N.E.A. Panel Cites Strong Leadership as Factor in Success

By Tom Mirga — May 23, 1984 5 min read

Washington--Despite assertions by the Reagan Administration and others that school-desegregation measures have been a failure, “the fact is [that] many communities throughout the country have successfully desegregated their public schools,” the National Education Association stated last week in a report released on the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

“The processes of desegregation have never been without trauma; and the challenges of transition from desegregation to integration are not without problems,” concluded an eight-member study team brought together by the teachers’ organization. “But citizens in many desegregated school communities--parents, school officials, teachers, students--unhesitatingly point to the educational and social benefits of desegregation.”

The release of the report was one of a number of events around the country timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Brown decision, in which the Court held that “in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.”

The 117-page nea report was based on the testimony of teachers, school administrators, students, and community leaders in Charlotte, N.C., Seattle, Wash., and Austin, Tex.--cities often cited for their successful school-desegregation efforts.

‘Beacon of Hope’

Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the nea, characterized the report as “a beacon of hope” for school districts still struggling to carry out the Court’s mandate to school districts to desegregate “with all deliberate speed.”

“This shows what can happen,” said Ms. Futrell at a press conference here. “We are confident that school districts will respond favorably to the report.”

“If you look at the results, you have to conclude that school desegregation has worked, even if it hasn’t always worked perfectly,” added Arthur S. Flemming, former chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and a member of the study team.

“Certainly during the first 10 years following the decision, those of us who believe in desegregation were dismayed by the lack of progress,” Mr. Flemming said. “But in the last 15 to 20 years, considerable progress has been made. Out at the grassroots level, there is support for desegregation. If we can rally that support, it won’t take another 30 years for us to meet the objectives of Brown.”

Rallying Support

To rally support for desegregation efforts was the chief reason the study was commissioned, Ms. Futrell said. Its dual purposes, she explained, are to convince the public that desegregation is workable and to provide school officials with information gathered from the experiences of the three school systems that were studied.

“School desegregation is noisy; it celebrates conflict and feeds on media attention,” said the panel in its report. “The effective desegregation of schools is silent; it involves the incorporation of a new direction to everyday school affairs in a school system.

“Thus, desegregation is not measurable by noise or by headlines,” the panel continued. “To find out about school-desegregation achievement, it is necessary to do what [we] did: that is, to go from city to city, ask questions, and see how the job is being done.”

The report notes that all three districts have upgraded their schools’ educational programs and have increased course offerings following the implementation of desegregation plans. It also noted “significant’’ gains in the scores of minority and white students on standardized tests.

Elements of Success

According to the panel, common elements in all three desegregation case studies included: dedicated teachers; forceful leadership from the district superintendent and administrative staff; strong leadership within each school; the involvement of the business community; positive media support; open school-board meetings; and careful planning of each stage of the process.

The panel also offered recommendations for the expansion of the executive branch’s role in promoting and ensuring equal educational opportunity. Specifically, the panel suggested that:

The President direct the Secretary of Education to develop a plan of action with goals and timetables for achieving desegregation in all of the nation’s public schools.

The Secretary of Education be directed to cut off federal funds to districts that continue to practice segregation.

The Attorney General be directed to file lawsuits against all segregated school districts.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission assist these efforts by developing a plan for the “vigorous enforcement” of equal-employment-opportunity laws in public schools.

The President make specific recommendations to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to monitor and report on the status of desegregation efforts.

The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development be directed to step up efforts to desegregate housing.

Goals for Congress

The panel also recommended that the Congress take the following steps:

Reauthorize the Emergency School Aid Act, which provided grants to school districts undergoing desegregation before being folded into the Chapter 2 education block-grants program in 1981.

Reject efforts to curb federal court jurisdiction in school-desegre-gation cases and similar efforts to limit the authority of the Justice Department to enforce civil-rights laws.

Amend the Fair Housing Act to establish an administrative process to permit victims of housing discrimination to secure relief without the necessity of filing lawsuits.

“Vigorous leadership by the President with effective support by the Congress can open the doors of educational opportunity for children and young people who otherwise, because of segregation, will find those doors shut,” the panel said. “Continuing delays in opening those doors mean that for many children and young people the doors will never be opened. This will be tragic for them. It will also be tragic for the nation.”

Copies of the report, “Three Cities That Are Making Desegregation Work,” can be obtained by writing to the nea, 1201 16th St., Washington, D.C. 20036.

The members of the study panel are: Chairman, Susie Jablinske, president, Teachers Association of Ann Arundel County, Md.; Beverly Cole, director of education, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Arthur S. Flemming, chairman, Citizens Commission on Civil Rights and former chairman, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; Raul Grijalva, member, Tucson (Ariz.) Board of Education; Donald Jacobs, director, Partners in Ecumenism, National Council of Churches; Dorothy Jones, director, Office of Desegregation, Cambridge (Mass.) Public Schools; Meyer Weinberg, director, Horace Mann Bond Center for Equal Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Don Wilson, president, Ohio Education Association.

A version of this article appeared in the May 23, 1984 edition of Education Week as N.E.A. Panel Cites Strong Leadership as Factor in Success