The Integration Report, issue 2

January 31, 2008

Our national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. brings with it an important reminder: his dream of real and lasting integration only remains a viable option if we strive to make it so, especially in communities struggling to cope with the aftermath of the 2007 Seattle/Louisville decision. For school districts maintaining some form of integration – through controlled choice, student transfer options or magnet schools – the importance of preserving core benefits of their desegregation plans remains of vital public importance.

What happens when school districts drop their desegregation plans altogether?

In the months following the June 2007 Seattle/Louisville decision, we have seen a disturbing pattern develop among school districts deciding that the easiest and safest response to the ruling is to eliminate existing desegregation plans altogether. The judicial system has enabled this pattern by handing down a number of rulings granting unitary status to school districts previously under federal court order to desegregate.

The effects of recent decisions in local courts to drop plans in places like Little Rock, Arkansas and Tucson, Arizona are not yet known, and the results of the judicial appeals process may further alter the outcomes. Yet, evidence from several districts around the country that have ended their desegregation policies in recent years is alarming. Segregation is rapidly increasing in these places, and the numerous harms associated with it – high teacher turnover, soaring drop out rates, a lack of resources, lower test scores, and fewer highly qualified teachers1 – are on the rise. Confirmation of these trends comes from two cities: Charlotte, North Carolina and Denver, Colorado. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district was granted unitary status in 2002. Since then, the districts’ schools have become more segregated than they were before desegregation was originally implemented in 1969.2 In Denver, the number of elementary schools with less than 10% white enrollment increased from almost zero to nearly 30% of all elementary schools, just four years after the desegregation order was lifted.3

What happens when school districts elect to return to uncontrolled “choice”?

Some school districts have framed their decision to eliminate desegregation plans as a “return to parental choice.” The historical implications of choice go back to the early days of Massive Resistance in the South4 when freedom-of-choice plans were a proxy for the maintenance of segregated school systems. The 1968 Supreme Court decision in Green v. County School Board of New Kent County struck down freedom-of-choice plans in New Kent County, Virginia, ruling that “rather than further the dismantling of the dual system, the plan has operated to simply burden children and their parents with a responsibility [that should be] placed squarely on the School Board.”5 After three years under freedom-of-choice, no white student in New Kent County had elected to attend the segregated black school, and 85% of the county’s black students were still attending all-black schools.6 Extensive reports by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission documented similar problems across the South.7

This lesson from the early days of desegregation is a warning sign to school districts considering student assignment plans based solely on choice. More recently, sociologists have found that the ability to fully utilize school choice options is closely related to access to information (including information in a family’s native language), transportation and material and cultural resources, none of which are equally available to American families.8 Districts interested in pursuing uncontrolled choice should carefully assess its potential ramifications, as the most likely result will be the rapid resegregation of area schools.

The decision to drop desegregation plans altogether, or to frame uncontrolled choice as a return to parental choice, has potentially disastrous consequences for American schools. The numbers from districts that have elected to take this route clearly point to a hasty return to segregated school contexts.

What can districts do in the meantime?

We recognize that Supreme Court decision has created a confusing landscape of contradictions for school districts interested in maintaining voluntary integration. Our next issue will outline several strategies (including several forms of managed choice that differ significantly from uncontrolled options) that school districts might consider implementing instead of choosing to eliminate their current plans.

Genevieve Siegel-Hawley
The Integration Report

1 Statement submitted by 553 Social Scientists, in PARENTS INVOLVED IN COMMUNITY SCHOOLS v.SEATTLE SCHOOL DIST. NO. 1 No. 05-908.
2 NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund/Civil Rights Project-Proyecto Derechos Civiles (2008), Still Looking to the Future: Voluntary K-12 School Integration, p. 51.
3 Michal Kurlaender and Catherine Horn (2006) The End of Keyes – Resegregation Trends and Achievement in Denver Public Schools, p. 13, available at
4 Massive Resistance, a movement created and led by Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia, was an effort to unite white politicians in the politics of resistance against the Brown decision. Most historians consider the movement’s peak years to be from 1956-1960, though it continued for a longer period of time in some places.
5 Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, 391 U.S. 430, retrieved at
6 Ibid.
7 United States, Commission on Civil Rights, A Long Day’s Journey into Light: School Desegregation in Prince George’s County (Washington, DC: GPO, 1986) 193-194
8 Amy Stuart Wells (1991), Choice in Education: Examining the Evidence on Equity, retrieved from ; Fuller, B., R. Elmore & G. Orfield (Eds) Who chooses? Who loses? (NY, Teachers College Press).


