Thirty years after Brown, the racial isolation the Justices sought to end persists. Most of the nation's large city school systems are predominantly minority--resegregated by demographic shifts and white flight.
The future course of the desegregation movement is uncertain. Mandatory busing, according to public-opinion surveys, is not held in high regard, even among black families. And the Reagan Administration has mustered the power of the federal government to reject busing as a primary tool of school desegregation.
The Administration announced in October 1981 that it would not seek court-ordered busing as a remedy for unconstitutional segregation in public schools. Arguing that "forced busing" and racial quotas had "failed to elicit public support and ... to advance the overriding goal of equal educational opportunity," the Administration stated that it would promote voluntary desegregation techniques only.
In addition to voluntary student transfers, the remedies it said it supports include magnet schools, "modest" adjustments to attendance zones, enhanced curriculum requirements, improved inservice training for teachers, and school closings and openings. Last January, the U.S. Justice Department, in what it termed "a blueprint for the future," approved school-desegregation plans featuring these techniques--and no busing--for Bakersfield, Calif., and Lima, Ohio.
The naacp, although critical of the Administration's stance on busing, has indicated a willingness to allow school districts facing desegregation orders to choose their own remedies provided that the districts meet numerical desegregation goals within a given time frame.
Last February, the organization ended a 10-year-old suit against the Cincinnati Public Schools in this fashion. Under the agreement, the 51,000-student district, which is almost 60 percent black, must reduce racial isolation in its schools by 1991 using an index that measures desegregation by a districtwide standard.
Remedies mentioned in the plan include magnet schools, remedial programs for schools enrolling a high percentage of low-achieving students, and a community-education program. If the district fails to attain the agreed-upon levels of desegregation, it will face a mandatory, court-ordered remedy.
Perhaps the most important trend to emerge in the past few years is the appearance in some urban areas of grass-roots coalitions of black parents who argue that it is now more important to improve the education their children receive than to achieve racial balance in their schools. (See Commentary on page 28.)
In Norfolk, Va., for example, an organization of black parents opposed to the city's elementary-school busing program was organized two years ago.
"Our children are the victims of racial politics," said Earlean White, the 33-year-old mother of five who leads the group, in a televised interview last year. "They bear the burden of long bus rides away from familiar surroundings, friendly faces, out of easy reach for parents without second cars."
The information presented in this special report was compiled from contemporary news accounts, books, and other public records. The project was coordinated by Assistant Editor Tom Mirga and Art Director Beth Schlenoff.