Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Better Than Expected, Worse Than It Seems

Inside Higher Education

July 24, 2007

Better Than Expected, Worse Than It Seems

By Gary Orfield, Erica Frankenberg and Liliana M. Garces

There was a national sigh of relief on campuses in June when an
altered U.S. Supreme Court left standing the historic 2003 Grutter v.
Bollinger decision supporting affirmation action in admissions. There
had been widespread fear among civil rights advocates that a more
conservative Supreme Court would seriously undermine or even reverse
the 5-4 Grutter decision with its author, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor,
no longer on the Court. The voluntary school integration decision in
Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1
and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education was, indeed, a
serious reversal for desegregation in K-12 schools but while divided
on the constitutionality of the school plans at issue in the cases,
all nine justices agreed that the decision had no impact on the
Grutter precedent. The rights of colleges to use race in admissions
decisions for student body diversity had survived scrutiny by the most
conservative Supreme Court in more than 70 years. Since the Supreme
Court rarely takes such cases, the Grutter precedent might last for a
while. While a bullet was dodged, optimism should be restrained. The
dike protecting affirmative action has held but the river that brings
diverse groups of students to colleges may be drying up as a result of
the latest decision.

Colleges and universities, especially selective institutions, tend to
draw their successful minority applicants from interracial schools and
their admissions offices know well that many of the segregated
minority high schools fail to prepare their students well enough to
succeed in college. Research by the Civil Rights Project has shown
that too many segregated urban high schools are “dropout factories”
where the main product is dropouts and successful preparation for
college is rare. Conservative economist Eric Hanushek found that the
damage was worst for the relatively high achieving black students, the
very students likely to comprise the college eligible pool. So making
segregation worse cuts the number of well prepared students. In
addition to academic preparation, students from segregated backgrounds
are also often not ready to function socially on a largely white,
affluent campus. It also means of course, that the most segregated
group of students in American schools, whites, also have less
preparation to deal successfully with diversity. So colleges may have
won, but also lost.

Even before the new decision, segregation had been on the rise for
almost two decades in American public schools, partially as a result
of three decisions by the Supreme Court limiting desegregation in the
1990s (Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell, Freeman v. Pitts
and Missouri v. Jenkins). Because this new decision struck down the
most common methods of creating integrated schools in districts
without court orders to desegregate, it will likely precipitate
further increases in segregation. Since 1980 the tools most commonly
used to create integrated schools combine parental choice of schools
with magnet programs and racial diversity guidelines. Now the
limitations that prevented transfers and magnet choices that increased
segregation are gone and districts have to decide whether to do
something more complex and multidimensional or abandon their
integration efforts. It remains to be seen what will happen in various
districts, of course, but the experience of other districts that have
ended the consideration of race as a criteria in their student
assignment policies suggests that race-neutral methods will lead to
resegregation and growing inequality.

Research thus suggests that there are two significant implications for
higher education to consider. First, rising segregation is likely to
bring a rise in educational inequality and less prepared black and
Latino students. Second, all incoming students are likely to have
fewer interracial experiences prior to attending college meaning they
will be less prepared for effective functioning in an interracial setting.

The Seattle and Louisville cases produced an outpouring of summaries
of a half century of research by a number of groups of scholars. A
subsequent review of the briefs by the non-partisan National Academy
of Education confirms the central premise of Brown v. Board of
Education that racially isolated minority schools offer students an
inferior education, which is likely to harm their future life
opportunities, such as graduation from high school and success in
college. Racially isolated minority schools are often unequal to
schools with higher percentages of white students in terms of tangible
resources, such as qualified, experienced teachers and college
preparatory curriculum, and intangible resources including low teacher
turnover and more middle-class peers ­ all of which are associated
with positive higher educational outcomes.

Although colleges and universities differ in their criteria and
process for admissions, common elements to their admissions decisions
for students include 1) whether a student has or will graduate from
high school, 2) standardized test scores, and 3) number of advanced
and Advanced Placement courses. Research consistently finds that
minority students graduate at significantly lower rates in racially
isolated minority schools; in fact, minority isolation is a
significant predictor of low graduation rates, even when holding
constant the effects of other school performance indicators. Academic
achievement scores of students are also lower in segregated minority
schools, and this effect can cumulate over time for students who spend
multiple years attending segregated schools. Finally, many
predominantly minority schools do not offer as extensive advanced
curricular opportunities and levels of academic competition as do
majority white or white and Asian schools.