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Words to Remember from Dr. King

“We must always be aware of the fact that our ultimate goal is integration, and that desegregation is only a first step on the road to the good society. Desegregation is eliminative and negative, for it simply removes legal and social prohibitions. Integration is creative, and is therefore more profound and far-reaching than desegregation. Integration is the positive acceptance of desegregation and the welcomed participation of Negroes in the total range of human activities. Integration is genuine intergroup, interpersonal doing. Desegregation then, rightly, is only a short-range goal. Integration is the ultimate goal of our national community.

A second ethical demand of integration is recognition of the fact that a denial of freedom to an individual is a denial of life itself. The absence of freedom is the imposition of restraint on my deliberations as to what I shall do, where I shall live, how much I shall earn, the kind of tasks I shall pursue. I am robbed of the basic quality of man-ness. When I cannot choose what I shall do or where I shall live or how I shall survive, it means in fact that someone or some system has already made these a priori decisions for me, and I am reduced to an animal. I do not live; I merely exist. I cannot adequately assume responsibility as a person because I have been made a party to a decision in which I played no part in making.”
– From A Testament of Hope: Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, edited by James M. Washington, San Francisco: Harper, 1991.

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News Summary

Jefferson County schools unveil desegregation plan
Race, income and education level — all three would be considered equally in assigning students and keeping Jefferson County’s public schools (Louisville, KY) integrated under a new student-assignment proposal.

Resegregation of U.S. schools deepening
According to a new report documenting desegregation trends, the most segregated schools are in big cities of the Northeast and Midwest. The South and West – and rural areas and small towns generally – offer minority students a bit more diversity.

Board gets deal offer on schools
An attorney for black students in the Little Rock School District is offering to strike a deal with the School Board that would end his legal challenge of the district’s unitary status if the school district agrees to several commitments.

Evangeline School Board to oppose Justice Dept. Motion
The Evangeline Parish School Board has authorized its attorney to aggressively oppose a motion filed by the U.S. Justice Department stating that the school district is not doing enough to remedy conditions in a local high school under its 38-year-old federal court order.

Houston County consent decree lifted
A federal judge lifts a consent decree stemming from a desegregation suit against Houston County Schools (Alabama).

Foothills is seeking TUSD students
The Catalina Foothills School District is inviting families in the neighboring Tucson Unified School District, which is under a desegregation order, to apply for open enrollment in an effort to boost the number of students in its schools.

School overcrowding collides with desegregation decision, appeals
Shelby County school system (Tennessee, bordering Memphis) is seeking permission from a U.S. District Judge to build two new schools, even as it appeals the judge’s decision last year to move the system toward an aggressive racial desegregation plan. The case governs desegregation efforts in the school system as well as decisions about where schools are built and the attendance zones for those schools.

Metro to examine racial makeup of its 3 academic magnets
A Vanderbilt University scholar suggests the Nashville school district examine the purpose of magnet schools and their location in the city.

In professor’s model, Diversity = Productivity
A recently published book, “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies” (Princeton University Press), uses mathematical modeling and case studies to show how staff diversity produces organizational strength.

Wichitans grill district over school busing plan
Wichitans express concern over the possibility of resegregation at the district’s first public meeting about the administration’s proposal to end its 37-year integration agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Horne, TUSD at odds over ethnics studies
An ethnic studies course in the cash-strapped Tucson Unified School District is one that the state superintendent of public schools has said divides students. The superintendent’s statements have caused a rift between himself and TUSD over whether the course should continue.

New face of segregation
Stamp released commemorating the 1944 Supreme Court Mendez decision declaring the segregation of Latino students illegal.

Oregon superintendent advocates integration plan among other things
Eugene School District Superintendent makes it clear in a report released Monday that he advocates closing some neighborhood elementary schools, re¬locating alternative elementary schools and restricting open enrollment as ways to achieve greater equity and integration

East-metro district may change course on integration
St. Paul, Minnesota school district considers a major revision of its integration plan.

