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Court Limits Use of Race in School Assignments


In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional two districts' plans that used race as a factor in assigning K-12 students to schools but allowed for some consideration of race in admissions. The court said integration plans in the Seattle and Jefferson County, Ky., districts violated the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

"For schools that never segregated on the basis of race, such as Seattle, or that have removed the vestiges of past discrimination, such as Jefferson County, the way to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis is to stop assigning students on a racial basis," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in the main opinion.

What do you think of the court's decision?


As an employee of a nonprofit that works with at-risk and minority youth with behavioral and academic difficulty, I constantly think about the effect of race on education and child development in general. I am, most definitely, in favor of moving forward with solutions to racial inequalities in education. However, I have found - as both an employee of high-minority public schools and racially-mixed public schools in the past - that the answer is more complex than simply balancing the racial composition of schools.

I'm not sure what to think of this decision. One thing that I am happy about is that it will force our school systems to find a more creative and intelligent way of promoting racial equality and appreciation than counting the number of kids from different races in each school. Unfortunately, though, that same decision may limit the use of some of that creativity and intillegence which it may create.

Hurray! The June 28 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on desegregation means the end of costly and insane social engineering by school districts. In this day and age of massive illegal immigration, it is ludicrous to classify students by race for school attendance. School districts can no longer use the guise of a Voluntary Desegregation Plan to tell parents where their children can or cannot attend school because it would “upset the racial/ethnic balance.” Now school districts must offer equity in course offerings at all of their schools; whether those courses are vocational or college prep (meet A-G requirements) which they currently do not. Spending billions on desegregation just doesn’t make sense. The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed the right of equal protection and consequently, school districts are now required to be colorblind when it comes to making educational policy decisions.

I was disappointed in the decision, but not surprised. My own district waited until the mid-70's to desegregate, and fought it all the way (the Board at that time voted on strictly racial lines and the blacks were truly the minority). White flight was assisted at the state level by a policy that banned new property acquisition in urban school districts for a number of years. As a result, newly built areas within the city receive city water and services, but the children go to suburban schools.

At the expiration of the legislation, there was an uproar, as families in the suburban districts. What was worked out was called the win-win plan. The families got to continue to go to suburban schools and the suburbs paid the urban district for the loss of tax revenue.

In the early eighties, the court released the district from their desegregation plan. As a result, a district that is now more heavily minority than it was at the beginning, has returned to the level of segregation that was prevalent before the court order. Not only is racial and socio-economic distribution uneven (despite a complex lottery system for a number of alternative schools--which has gotten even more complex with the advent of NCLB), but resources and achievement levels are also uneven.

Equality of educational opportunity was at the heart of the Brown decision--with the chilling reminder that the simple act of refusing admission to a certain class of children based on their race causes harm "unlikely to be undone." Looking at the achievement of minority groups, even when controlled for socio-economic status, reveals the continuing presence of that harm. Consideration of the reality that the most American children still attend schools where one race is the strong majority tells us we still have far to go.

With this disappointing abdication by the Supreme Court, I can only hope that the United States can muster the morale backbone to learn to act in ways that are truly color-blind. It won't simply "happen" because slavery was long ago. It will only happen when we are willing to heal the deep wound in our country by giving up the ways that we have been conditioned, and exploring new ways of acting towards one another.

darned good letter. very enlightening as to how another district has faced the challenges.
It's a rock and a hard place. The neighborhoods are sometimes segregated, (de facto), so natch, if schools are also 'walk to' neighborhood schools, they are going to be of the ethnicity of the 'hood.
Brown v. Bd Educ Topeka KS addressed this by prohibiting assignment to schools based on race, resulting in integration where the neighborhoods were mixed race.
But what of the neighborhoods and even districts that were mostly of one particular race? Or that quickly became so due the white flight that was either caused by or accelerated by forced integration?
Solution to 1st sitn. above: end to neighborhood schools, disconnection between neighborhood and local school, disconnection between students and their parents and the slightly more distant school or very distant school.
Solution in latter sitn had lead to even greater problem, and the need, if racial balance is to be achieved, to ... assign children to schools on basis of race to achieve racial balance!
Sticky wicket old chap!

