Briefing Offers New Initiatives for Integrated Education in the Obama Era: Reversing Two Decades of Resegregation

Briefing Offers New Initiatives for Integrated Education in the Obama Era: Reversing Two Decades of Resegregation



Washington, DC--The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA convened a briefing on Capitol Hill today that addressed the profound inequities found in segregated schools across the nation and promoted policy options for voluntarily integrating schools. The briefing was organized with various civil rights partners, including the Center for Civil Rights at UNC School of Law, University of Georgia Education Policy and Evaluation Center, and the Forum for Education and Democracy.  At the briefing, CRP Co-director, Gary Orfield, moderated a panel of nationally-acclaimed social scientists and lawyers whose expertise heightened attendees’ understanding of the immediate and long-term policy options available for promoting racially integrated public schools in the wake of the 2007 PICS decision. Orfield asserted, “We must call attention to what was left in place after the Court’s 2007 decision, and apply our knowledge of the ruling to secure a better future for all children attending our nation’s public schools.”



The event was co-hosted by Representative Chaka Fattah, of the 2nd District of Pennsylvania, whose efforts to promote both a Student Bill of Rights and convene an Opportunity to Learn Commission address many of the inequities found in our nation’s schools. Francisco Negrón, general counsel of the National School Boards Association, delivered informed responses to presentations by the panelists.



In the late 1960s, enforcement of the Brown v. Board of Education decision led to Southern public schools becoming the most integrated in the country, and the South held that distinction for more than thirty years.  Today, schools in the South and throughout the United States are experiencing rapid resegregation, disproportionately excluding a growing population of African American and Latino students 

from equal educational opportunities and access to social capital.  


This resegregation is compounded by the Supreme Court’s 2007 PICS decision, which is widely known for placing limits on what school 

districts can do to voluntarily pursue racially integrated schools.  


In PICS, a majority of the justices did, however, affirm that school districts have a compelling interest in maintaining integrated schools.



At the briefing, panelists delved into various policy options left open by the ruling, and offered strategies for addressing the resegregation crisis and for achieving equity in schools. Panelists

included: Jennifer Jellison Holme, of University of Texas at Austin; Elizabeth DeBray-Pelot, from University of Georgia; Chinh Q. Le, of Seton Hall University; Douglas D. Ready of Columbia University, and Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, of UCLA.  In his paper, Chin Q. Le summarizes the overall goal of the briefing: “The election of Barack Obama provides us with a unique opportunity to consider what role the federal government can play in advancing the goal of racially integrated education, not only because of who he is and the hope and promise that he has carried with him into office, but also because there is dire need for serious engagement—and importantly, for creativity and innovation—from the federal government.”


The following papers were included in the briefing:



            • School Racial Composition and Young Children’s Cognitive

Development: Isolating Family, Neighborhood and School Influences, Douglas D. Ready and Megan R. Silander, Teachers College, Columbia University;

·       Is Class Working? An Update on Socioeconomic Student 

Assignment Plans in Wake County, NC and Cambridge, MA, Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, University of California-Los Angeles;

            • Using Regional Coalitions to Address Socioeconomic Isolation: The Creation of the Nebraska Learning Community Agreement, Jennifer Jellison Holme, Sarah Diem and Katherine Cumings Mansfield, University of Texas at Austin;

            • Federal Legislation to Promote Metropolitan Approaches to Educational and Housing Opportunities, Elizabeth DeBray-Pelot, University of Georgia, and Erica Frankenberg, University of California at Los Angeles; and,

            • Racially Integrated Education and the Role of the Federal Government, Chinh Q. Le, Seton Hall University.



