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Neighborhood-School Gains Not Realized, Study Finds

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Promises made when the Oklahoma City schools became the first in the nation to return to neighborhood schools after years of court-ordered busing have failed to materialize, according to a report from researchers at Harvard University.

The report analyzes the effects of the landmark 1991 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell.

The ruling allowed the school district to return to neighborhood elementary schools if certain conditions were maintained.

District officials had argued that allowing students to attend schools near their homes would not promote racial disparity.

But the study, conducted by Jennifer Jellison, an associate with the Cambridge, Mass.-based research project, raises serious questions about the Oklahoma City district's reversion to neighborhood schools.

"The evidence shows that the district's policies are quite unequal between the majority-black elementary schools and other elementary schools in the district," Ms. Jellison said last week in an interview.

Disputed Claims

The report is based on court documents, district and state data, and interviews with Oklahoma City residents and school officials.

Among the study's findings are that:

  • Racial segregation has not decreased in the Oklahoma City schools;
  • Segregation among poor African-American students has increased;
  • Increases in student achievement reported by the district are questionable;
  • Neighborhood schools have not led to lasting increases in parent involvement; and
  • Safeguards that were intended to ensure continued integration have been abandoned.

Gary Orfield, the director of the Harvard desegregation project, said the Oklahoma City example should be studied with great care before other districts seek to end court-ordered desegregation.

"We have studied resegregation across the country and found no evidence that local school districts have discovered how to make segregated schools equal," Mr. Orfield said.

A spokesman for the Oklahoma City schools disputed many of the Harvard study's findings. "Our school board has always been completely diligent about working towards equity," said Guy Sconzo, an assistant superintendent.

The report also criticizes the Supreme Court for basing its decision on a lower court's finding that the Oklahoma City district had improved in student achievement, parental and community involvement, and the continuation of programs devised to promote integration.

"The lower court based its findings solely on the say of the school district's officials, that the resegregated [elementary] schools had increased achievement," Ms. Jellison said.

"Then the Supreme Court used the same report, in part, to find that desegregation could be dropped," she added. "We found that the initial information was flawed.

For More Information:
Copies of the report, "Resegregation and Equity in Oklahoma City," are $10 each. Call or write the Harvard Project on School Desegregation, 442 Gutman Library, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 6 Appian Way, Cambridge, Mass. 02138; (617) 496-4824

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