year, student participation is lower than in districts that phased in desegregation over several years. But despite the drop in participation, extracurricular activities in New Castle were well integrated, the researchers found.

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