In addition to offering different opportunities for academic
preparation, research has also found that integrated schools offer
minority students important connections to competitive higher
education and information about these options. There are strong ties
between successful high schools and selective colleges. Minority
students who graduate from integrated schools are more likely to have
access to the social and professional networks normally available to
middle class white students. For example, a study of Latino students
who excelled at elite higher educational institutions found that most
students had attended desegregated schools ­ and gained academic
confidence as well as critical knowledge about what they need to do to
accomplish their aspirations (e.g., which courses to take from other,
college-going students).

White students also lose if schools resegregate. Desegregation
advocates assert that public school desegregation is powerful and
essential because desegregated schools better prepare future citizens
for a multiracial society. A critical component of this preparation is
gaining the skills to work with people of diverse backgrounds.
Segregated schools in segregated neighborhoods leave white as well and
nonwhite students ill-prepared for what they will encounter in
colleges and university classes or in their dorms.

Over 50 years ago, Harvard psychologist Gordon Allport suggested that
one of the essential conditions to reducing prejudice was that people
needed to be in contact with one another, particularly under
appropriate conditions. Research in racially integrated schools
confirms that, by allowing for students of different races and
ethnicities to be in contact with one another, students can develop
improved cross-racial understanding and experience a reduction of
racial prejudice and bias. Importantly, research suggests that other
interventions such as studying about other groups are not as effective
or as long-lasting as actually being in contact with students of other
racial/ethnic backgrounds.

Research on graduates of racially integrated elementary and secondary
schools has also found that students who graduated from these settings
felt their integrated schooling experiences had better prepared them
for college, including being more interested in attending integrated
higher education institutions. The Civil Rights Project has surveyed
high school juniors in a number of major school systems around the
country and students in more diverse schools report feeling more
comfortable living and working with others of different backgrounds
than did their peers in segregated high schools.

As schools become more segregated, it will become more incumbent on
colleges and universities to intensify their outreach and retention
programs to improve access for all students, and to consider the extra
burdens borne by the victims of segregation who have done nothing to
deserve unequal opportunities. In particular, it will be critically
important for colleges and universities to continue to use race in
their outreach and retention programs. As colleges and universities
that have sought to defend affirmative action policies have long
understood and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy recently wrote, “The
enduring hope is that race should not matter, the reality is that too
often it does.” Further, the need to help students understand how to
productively live with others from diverse backgrounds will fall to
higher education. As other institutions retreat from mirroring the
racial diversity of our country, this may increasingly become a
responsibility universities must shoulder.

Our incoming students already have more limited interracial
experiences than the last generation of students, a trend that is
likely to only get worse. We hope that many school districts will
continue to value integration and seek more comprehensive policies
under the new guidelines set forth in Justice Kennedy’s controlling
opinion, but it is very likely that segregation will worsen. We
believe that university faculty and researchers who may have expertise
to assist local school districts find legal and workable solutions to
maintain diversity should offer support at this critical time.
Universities can also take a public leadership and education role in
continuing to argue for the importance of integrated educational
settings. These actions could help limit some of the ill effects of
the resegregation of local schools and help keep alive the legacy of
Brown in a period of judicial retreat.

Gary Orfield is a professor at the University of California at Los
Angeles and co-director of the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos
Civiles. Erica Frankenberg and Liliana M. Garces are doctoral
candidates at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and
research assistants at the Civil Rights Project. Orfield and
Frankenberg are co-editors of a recently published book, Lessons in
Integration: Realizing the Promise of the Racial Diversity in American
Schools (University of Virginia Press). Garces, formerly a civil
rights lawyer, served as counsel of record in the 553 Social
Scientists brief submitted in support of the desegregation plans in
the Seattle and Louisville cases.

No comments:

Post a Comment