The Integration Report, issue 16

December 19, 2008

The previous issue (TIR #15) outlined the importance of continuing to offer free transportation to students, even in light of recent budget cuts that may threaten bus routes around the nation. This issue of TIR extends the analysis by examining evidence presented from two new studies on “school choice,” a policy that remains highly dependent on the provision of free transportation, along with other civil rights considerations.

Two weeks ago, the Civil Rights Project (CRP) at UCLA released a report titled, “The Forgotten Choice: Magnet Schools in a Changing Landscape,” which coincidentally followed close behind another recently published study entitled, “Failed Promises: Charter Schools in the Twin Cities,” from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Race and Poverty. These two reports offer new evidence during a critical time for educational policy on two differing forms of “school choice” — charter and magnet programs. With the incoming Obama administration signaling that it will support further efforts to expand school choice,1 it is important to distinguish between different kinds of choice and to understand which types best promote both equity and academic excellence. At the close of a year and a half full of political and judicial shifts, the findings from both reports bear closer examination.

Brief history of school choice: early forms of choice

Public school choice is a widely popular concept based on giving families educational options beyond assigned neighborhood or zoned schools.2 While the idea of school choice seems relatively harmless on the surface, the policy has its roots in an era of rampant southern opposition to the desegregative mandate of Brown v. Board of Education.3 “Freedom of choice” plans – the early preferred method of implementing Brown in many parts of the South – lifted the legal restrictions placed on integrated schooling, yet did nothing to proactively ensure that whites and students of color would attend school together. The Supreme Court recognized the frequent ineffectiveness of “freedom of choice” plans in a 1968 decision. This decision, Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, condemned the choice policies crafted during the aftermath of the Brown decision as districts tried to minimize the extent of actual integration, saying “rather than further the dismantling of the dual system, the plan has operated to simply burden parents and children with a responsibility [that should be] placed squarely on the School Board.”4 This early example illustrates one of school choice’s core problems. Without structured civil rights protections (see below), school choice policy in a stratified society will do little (or nothing) to disrupt existing patterns of residential and school segregation.5

A subsequent effort to expand school choice – this time with an emphasis on equitable access – met with greater success. Magnet schools helped link choice, a key element of the conservative agenda, with school desegregation, largely supported by liberal movements.6 Though early magnet programs were developed and implemented in communities like Evanston and Champaign, IL, rapid expansion began after the 1974 Milliken decision barring mandatory desegregation between central city and suburban school districts.7 Following Milliken, magnet schools became increasingly popular as urban districts, particularly in the North, looked for ways to stem the flow of white and middle class families moving to outlying suburbs.8 Milwaukee, WI, Buffalo, NY and Cincinnati, OH were among the leaders. Since magnet programs were designed to attract – or “magnetize” – families from diverse backgrounds, many were constructed with themes (e.g., math and science, business and economics) or with special curricular emphases (i.e., the Montessori approach).9 At the outset, most magnets were also structured with civil rights protections, including concrete desegregation goals, access to free transportation, parent outreach and widespread publicity, and teacher training for classroom diversity.10 Furthering this trend, the highly popular federal magnet school program required that districts pursue desegregation policies, usually aimed at reducing or preventing racial isolation. Today, however, the educational arena in which magnet schools operate is very different from the one in which they were created. The changing policies of the Supreme Court, the influence of conservative administrations, increasing emphasis on testing and accountability, along with the explosion of other choice options, may help account for a well-documented shift away from the original desegregative purpose of magnet programs.11

The rise of additional educational alternatives, including voucher programs and charter schools, began in the early 1990s.12 Whereas magnets had been created with the express purpose of desegregating school districts, these newer choice options seldom included comprehensive strategies to ensure that all families had comparable information and access.13 In 1991, Minnesota passed the first state law approving the establishment of charter schools – publicly funded programs that operate outside of existing public school bureaucracies – followed quickly by California in 1992.14 Today, charter schools exist in 40 states, and enroll over one million students.15 They have proved highly popular across the political aisle. For example, both 2008 presidential candidates’ touted charters in their education platforms. President-elect Obama recently committed to doubling federal funding for charter schools from $200 million to $400 million.16