Abstracts of Papers



Using Regional Coalitions to Address Socioeconomic Isolation: The Creation of the Nebraska


Learning Community Agreement


By Jennifer Jellison Holme, Ph.D., Sarah Diem & Katherine Mansfield,


The University of Texas at Austin



As the nation’s schools grow more racially and economically segregated, elected leaders in Omaha, Nebraska recently chose to counteract this trend. They are forging a regional plan that brings together 11 school districts and creates a cooperative “Learning Community” to reduce socioeconomic isolation and to share resources across the entire metropolitan area.  The Learning Community is 

significant for a number of reasons.   First, it establishes an inter-

district choice-based desegregation plan across two counties and 11 school districts without a court order.  Second, it is funded through a tax-base sharing plan, the first time such an arrangement has been tried in public education on this scale.  Third, it induces cooperation among districts through a regional governing council. The council is charged with managing the construction of inter-district 

magnet schools and support centers in high poverty neighborhoods.  

Regional solutions to inequality are not new.  However, none have been attempted on the scale of the Learning Community effort.  The creation of this agreement was, as the study illustrates, a difficult process. 

This study describes how key stakeholders (from business, 

philanthropy, media, and education) advocated for the legislation.  

The support of those stakeholders could feasibly be marshaled in other 

contexts.   The plan, at its beginning stages, merits close attention 

by those interested in regional solutions to educational inequality.




School Racial Composition and Young Children’s Cognitive Development:


Isolating Family, Neighborhood, and School Influences


By Douglas D. Ready & Megan R. Silander, Teachers College, Columbia University



Racial and ethnic disparities in cognitive ability are evident even among very young children. Non-white and non-Asian students enter kindergarten academically behind their more-advantaged peers, and these initial cognitive differences increase as children progress through school. Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study

(ECLS-K) and three-level growth-curve modeling within an HLM framework, this study explores the extent to which school racial/ ethnic composition explains these widening inequalities. In addition to this substantive focus, our study addresses a fundamental issue salient to a wide array of research on education policy. Any non- experimental study that attributes academic development to school policies and practices faces serious questions of selection and unmeasured variable bias. Within the context of our present study, estimates of the effects of school racial composition on student learning may be spurious, reflecting instead other influences related to the characteristics of students, families, and the neighborhoods in which they live. Fortunately, the analytic methods we employ permit us to isolate learning that occurs during the school year (when school and family and neighborhood influences are present), from learning 

during the summer months (when school effects are largely removed).  

Our results suggest that even after adjusting for a host of student and school characteristics, students attending high-minority enrollment schools gain fewer mathematics skills in both kindergarten and first grade, and develop fewer literacy skills during first grade. 

In the case of mathematics skills development, holding other student and school-level characteristics constant, a student attending a high- minority school from kindergarten through sixth grade would be over five months behind a similar child who attended a non-high-minority school. Black students who attend high-minority enrollment schools—as the majority in this nationally representative sample do—are doubly disadvantaged. Again controlling for student and school characteristics, a black student in a high minority school would gain over 12 months fewer mathematics skills than her white peer in a non- high-minority school—a difference of 1.25 academic years over seven years of elementary school. Importantly, we find no effects of school racial composition on summer learning between kindergarten and first grade, providing further evidence of the robustness of these results.



Is Class Working? An Update on Socioeconomic Student Assignment Plans in


Wake County, NC and Cambridge, MA


By Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, University of California, Los Angeles



Two forces – rapidly changing demographics and courts that have been largely unreceptive to the implementation of desegregation, though not necessarily hostile to its underlying goals – have combined to create a challenging environment for school districts interested in pursuing educational equality through voluntary integration policies. One of the by-products of these challenges has been a shift towards socio- economic (SES) integration, or assigning students to schools based on some measure of poverty. This research examines the impacts associated with SES integration on racial diversity and academic achievement in Wake County, North Carolina and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Numbers indicate that both districts are struggling to effectively put their SES integration policies into operation, making it impossible to ascertain what racial balance and student achievement might look like under fully implemented plans. Yet figures from the partially realized policies imply that SES integration has corresponded with a decline in racial balance in Wake County and decreased levels of balance for black and Latino students in Cambridge. Student test scores in both of the districts are generally above state averages, yet low-income students in Wake County and Cambridge perform slightly lower than their state counterparts. This may be due to the partially realized nature of SES integration in each district, in addition to school level factors that undermine the policy, including ability grouping and tracking.




