Desegration/Resegregation, Huh?

Inside Higher Ed features a piece today by Gary Orfield, Erica Frankenberg, and Liliana Garces bemoaning the impact of the Supreme Court’s late desegregation ruling.

They foresee an associated collapse of minority applications to colleges, as they glimpse minorities sinking into underperforming all-minority schools. They bolster their case with citations from Eric Hanushek, who’s written convincingly on the poor performance of mainly-minority schools. Yet it might have done them good to read more of Hanushek. Read their claim first:

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.

Well, perhaps. Hanushek has found superior black performance in integrated schools, but has not made comparable assertions about the utility of integration schemes in improving performance. Hanushek and Rivkin, in fact, wrote in 2006:

We conclude that, although we identify specific school and peer factors that systematically affect racial achievement gaps, policy directed at just these factors is unlikely to be very successful. Instead, a broader set of policies aimed at improving the quality of schools attended by blacks – such as improving teacher quality – will be required. In addition, the large gaps at school entry highlight the importance of developing effective early childhood interventions.

The authors additionally asserted that, in their survey sample, “housing patterns account for the bulk of school segregation” that “court decisions limit inter-district desegregation programs” and that their “sample covers a period without much systematic desegregation activity.” The IHE piece, beyond failing to read Hanushek’s research, fails, glaringly, to consider the potential impact of income on performance. Majority-black schools tend to contain higher numbers of impoverished students than integrated schools. This might create unfortunate dynamics in itself, (and, as Hanushek asserted, pose particular challenges to high-performing black students) but broader evidence that integration in itself is propping up black performance, or could improve it, is quite lacking. They’re certainly right that mainly-black and Hispanic school districts are in dire need of improvement – the solution is, well, to improve them, not to yearn after racial alchemy as the great corrective.

Anthony Paletta

Anthony Paletta is a freelance writer.

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