On the other hand, voucher programs, which distribute public funds to families in order to cover the cost of private school tuition, have met with increasing political resistance. Since many of the private schools receiving voucher students have religious affiliations, violation of the constitutional separation of church and state has become a thorny issue for voucher supporters. Court decisions have both sanctioned and condemned voucher programs. While they exist in some cities – namely Washington, DC and Milwaukee, WI – vouchers have not expanded at nearly the pace of charters.17

The expansion of school choice without proper consideration of the many barriers (e.g., language isolation, lack of access to social networks with information about choice, inability to provide a means of student transport) that prevent all families from having equal access to schools beyond their neighborhoods, has given rise to a number of issues highlighted in both the Civil Rights Project report and the Institute on Race & Poverty study. Several key findings from the reports are included in the following section.

Key findings

• “The Forgotten Choice: Magnet Schools in a Changing Landscape”
The report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, while focusing largely on the magnet experience, finds some important distinctions between this early form of choice and charter schools. Findings from the report were drawn from a survey given to a sample of participants at the April 2008 Magnet Schools of America conference in Chattanooga, Tennessee, all of whom were associated with the nationwide magnet schools community. While not a random sample of all magnets, the survey results offer insight into on-the-ground conditions in many magnet schools one year after the PICS decision.

Magnet schools continue to be the largest public school choice option, enrolling twice as many students as charter schools, according to the analysis of federal data described in the report. Charter schools, lacking the built-in civil rights protections that tended to come with magnet programs, are, on average, more racially and socioeconomically segregated than magnets.18 Further, charters are more socioeconomically isolated than traditional public schools, suggesting that they may be skimming the more economically advantaged students away from regular district schools. The Civil Rights Project study also found that magnet programs in districts that contained charter schools were more likely to experience declining levels of integration.

Importantly, while magnet programs still tend to produce more integrated schools than charters, the report finds that some notable changes have occurred in magnets. A shifting emphasis away from the original goal of desegregation has important implications for levels of racial diversity and parental demand in magnet schools. The UCLA report found that declining levels of integration and demand were associated with schools that had changed desegregation goals to race-neutral ones, or dropped them altogether. On the other hand, increasing integration was associated with structures like access to free transportation, whole-school magnet programs (versus school-within-a-school magnets), special outreach and non-competitive admissions processes (i.e., open enrollment or lottery based systems). Finally, lower teacher turnover rates were associated with more integrated magnet programs, suggesting that these school environments help produce a more stable teaching force. Other research also shows that teachers leave schools undergoing resegregation.19

For a full copy of the report, go to

• “Failed Promises: Assessing Charter Schools in the Twin Cities”
A report from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Race and Poverty offers a grim assessment of the impact of charter programs to date. The study finds that charter schools in Minnesota, the first state to adopt charter school legislation, perform worse on average than other public schools on standardized tests. After conducting an analysis of reading and math scores in the state, the report concludes that, controlling for poverty rates, only 24% of charters have high performance rates, compared to 54% of regular public schools. The University of Minnesota study also examined an alternative program, The Choice Is Yours, a desegregation transfer option that allows students to attend higher performing public schools in different neighborhoods and districts. The study found that 79% of participating students performed better than expected in this alernative program, after accounting for poverty rates.

The report also concludes that charter schools have also contributed to racial and socioeconomic segregation in the Twin Cities. This is exacerbated by the fact that many of the metro area charter programs operate as neighborhood schools, even though charter schools conceivably could attract students from across different neighborhoods. Instead, by failing to deliver on the promise of offering choices beyond racially isolated attendance zones (in contrast to the Choice is Yours program), school composition is not detangled from neighborhood segregation. The report also finds that the rise of “ethnocentric” charters – schools developed with a theme or orientation around racial/ethnic identity – has had the impact of pressuring public schools to offer similar programs. Regardless of other educational aspects of these schools and programs, they attract students largely of one race/ethnicity, leading to deepening segregation in the Twin Cities.

