The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Govt. Commission Questions School Desegregation Programs

Civil-rights experts call report misinformed, divisive

by Megan Tady

Dec. 1, 2006 – A new government report that questions the merits of active school desegregation has met with harsh criticism from civil-rights groups.

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The report, released this week by the US Commission on Civil Rights, argues that racial and ethnic diversity in elementary and secondary schools does not significantly contribute to academic improvement. The Commission is an "independent," bipartisan agency established by Congress in 1957. It is charged with monitoring federal civil-rights enforcement.

The report was written using the testimony of a "panel of experts" that assessed some existing social-science literature on the benefits of diversity in the classroom last July. The Commission approved the report by a vote of 4 to 2.

The panelists – an education policy lawyer and three college professors in education, history and public policy – questioned whether diversity should be required by the state through mandatory programs such as "bussing."

The analysis comes as the US Supreme Court prepares to hear two cases that challenge the scope of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which outlawed racial segregation of public schools.

The majority of the Commission concluded that the research so far had not definitively proven that diversity has "social and non-educational benefits." The Commission claimed that "much of the early research indicating educational benefits resulting from racial and ethnic diversity in elementary and secondary schools suffered from serious methodological weaknesses."

The Commission argues that racial and ethnic diversity in elementary and secondary schools does not significantly contribute to academic improvement.

Despite the Commission’s overall findings, the report included testimony from panelists who listed some benefits of diversity in schools.

The report acknowledged that "recent surveys have indicated generally positive reactions to school desegregation, such as cross-racial friendships and greater understanding of racial and cultural differences." Nonetheless, the Commission argued, "some of these surveys do not definitively identify a causal relationship" between desegregation and such developments.

Gary Orfield, director of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, questioned the motives of the Commission. He told The NewStandard the report was a "transparent effort" by the agency to "influence the upcoming Supreme Court cases."

In the pending cases, school districts in Louisville, Kentucky and Seattle, Washington are asking the court to decide the constitutionality of considering race when assigning students to schools. Both school districts use "race conscious" student-assignment plans to maintain desegregation.

William L. Taylor is chair of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, a non-governmental organization that monitors civil-rights policies. He told TNS the report would not have "any real impact" on the court cases. But he said other briefs filed with the Supreme Court contradict the US Commission’s findings. Like several other commissioners on the Citizens’ Commission, Taylor formerly sat on the US Commission on Civil Rights.

“There are numerous briefs filed in the Supreme Court that marshal the evidence that diversity and desegregation in public schools is linked with academic progress and with other kinds of positive effects.”

In October, 553 social scientists signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court summarizing existing research that documents the educational and community benefits of integrated schools. The scientists warned the court that school districts would re-segregate in the absence of racial integration policies.

The brief stated that integrated schools "promote cross-racial understanding, reduce prejudice, improve critical thinking skills and academic achievement, and

enhance life opportunities for students of all races."

The social scientists pointed to a number of studies spanning the last 40 years that evaluated diversity in the classroom.

Two members of the US Commission on Civil Rights strongly opposed the Commission’s findings represented in the new report. Commissioner Michael Yaki, in a dissenting statement, expressed "surprise and shock at the audacity of the majority of the Commission" to issue such an opinion.

Yaki scolded the Commission for using what he said was a "single, three-hour briefing" to create the report.

"The findings… of the majority are a house of cards built upon a foundation of sand, based on a very micro-thin bibliography and flying in the face of ample peer-reviewed academic studies that come to the opposite – and I believe correct – conclusion," he wrote.

In a separate dissenting statement, Yaki and Commissioner Arlan D. Melendez co-wrote that they opposed the report because the research process was flawed and because the report, while attuned to academic performance, ignored the "broader goals of K-12 education."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Megan Tady is a staff journalist.

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