Our complete analysis can be found on www.nans.org
The nation now has some hope that one day the unconstitutional practice of racial discrimination will end. We must recognize, however, that the nation is still a long way from that end. The ruling no doubt will make use of race as a factor in school assignment more difficult to justify as more and more groups across the nation hopefully seek to end the practice and as, hopefully, more and more school districts will seek to avoid the practice.Unless a district’s assignment practices are totally race-neutral, they are unconstitutional. Period

As much as people like Orrfield point to how segregated schools are, they fail to demonstrate that "desegregating" schools does anything to create educational equity. What is magic about matching the district population if the district may be 80% white, 80% black or on an indian reservation? Asians score higher than whites who score higher than blacks regardless of whether it is a majority white, black or Asian population. What in the world does the color of your classmate have to do with 2+2=4 or who was the union general that won the civil war? It was wrong to assign students on the basis of race in the 60s, it is wrong now. Students are entitled to AN education. Not one equal to anybody, not one at world class standards. One free from racial discrimination - which is what assignment by race is.

In 1957 Florida was segregated. Then we had ‘separate but equal’ which was far from being equal. The court ordered integration and bussing to attain diversity. Then after several years of affirmative action we wound up with a mess.
It wasn’t but a few years later affirmative action lead to the type of segregation we have today. We have segregated poor schools in black neighborhoods mainly because the parents believe these schools provide the best for their children. These schools are poor because school districts neglect poor performers in favor of average to gifted students. NCLB was initiated to turn these schools around with Title I government funding. This failed because once districts got gobs of Title I money they used to hire consultants, administrative pay, computers and travel. Much of Title I money it going to children from parents far above the poverty level.
Close these failing schools or do a COMPLETE change of staff.

I have always felt affirmative action for racial quotas was unconstitutional. I do believe that when these policies were instituted, though, they served a higher calling than unconstitutionality. Now, this needs to be a challenge to every reasonable American to use this baby step toward maturity as a catalyst to reach a maturity zenith. It should have always been what MLK wanted--for people to be judged by their abilities and the "content of their character rather than the color of their skin." Now is our chance to prove that can become true. Everyone is now up to bat, and must be accountable.

A side-note: there is no such thing as reverse racism. It either is racism or is not.

Equality in education is not something that can be forced through bussing or random assignment plans. Every student, in every school deserves an equal chance at being educated. Students are not at all equal. Many strive and do well. Many do well easily. Some really, really try and just don't seem to get anywhere, and there are some students that become dissaffected with the whole system and simply disappear. To achieve true equality, the entire idea of race must be scrapped. No public institution should make any decision based on the color of soemone's skin or their origin. There is only a human race, no more. We are not like breeds of dogs or cats, up for sale with pedigree papers. Educational decisions should have nothing to do with ant artificial designation and race is an entirely arbitrary and artificial designation.

Bob Frangione said it very well! Ayn Rand called public decision-making on the basis of race 'Stockyard Collectivism'. Any way race is used by government as a sorting tool makes it likely that citizens will be abused. "Excesses" of institutional dabbling with racial sorting used to be excused as "starting with good intentions". I heard that said about BOTH segregation(!) and affirmative action. Looking back, I have many questions about intents.

There was SOOO much to gain from unscrupulous dabbling in racial sorting. Those gaining were, rarely, the students. Mostly they were in the swivel-chair/cigar-chomping/pinky-ring crowd.

Brown v BOE has NOT been overturned by this ruling. The Pinky-ringers are already straining to follow the contortions of this odd "plurality" ruling, as they put together wierd ways around it.

To me, the problem here lies in how we define access to education. There are varying responses here, depending on personal experiences and observations. It seems that we have continued to make broad one-size-fits-all solutions to individual problems. Neither bussing nor NCLB will correct the problems we see as being so pervasive in America. We can't expect to anything diffent when compared internationally with other countries and their educational systems simply because we have created a different culture of expectations here in the United States.

Our solutions stem from the assumption that it is the responsibility of the governmental organizations not of the government (we, the people) to "fix" the problems. To me, this assumption is flawed. We have attempted to get school systems and local tax dollars to address and fix social inadequacies in the United States.

We have also assumed that school have succeeded for the white upper and middle classes and that somehow the white upper and middle classes need to make amends for how that has created problems for everyone else, all the while scratching our heads as Asian students surpass the white students.