Finally, the study concludes that school competition in Minnesota has stimulated a “race to the bottom,” where choice serves to offer families inferior choices to traditional public schools, not better ones. More accountability and oversight for charter programs is urged, along with an increasing emphasis going forward on establishing and maintaining civil rights considerations in charters.

For a full copy of the report, go to

• What do these two reports mean for current school choice policy?
Findings from both studies suggest that a large-scale assessment of existing choice policy would be an important component of any current or new federal or state initiatives on educational choice. The reports also suggest that the prioritizing of charter schools alone – in terms of both attention and funding – is misguided given their undesirable effects on school diversity, and, in the case of Minnesota, student performance. By contrast, the magnet school model, while not successful everywhere, holds important lessons for future school choice policy. Past social science research has found strong evidence that magnets help promote academic excellence, and these successes from the magnet experience should inform the development of other forms of school choice. Many magnet programs have demonstrated a longstanding commitment to racial diversity, and offer concrete strategies for “magnetizing” families from all backgrounds by creating quality educational options in conjunction with equal access to information and transportation.

The June 2007 Supreme Court decision limiting the use of race in student assignment policies is still sending aftershocks through the education world. The CRP report uncovered deep confusion about the precise impact of the decision among respondents in the MSA sample, suggesting that many stakeholders are unsure of how to proceed in its aftermath. It is possible that more guidance will be forthcoming after the Obama administration finishes the process of appointing and staffing members of the Department of Education. The CRP report and the Institute of Race & Poverty study each suggest that after more than a third of a century of major experiments with choice mechanisms, it is now time to carefully assess which forms of choice expand opportunity, achievement, and racial integration, versus those that make little difference or, at worse, increase separation and diminish academic achievement.

For next time…
The next issue of TIR will highlight school and housing developments in a racially changing America.

Genevieve Siegel-Hawley
The Integration Report

1 Official Web site of Barack Obama, retrieved on December 1, 2008 from
2 Center for Education Reform,, Choice. Ed Week (Sept. 10, 2004) retrieved on December 6, 2008 from
3 Frankenberg , E. & Siegel-Hawley, G. (2008). The Forgotten Choice: Magnet Schools in a Changing Landscape. See also, Forman, James (2001). The Secret History of School Choice: How Progressives Got There First. Georgetown Law School Journal, retrieved on December 6, 2008 from
4 Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, 391 U.S. 430 (1968), pp. 441-42.
5 Fuller, B., Elmore, R. F. & Orfield, G. (Eds). (1996). Who chooses? Who loses? Culture, institutions, and the unequal effects of school choice. New York: Teachers College Press..
6 Frankenberg, E. & Le, C. Q. (forthcoming). The post-Seattle/Louisville challenge: Extra-legal obstacles to integration. Ohio State Law Journal. Frankenberg & Siegel-Hawley, 2008.
7 Ibid.
8 Orfield, G. (1996). Turning back to segregation. In G. Orfield & S. E. Eaton (Eds.), Dismantling
desegregation: The quiet reversal of Brown vs. Board of Education
(pp. 1–22). New York: The New Press.
9 Goldring, E. & Smrekar, C. (2000). Magnet Schools and the Pursuit of Racial Balance. Education and
Urban Society
, 33(17).
10 Frankenberg & Siegel-Hawley, 2008.
11 Brief of the American Civil Liberties Union in Support of Respondents, Parents Involved in Community Schs. v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1 and Crystal D. Meredith v. Jefferson County Bd. of Educ., Nos. 05 908 & 05-915 (Sp. Ct. 2006) (“ACLU Brief”). Frankenberg & Le, forthcoming.
12 Charter Schools History, retrieved on December 7, 2008 from, Legal History of Vouchers, retrieved on December 7, 2008 from
13 Fuller, B., Elmore, R. & Orfield, G. (1996).
14 History of Charter Schools,, Minnesota report.
15 Frankenberg & Siegel-Hawley, 2008.
16 Elliot, D. (9/9/08). Obama vows to double charter-school funding. NPR: All things considered. Retrieved on December 8, 2008 from
17 Frankenberg, E. & Le, C., forthcoming.
18 Frankenberg & Siegel-Hawley, 2008. Fuller, B., Elmore, R. F. & Orfield, G. (Eds). (1996). Frankenberg, E. & Lee, C. (2003) Charter schools and race: A lost opportunity for integrated education. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 11, no. 32.
19 Freeman, C., Scafidi, B., & Sjoquist, D. (2005). Racial segregation in Georgia public schools, 1994-2001: Trends, causes and impact on teacher quality. In J. C. Boger & G. Orfield (Eds.), School resegregation: Must the south turn back? (pp. 148-63). Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. Frankenberg, E. (2008). America’s diverse, racially changing schools and their teachers. Harvard University, Cambridge.


