Books: Evaluating Effects of School Desegregation

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Desegregation has helped schools "attain the goals of increasing student academic achievement and of preparing children to live in an integrated society," argue Willis D. Hawley and Mark A. Smylie in an essay prepared for Eliminating Racism: Profiles in Controversy, edited by Phyllis A. Katz and Dalmas A. Taylor.

In the following excerpts, Mr. Hawley--dean of George Peabody College, Vanderbilt University--and Mr. Smylie--professor of education at the University of Illinois, Chicago--evaluate concerns about negative effects and address proposals for "racially separate but enriched" education as a supplement to, or substitute for, desegregation:

One of the major impediments to effective school desegregation is the widely perpetuated myth that desegregation has reduced the quality of education in the nation's schools and has had little, if any, positive impact on racial tolerance.

We have cited evidence that school desegregation usually contributes to the academic achievement of minority youngsters without slowing the progress of white children, and that it seems to significantly increase the prospects that, someday, racial prejudice and discrimination will cease to play a major role in American life.

To say that desegregation has generally had positive consequences and that we have the knowledge necessary to enhance its benefits is not to argue that desegregation is without costs. And in some school systems, comprehensive desegregation is not feasible. Thus, a variety of strategies for remediating the vestiges of segregation are appropriate. ...

If we hope to make significant progress in eliminating racial prejudice, the best way to do it is through structured interracial contact when children are young. Separate but enriched programs obviously do not offer this opportunity, nor does any other social policy.

Moreover, racial discrimination devalues the benefits of academic achievement. Unless racial prejudice ceases to play a substantial role in decisions regarding employment, occupational advancement, housing, and political behavior, whites will benefit more from their education than will nonwhites of similar academic achievement. ...

The argument for separate but enriched minority-dominant schools rests on the assumption that the states and localities will pay the costs of enrichment. That assumption deserves to be met with considerable skepticism.

Desegregation is a response to intentional segregation. A main problem that it seeks to address is racial prejudice. And the major obstacles to effective desegregation are rooted in the sources of discrimination.

Given this context, one who expects the white-dominated policymaking processes of the federal government, the states, and the localities to be responsive to demands by the advocates of enriched education for minorities that will make higher expenditures per pupil for minority than for white students is whistling Dixie. ...

Plenum Press, 233 Spring St., New York, N.Y. 10013; 380 pp., $49.50 cloth.

In their book, Managing Educational Excellence, Thomas B. Timar and David L. Kirp examine recent efforts of states to transform education policy, with special attention to programs in Texas, California, and South Carolina.

Neither a policy of broad mandates nor a strategy of deregulation and local control is "likely to lead to serious improvement in the quality of schooling," conclude the two education professors--Mr. Timar of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Mr. Kirp of the University of California, Berkeley.

Rather, they argue, "schools have to change the way they do business."

In the following passages, the authors outline three levels at which reforms can succeed--or fail:

The first dimension of the overall reform effort might be called the authorized movement. This is the world of state mandates, legislation, and the highly visible political activity surrounding formal structures and directives. This is the offical version of reform. ...

Controlling teacher training and evaluation, allocating resources, and specifying curriculum content are some ways that states attempt to manage the process and substance of schooling. ...

It has received the greatest amount of public attention, and it is where the national reform effort has landed.

The second dimension of the school-reform movement might be called the regional or localist movement. This comprises the blizzard of local and regional activities. It represents the local interpretations and responses to the official version of reform.

Like the authorized movement, it is structural and regulatory, but its various changes are masked by their dispersion. It is in this morass that projects like the Bay Area Writing Project in California and Theodore Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools are rooted.

Understanding the dimensions of this set of initiatives and the directions in which they are moving on a local, much less national, level is extremely difficult.

That does not mean that localism is unimportant. Indeed, it may be far more important than the authorized version. This is the principal, though not sole, arena that state reforms aim to manage. It is also at this level that the sabotage or fudging or redirecting of the centrally proposed and authorized measures takes place. ...

The local reform movement comprises more than idiosyncratic responses to state mandates. Locally initiated reform efforts comprise a critical element of this dimension of school improvement. ... Mastery learning and teaching, alternative schools, and time on task are fixed features in many schools and became so through local initiative. ...

The third dimension of reform might simply be called the conversation. ... It is synonymous with the change in the rhetoric of schooling and thus the attitudes of those who speak. ...

On the national level, this aspect of the reform effort was powerfully affected by the purple rhetoric ("a rising tide of mediocrity," "unilateral disarmament," and "a nation at risk") of the National Commission on Excellence in Education.

On the local level, the conversation is what teachers talk about in the teachers' room in the wake of A Nation at Risk or the Carnegie report on teaching. ... The conversation is influenced by various factors: the professional norms teachers develop in schools of education, and how teachers think about themselves and their roles as teachers.

How teachers talk about school improvement colors what they do in the classroom. That, in turn, powerfully influences the success or failure of efforts to realize educational excellence.

Falmer Press, Taylor & Francis, 242 Cherry St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19106-1906; 156 pp., $42 cloth, $15 paper.

Vol. 08, Issue 05

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