What needs to be examined here is the underlying cause of success or failure in any endeavor, not just in schooling. Our society puts those who achieve success monitarily up on a pedestal. Often the path to that success is viewed as having been gained through "luck" or "good fortune" or "connections." It is seldom viewed as having been gained through hard work, because, often, in U.S. society, hard work, studying, being dedicated is seen as "nerdy" and undesirable. As long as that "value" is projected, we'll have difficulty getting students to buy into the value of education as such.

With the attitudes/conditions of many families in the United States, there is little push or focus on education as a thing of value beyond the doors of the school. Many parents don't have the time or interest in assuring that their children have a thirst for learning basic knowledge, let alone understanding the implications of that in the great world.

With that, I would suggest that those who are most successful, from whatever background, are those students whose families (or in some cases there is a drive from within some students coming from self-motivation to escape from their current situations) value education as something that you pursue, not something you have handed to you at school. It is an on-going process that continues all through the day, the weekends, the summer months, and the rest of a person's life.

Why do Asian students and other students from other backgrounds, have great academic success? I believe it is because their parents value education and they are taught that they need to work, practice, aspire to succeed. And, I believe their families assist them, in whatever ways they can, to do their best. I believe they give them assistance and that they stand behind them, helping them overcome difficult assignments, etc. First and foremost, though, the student must put in the effort to succeed. Without that effort, most won't go very far. There are some students who find learning, memorizing, and assimilating information to come far easier than others, but for the vast majority, personal effort must take place.

So, basing education decisions upon racial lines is absurd. Education simply needs to be designed to meet the child where the child has needs and to go forward from there.

If there is any absurdity in education, it is the assumption that students should be in a particular grade due to age and nothing more. That is ridiculous. Children are different from the first day of their births. For the "ease" of management, our system has used this method of grouping students for the last 80 or mor years. It isn't adequate. It is arbitrary. If students were allowed to test into programs for which they were truly capable of handling, students could then progress from where they are to where they need to go. Some students would graduate when they are 12 or 15. Others might not graduate until age 19 or 20, but I believe that most students would succeed by the time they reach age 20.

I have had courses in Individually Guided Education and I have observed various students in my 30+ years as an educator, and I believe that our system is the problem. However, I do believe that schools or government can't "fix" any problem that isn't owned by the society itself. Society can't look TO schools to fix problems that the community perpetuates.

If we'd stop being adversaries and realize that it is all about all of us, we'd see how ridiculous all of our "fixes" really are.

NCLB has one major, major flaw. That flaw is that ALL students have to be "on grade level" by 2014, when what they really need to be looking at is making sure that by age 20 everyone has achieved a certain body of knowledge and understanding, realizing that it takes some people 14 years to acquire that knowledge and others require 20 years or more. If there weren't a social stigma attached to slower learning and a false sense of super-intelligence attached to making all A's all through school, we might begin to understand where our system fails so many people. All the straight A students of the world are not the most successful in life, and all of the C students and dropouts of the world aren't abject failures.

We are fighting the wrong battles, in my opinion. The solution is within ourselves, not through governmental "solutions."

Many Americans would love to believe that we are one race, but that fact is not played out in our social and economic institutions. We are different, and we bring different histories to the classrooms. However, this diversity is a bonus for our country and one that should be celebrated. Research studies point out that students who receive their education in a diverse setting get a better education than those in a segregated setting. This is the research that we in the colleges of education need to disseminate--a diverse education is a quality education, not only for the individual, but society as a whole.

Down here in rural Georgia the integration rule only applies to Middle and High Schoolers and the district definitely uses the color of ones skin to check off the quota box. We have at least two elementary schools that have over a 80% black student population. I believe the worse thing about labeling kids by the color of their skin to fill a quota is when we automatically attach characteristics like low socioeconomic status, lower test scores, and a lack of parent involvement with these minorities. It seems the Supreme Court's ruling regarding race will only be as detrimental to a school system as its stakeholders allow it to be. If parents know only one thing about their child's education process, it is this.... They are their child's best advocate and if they leave their child's destiny in the hands of others...their child is the only one who pays the ultimate price in the end.