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News Summary

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Please send reports, documents, court decisions, comments or suggestions for topics to: The Integration Report, Editor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, at

Articles related to Minnesota

Minnesota’s charter schools fall short of expectations
A study released today by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Race and Poverty finds that most charter schools have fallen short of that promise and perform worse than comparable district schools on state tests. In the process, it said, charters also intensify racial and economic segregation and compound the problem by encouraging districts to compete by creating ethnic niche programs (December 1, 2008).

Twin Cities-area schools more segregated than ever
Minneapolis and St. Paul schools are more segregated than ever considering the cities long desegregation efforts (November 17, 2008).

Minority populations in suburbs rise — and so do number of segregated schools
Osseo and other suburbs far afield from the inner-city St. Paul and Minneapolis school districts now sport a rainbow of skin colors and ethnic backgrounds, a change some accept easily and others don’t (November 18, 2008).–_and_so_do_number_of_segregated_schools

The rise of voluntarily segregated schools: new trend, familiar problems
Embittered by perennially sagging test scores and the lack of a diverse faculty at many public schools in Minnesota — and anxious for children to learn about their heritage — growing numbers of minority families have embraced schools that place an emphasis on students’ racial and ethnic identities (November 19, 2008).

State and educators can’t agree on how to spend integration funds
Twin City educators today find themselves in a continual scramble to entice families from a variety of races, ethnicities and socioeconomic levels to send their kids to diverse schools. Those efforts may no longer mean spending millions to transport kids to and from segregated neighborhoods, but it still costs money (November 20, 2008).

A better way to integrate schools: by race and class
As Minnesota has watched its numbers of students of color climb dramatically over the past two decades and their academic achievement lag in increasingly segregated schools, one question begs to be answered: Is there a better way to educate our children? (November 21, 2008).

New Hanover school officials vow to take time with redistricting
New Hanover (North Carolina) school officials aren’t wasting any time in restarting discussions on redistricting options for next year, but parents, and most board members, have resisted using the student shift to address a growing lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity in Wilmington’s downtown schools (November 6, 2008).

Black teachers in short supply
This past school year, 19.5 percent of Michigan school children were black, but 8.4 percent of teachers were African-American. And slightly more than half of the state’s African-American teachers are employed by the Detroit Public Schools — 4,796 of Michigan’s 9,358 black teachers (November 3, 2008).

School choice important for student success
The Houston Independent School District considers cutting back bus service to magnet schools as a money-saving measure, and points out that the district spends $16.6 million a year on buses for magnet-school kids — only about 1 percent of HISD’s budget. Cutting the buses, say magnet-school fans, would gut the popular programs, which serve a fifth of HISD students (November 24, 2008).

Racial imbalance persists at elite public schools
Recent efforts to get more black and Hispanic students into New York City’s elite public high schools have fallen short, with proportionately fewer of them taking the admissions exam and even lower percentages passing it (November 7, 2008).