Racially Integrated Education and the Role of the Federal Government


By Chinh Q. Le, Seton Hall University



This essay looks back at the role that the federal government played with regard to issues of school integration (or, for most of the past, school desegregation) to see how history can inform what a new administration in Washington could do to reinvigorate the cause and advance the goal of racially integrated education.  The school desegregation story that many of us – especially the lawyers and law students among us – know best is the one that follows the federal courts’ role in implementing the powerful but all-too vague mandate of that historic decision.  But there is a parallel and interwoven tale that involves the political branches of government too, and the purpose of revisiting that tale is threefold.  First, it tells us where we stand and how we got here.  Second, it reminds us that, as important as the federal judiciary has been in shaping the opportunities for meaningful racial and ethnic integration in our public schools, leadership from the President and Congress has had as much, if not more, of an impact on those opportunities than the court decisions.  Third, it highlights the legal/policy tools out there and the federal agencies that once were and may once again become allies to the cause under an administration that is willing to make integration a priority.  This essay proceeds as follows.  Part I begins with a brief review of how the political branches of the federal government have dealt with issues of school integration/ desegregation under the first nine presidential administrations after Brown.  Part II then continues that inquiry for the past eight years under President George W. Bush.  These first two Parts highlight the most relevant pieces of federal legislation relating to education and civil rights that have been passed over the past 50-plus years.  To inform recommendations made in the latter portions of this essay, however, Parts 1 and 2 also focus on the creation, development, and role of three federal government entities/agencies in particular: (1) the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, (2) the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education, and its predecessor, in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and (3) the U.S. 

Commission on Civil Rights.  Finally, Part III contains the recommendations for the new administration.  One set addresses the immediate, message-setting actions that the president can take right away; a second set deals with the federal government’s school desegregation docket; and the third relates to longer-term strategies to advance voluntary school integration.




Federal Legislation to Promote Metropolitan Approaches to Educational and Housing Opportunity


By Elizabeth DeBray-Pelot, University of Georgia and


Erica Frankenberg, Civil Rights Project, University of California-Los Angeles



In this paper, we outline a proposal for new federal legislation to create a pilot grant program in selected Southern metropolitan areas designed to promote voluntary approaches to expanding access to integrated educational and housing opportunity. We present a rationale for why metropolitan-wide solutions are critical in helping to ameliorate school segregation, and we propose a regional combination of housing subsidies and inter-district school transfers.  In the current climate of federal courts’ retreat from recognizing an enforceable link between school and residential segregation, we argue that it is nonetheless a vital public policy issue—perhaps even more vital after the Seattle/Louisville decision—and that it is time for federal legislation to use new policy tools to address the link.  The two specific elements of the program are:  1) a suburban housing relocation program, modeled after Gautreaux, whereby inner-city families receive Section 8 rental certificates that would specify as a condition of participation that they move to low-poverty, low-minority neighborhoods, and 2) a cross-district (city-suburban) transfer program for elementary, middle and high school students that would compensate both the receiving and sending school districts for per- pupil expenditures, as well as cover transportation costs. Drawing on the findings from two housing relocation programs, the Gautreaux Assisted Housing Program and Moving to Opportunity programs (authorized by federal legislation), as well as the experiences of existing school transfer programs, we describe the duration, scope, and cost of this program, explain how they may work in concert with each other to promote opportunity, and provide suggestions for program design, incentives, administration, and evaluation.




About the Civil Rights Project at UCLA


Founded in 1996 by former Harvard professors Gary Orfield and Christopher Edley Jr., the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles is now co-directed by Orfield and Patricia Gándara, professors at UCLA.  Its mission is to create a new generation of research in social science and law on the critical issues of civil rights and 

equal opportunity for racial and ethnic groups in the United States.  

It has commissioned more than 400 studies, published 13 books and issued numerous reports from authors at universities and research centers across the country. The Supreme Court, in its 2003 Grutter v. 

Bollinger decision, cited the Civil Rights Project's research. The briefing was made possible with the support of the Open Society Institute and the Ford Foundation.


June 12th, 2009 -

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