There is a strong push in the black community for having a school for a single black gender as well as all the above. I wonder if an all male or all female school is also unconstitutional. There is no guidance on these issues.

Gender-separated schools are currently not being challenged, but one never knows. The problems grow bigger with each new ruling because we never really solve them. We did not like segregated schools, so we integrated the schools, by law. The result was bussing, mostly of "minorities" into majority districts. That created problems, so it slowly fell out of favor and fashion. The current trend is to create diversity. This is supposed to celebrate the differences between peoples. This works for a time, but begins to fail when the "others' start to notice that education is not geared towards them or their culture, the essence of the diversity idea.
We have to stop measuring our differences and attempting to close the ellusive achievement gaps. The real gap is between what each student could and should be achieving and whta he or she is achieving. This gap has nothing to do with subgroups. Creating subgroups is another form of segragation. It is no more helpful than any other failed measure of diversity because it assigns students to arbitrary groups, based on arbitrary designations. In the group labeled as white, there are likely to be a number of part white people. In the group labeled black, there is very likely many part black people. We can divide and subdivide all we want to, but each student is an individual, with individual needs and abilities. Assignment by "race" does not seem arbitrary in a race conscious society, but it really is arbitrary on an individual basis. Grouping students or anyone by skin color or ancestry is useless in a school situation. It serves no purpose, other than to extend the outmoded racist ideas of the past.

Well said, Bob. Too bad that such common sense is not the actual "common sense", reported to us by commentators in the mass media. Alas, with so much money and power yet to be gained from dividing people, don't look for too much uniting in the forseeable future. The best we should expect is for individual educators of good will to dust off the Dr. Seuss classic, "Sneetches On Beaches" and risk a "pc" review by daring to ignore ethnicity and just.....(get ready).....TEACH SUBJECT MATTER TO CHILDREN!

We are over 50 years down the road from Brown V. Board of Education. What have we gained? This law tried to right a wrong. That's good. Can we say that ALL of our students have been better educated in these five decades? I say, No. Over twenty years of experience have given me an insight into what our students are not doing for THEMSELVES. Even more, what parents are not doing for their children to encourage or, God forbid, DEMAND perfromance. No law will make parents care or perform as parents. No amount of desegregation will help students perform adequately if their parents are not committed to their performance. That is hard work; it is also a parental duty. NCLB increases this problem because it has focused schools/teachers only on an outcome....not how one gets there.
We are majoring in the minors here. Equality has been furnished. Returning to those days of inequality is up the the public. Please remember as we worry and discuss this decision, we are not educating ANY of our children as we once were....segregated or desegregated! Our problems are much bigger than that. The problems are societal, not political!

I have to disagree with Melinda. While NCLB is outcome focused, there is also focus on HOW one gets there. Implementation of a standards-based curriculum is part of the how. Application of research-based methodology is part of the how. Involving parents in decision-making is part of the how. These things are also hard work. Using an outcome measure ensures that the hard work is not avoided by simply documenting that things have happened. Some things that you might ask yourself, Melinda, is how has your school implemented the parent involvement requirements. Does your school have an annual "Title I" meeting to explain to parents the school's progress towards meeting AYP and inviting them to be involved in the process of developing a School Improvement Plan? (my kid's school doesn't--although they have paid a "parent liaison" to be listed on the plan as a participant) Have you crafted a parent school compact--together with parents? (again, my kid's school doesn't--although they have something that they downloaded somewhere that they ask parents to sign)

Because I work in research, I can share that the research shows that when parents are asked/supported/expected to assist their students they generally comply (for instance--help with math increases as parents are provided with information on HOW to help, in contrast to reading, where many of the ways to assist have been institutionalize through a number of public service campaigns). I can also share that at least some research (Ferguson) indicates that African-American students put in a greater amount of (homework)effort, with a lesser outcome, than white students. The differences between parent effort (as measured by time devoted to specific tasks) with regard to support of student learning are much smaller at the individual student level (homework help etc), but very large at the extracurricular involvement level--where two parent and higher income level families far exceed others. Certainly the individual student time would seem to be more important--but the extra-curricular involvement is more likely to be seen and appreciated by schools and teachers.