School in limbo
The Evangeline Parish School Board (Louisiana) will continue fighting to keep Ville Platte High School open, despite the U.S. Justice Department’s recommendation that it shut down. The predominantly black high school is the center of a 45-year-old desegregation lawsuit. The U.S. Justice Department has continuously said that the school is not comparable to other high schools in the parish and last year asked that it either build a new high school or shut down and bus its 400 ninth- to 12th-graders elsewhere (November 10, 2008).

Will fewer magnets help other schools?
As Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools dismantles magnet programs affecting thousands of students, the pressure is on to upgrade struggling neighborhood schools where some of those students will return (November 14, 2008).

School board turns focus to race
Richmond County (Georgia) school board members informally agreed Saturday to address the system’s longstanding federal desegregation order (November 16, 2008).

MPS neighborhood schools’ troubles go unaddressed
A slight improvement in enrollment this fall is about all that has changed for 25 schools that were at the heart of a troubled $102 million construction program for Milwaukee Public Schools. Officials have taken no major steps to change the situation at schools where enrollment is far below the goals set when the Neighborhood Schools Initiative was launched in 2000 (November 16, 2008).

Lee School Board members will review a plan Tuesday to expand school choice
Students interested in the unique learning opportunities offered at certain Lee County public schools (Florida) will have a better chance of attending those schools under a student assignment plan revision School Board members will review (November 17, 2008).

Albert Lea School District could get state revenue
The Albert Lea School District has an opportunity to receive state desegregation revenue by chipping in some of its own money and joining with nearby school districts to form a desegregation collaborative. The desegregation revenue comes from the Minnesota Department of Education. Local school districts must come up with 30 percent through a property tax levy to receive the other 70 percent, coming from state coffers (November 17, 2008).

Proposal to split up high school race-based
Franklin Parish (Louisiana) School Board President Ed Ray Bryan says a recent move in Franklin Parish to divide the single high school into three smaller schools started as an effort to recreate a racially segregated high school in Crowville (November 18, 2008).

Brighton, other districts work to achieve staff diversity
Minorities accounted for only 2 percent of Brighton School District (New York) staff in the 2007-08 school year, but the district is actively involved in several programs aimed at encouraging minority high school students to pursue teaching (November 18, 2008).

Unitary proposal introduced
Madison County (Tennessee) commissioners will meet on Monday to discuss a new proposal for shepherding local public schools out from under much of a decades-long federal desegregation lawsuit (November 18, 2008).

Black leaders push changes to school rezoning
Black community leaders proposed Sunday to amend and suspend rezoning plans they say will segregate Nashville Metro schools, but school board members say a change is unlikely as parents begin to receive letters telling where their children can go next year (November 17, 2008).

An end for racially integrated schools?
For decades, Chicago Public Schools has operated under a legal decree requiring it to maintain as many desegregated schools as possible. But a federal judge may soon terminate the plan. In anticipation, school officials are already thinking about how they’ll grant admission to the city’s popular magnet schools. Some worry the court’s decision could mean a curtain call for the district’s racially integrated schools (November 20, 2008).

Deseg pact passes board
Members of the Jackson-Madison County (Tennessee) School Board voted to approve modifications in a proposed desegregation consent agreement. The vote came in a public meeting after an hour-long closed meeting with an attorney (November 21, 2008).

Support for magnet schools waning despite their success
Support for magnet schools has foundered nationwide even though they continue to shine compared to other types of public schools, including charters, researchers concluded in a report released today. Magnet programs, created to promote voluntary integration, have suffered court setbacks, stagnant federal funding and local budget cuts (November 26, 2008).,0,3647004.story

Weak economy may threaten school integration financial incentives
The goal of the expanded Project Choice effort is to help the state meet desegregation benchmarks in the Sheff v. O’Neill lawsuit settlement. In most years, the governor and General Assembly would likely sign off on the money with little debate. But the proposal — part of a two-year, $49 million desegregation plan — comes as Connecticut spirals into its worst financial crisis in memory (December 1, 2008).,0,7295377.story

Kansas City’s ‘forgotten’ magnet schools lead in state scores
The Kansas City school district’s “signature schools” — as its magnets are now known — do more blending than the city’s growing public charter schools and have better test scores overall, according to data analyzed by The Star (December 7, 2008).