Demographers won’t give opinions on closings
Galveston school administrators (Texas) on the rezoning committee voted Thursday to not allow demographers to investigate whether the district chose the best schools to close.

Des Moines Board wants time to decide on diversity plan
Des Moines school board members and residents Tuesday expressed outrage that they will have less than a month to craft, and decide whether to use, a new diversity plan to replace more than 30-year-old desegregation rules for open enrollment.

Symposium looks at effect of court ruling on school integration plans
Event summary at the University of Louisville Law School regarding the repercussions of the Seattle/Louisville decision.

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New Research from Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles

The Last Have Become First: Rural and Small Town America Lead the Way on Desegregation, by Gary Orfield and Erica Frankenberg, is the latest in a series of CRP annual reports on desegregation trends. The report shows that a pattern has clearly developed: rural areas and small-towns in the South, especially those without large areas of residential segregation, have the most integrated schools in the country. Ironically the large urban districts and their suburbs, mostly in the North, display the most segregated schools. The new data shows almost half of minority students in the nation’s large metros already attend suburban schools.

Access this new research at:

Are Teachers Prepared for Racially Changing Schools? Teachers Describe their Preparation, Resources and Practices for Racially Diverse Schools, by Erica Frankenberg and Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, incorporates teachers’ responses to a nationwide survey, carried out with the support and collaboration of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and reveals the following:

  • Teachers in white, middle-to-upper-class communities report feeling least prepared to deal with racial change.
  • Younger teachers and those teaching in diverse or segregated minority schools often feel pressure from testing and accountability policies that prevents them from incorporating effective multicultural tools in their classrooms.
  • About a third of teachers report a lack of any preparation to deal with the growing issues of linguistic diversity appearing in more and more American communities.

Access this new research at:

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Additional Resources for School Integration

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles (CRP) announce the release of Still Looking to the Future: Voluntary K-12 School Integration; A Manual for Parents, Educators and Advocates. The Manual addresses the practical questions of what parents, advocates and educators can now do to promote diversity and address the harms of racial isolation in their schools.

To download the manual or for additional information, please visit LDF’s School Integration website at or the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles website at

To request hard copies or CDs of the manual and supplemental materials, please send an e-mail with your contact information and the number of copies requested to

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Upcoming Events

February 7, 2008, Los Angeles
The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund and the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles will be hosting a reception to announce the release of a manual for parents, advocates and educators interested in promoting diversity and addressing the harms of Latino racial isolation in their schools.
Location: Banks-Huntley Building, 634 Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90014 in the Edison Room. For more information, please contact Olivia Paniagua at: or call 213-629-2512 x109.

February 8-9, 2008, Seattle
Brown Undone? The Future of Integration in Seattle After PICS v. SSD No. 1 – A Multi-Disciplinary Symposium. Seattle University School of Law. For more information, or to register, please go to, or call 206-398-4282.

Please send us your news
Please send reports, documents, and decisions from your community to The Integration Report, Editor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, at Include web links if they are available.

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Key Terms

Controlled choice – student assignment plans that attempt to provide choice to parents in a manner that continues to promote racial integration. Controlled choice plans usually replace neighborhood attendance districts with larger zones.

Dual system – a school district still operating a segregated system of education.

Magnet school – created during the early days of desegregation, magnets are public schools offering a specialized curriculum to a student body that purports to represent the diversity of the community. Magnet schools have traditionally used race-conscious admissions policies to ensure adequate representation of all student groups.

Seattle/Louisville decisionParents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No.1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education was decided by the Supreme Court in June, 2007. This decision limited the use of race in student assignment plans.

Student transfer options – desegregation plans that create an option for students to transfer to a different school, either within their current district (intra-district transfers) or outside of their district (inter-district transfers). Two of the most popular student transfer plans are inter-district city-suburban options in St. Louis and Boston.

Unitary status – a school district can be declared unitary once it has shown good faith in eliminating all vestiges of its previously segregated, or dual, system. “Good faith” can be interpreted loosely, and often unitary status is granted despite strong evidence that the school district remains segregated.

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The Integration Report is produced by the Initiative on School Integration at The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, and is supported by a grant from the Open Society Institute.

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