I don't know by what measure you believe that equality has been "furnished." The differences are still striking whether measuring inputs or outcomes.

The commentary on this one subject suggests that it is indeed a weighty issue. Brown vs. Board of Education was a decision, not an actual law and did not provide guidelines on how desegregation should be accomplished. Later decisions and laws have created plans that, if followed, help to alleviate some of the inequalities in our social system.
These plans and decisions, like NCLB, are outcome based. What is important is parity, or the ever popular even playing field. The problems result from not fully exploring the input. NCLB and desegregation have all been researched with very mixed results. NCLB is, of course not very old, while Brown vs. Board of Education and the Civil Rioghts Amendment both began long before today's children were born. What works one place, does not work in another, but if it works in most places studied, that is a positive research finding. Should this be the basis for educational policy? If "Reading First" works in 70% ofd schools surveyed, but does not work in mine, should I be required to use it by federal law and the threat of losing federal support? If separating boys from girls works in my school, but does not work in a similar 70% of other schools, does that make my practice not a best practice? Are 30% of us wrong?

The "culture" in which a child is raised instills the motivating values and aspirations of that child. Children are "nurtured" by hours of hypersexual, materialistic music videos and, additionally, reportedly spend an average of 4-5 hours watching wrestling "entertainment" television each week. Why should we be surprised that self-discipline, personal commitment and the motivation to strive toward a social good have been progressively surplanted in their value systems. The world these children live in is often premeated with messages about what is "good"/"cool", i.e., blatant sexuality, materialistism, and brutish, aggressive behavior. Many households are headed by a single working parent, or 2 working parents with little time to spend one-on-one with children. (This worsens as the income gap widens.) We are, indeed, spending considerable time agonizing over relatively lesser issues, when there is a very large "elephant standing in the middle of the living room". Do we really aspire to educational attainment, and the motivation and discipline required - enough to stop exploiting our children for commercial profit? (These shows are designed for marketing - at the expense of the well-being of our children and degradation of our culture.) Unfortunately neither integrated schools nor 'No Child Left Behind' even considers the underlying impact of this cultural shift, possibly because it is easier, politically, to agonize over school choice and teacher competency than to address the commercial interests involved. Unfortunately, neither "choice" nor teachers have the capacity to "fix" this very problematic shift.

I have never read or heard a more intelligent, more insightful, more eloquent discription of the problem than that of Deb/teacher (submitted July 4, 2007 6:04pm).

There is an old saw within among engineers, "A problem well defined is half solved". Let us accept Deb's definition of the problem and move urgently toward solutions. We must act decisively and quickly or the USA will be a third world country within a generation.

i agree with justice john roberts decision in this case. very often children of different cultures and races want to be taught and are more successfully taught by those of their own race. in the case of seattle and kentucky as long as we keep the quality of education in every neighborhood where children are able to reach their unique potential with small classes and well trained teachers. as neighborhoods continue to integrate their will be no need to address the problems of racial inequality. we must address the issues of economics and good jobs for families who will be upwardly mobile.

I am happy with the decision and wish it were already mandatory for all schools. I have tried unsuccessfully for the past 2 school years to transfer my daughter to a school that is out of my district (7 miles away in the City that I work). She has been denied twice because she is Black. The district she wants to go to has agreed to accept her. She feels the environment she is in is hostile to her learning and future.
We have open enrollment here and I have an application both for this year and next year. She is a Junior. The only other option is to sue the district which I hadnt wanted to do but I feel she is traumatized by the Public school environment after attending parochial school for the 7 years preceeding high school. I do not regret sending her to private school for elementary/middle school. However the result is she has not psychologically adjusted well to going from a 200 or less student school to a 1300-1400 school or the difference in what is allowed in public schools versus parochial schools. I do not intend to give up and if I have to will send her to parochial high school although it is not as diverse as I would like it to be.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Aleta Alexander/Mom: I am happy with the decision and wish it were read more
  • karen green teacher/researcher: i agree with justice john roberts decision in this case. read more
  • Parent/Engineer/School Board Member: I have never read or heard a more intelligent, more read more
  • Teacher living in Richmond County, GA: The "culture" in which a child is raised instills the read more
  • Bob Frangione, Teacher/Parent: The commentary on this one subject suggests that it is read more




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