JCPS has new assignment plan for high schools and middle schools
Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisville, KY) has developed a new student-assignment plan for its middle and high schools that Superintendent Sheldon Berman says will promote continuity and quality while maintaining diversity (December 7, 2008).

Please send us your news
Please send reports, documents, court decisions, comments or suggestions for topics to: The Integration Report, Editor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, at

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Employment Opportunities related to School Integration

The Connecticut State Department of Education invites qualified individuals to apply for Executive Director of the Regional School Choice Office. The Office will develop initiatives and programming designed to reduce racial, ethnic and socioeconomic isolation of Hartford-resident minority students following the resolution of Sheff v. O’Neill. For more information, please visit

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Additional Resources for School Integration

**NEW** Article – “Court Mandated Education Reform: The San Francisco Experience and the Shaping of Educational Policy after Seattle-Louisville and Ho v. SFUSD“. Volume 4, Issue 2, Stanford Journal of Civil Liberties & Civil Rights, Pages 159-215. This research article, written by UCLA Professor and former Court Monitor Stuart Biegel, examines the arc of desegregation in the San Francisco Unified School District and has important implications for school districts around the country in the wake of the PICS decision.

Cole Civil Rights Web Site, – The Web site completes Attorney Richard Cole’s transition to private sector civil rights work after more than three decades of extensive civil rights experience as Assistant Attorney General and Civil Rights Division Chief in the Massachusetts Office of Attorney General, a private practice civil rights litigator, and a legal services litigator and manager.

New Publication – Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race In School: The New Press announces the publication of Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race In School, edited by Mica Pollock. How should teachers and parents respond when children ask challenging questions about race? How should teachers handle the use of the “N-word” or discuss “achievement gaps” with colleagues? How can teachers avoid unwittingly making children of color speak on behalf of their entire group? While numerous books exist about race and race theory, Everyday Antiracism puts theory into practice by offering specific strategies for combating racism in the classroom. This book is available to order through or

Sheff Web Site, – This Web provides information regarding the Sheff desegregation case in Connecticut. To view the results of a recent statewide poll revealing broad based support for interdistrict desegregation programs, please visit

BuildingChoice Web Site, – This Web site is designed to help implement and maintain public school choice programs. Included are promising practices from a range of programs, tools, and links to many additional resources to support your choice efforts.

The School Law Blog, – Visit the School Law Blog for an important discussion of news and analysis of legal developments affecting schools, educators, and parents. Mark Walsh has been covering legal issues in education for more than 15 years for Education Week. He writes about school-related cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and in lower courts.

Still Looking to the Future: Voluntary K-12 School Integration; A Manual for Parents, Educators and Advocates. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles (CRP) are distributing the 2nd edition of their K-12 school integration manual which addresses the practical questions of what can be done to promote diversity and address the harms of racial isolation in schools.
To download the manual, visit or
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

Preserving Integration Options for Latino Students. The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) and the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles (CRP/PDC) are currently disseminating their collaboratively-written guide for parents, advocates and educators interested in promoting diversity and addressing the harms of Latino racial isolation in their schools.
To download the manual or for additional information, please visit CRP/PDF’s Web site at

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The Integration Report – Staff Members

Editor: Genevieve Siegel-Hawley
Editorial Assistant: Jared Sanchez
Legal Research: Hadley Van Vector
Editorial Committee: Erica Frankenberg, Gary Orfield, Laurie Russman
Webmaster: John Khuu

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Key Terms

PICSParents 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. The decision limited the use of race in student assignment plans.

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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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