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Review: Is Racial Desegregation Of Schools A Relic Of The Past?

Sealey, G. (2002, April 23). “Beyond black and white: Is racial desegregation of schools a relic of the past?” (


The courts are dismantling school desegregation programs they once implemented as the result of the landmark Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka (1954). Last week, in Dayton, Ohio, the NAACP agreed to a settlement that will release the city’s school board from desegregation orders. That same week, the Supreme Court ended court-mandated desegregation in Charlotte-Mecklenberg, N.C., the scene of the nation’s oldest forced busing program. Also, a federal judge in Seattle, Washington banned a voluntary desegregation program in that city’s high schools. 

Current statistics (1998-99) show that segregation, not integration, characterizes our schools:

  • 70+ percent of black students attend “predominantly minority schools”.
  • 33+ percent of Latino students attend “intensely segregated schools”.
  • White students attend schools that are 80+ percent white.

With court-appointed desegregation ending, Harvard education professor Gary Olfield sees “separate but unequal” education a real risk. “The basic framework pushing the country toward resegregation is set.” 

Boston University professor Christine Rossell, however, believes that school districts will “maintain some racial integration” because the civil rights era changed white Americans into seeing racial discrimination as a sin.

Some school districts are diversifying by socioeconomic status and not by race since:

  • Socioeconomic status is a better predictor of school performance than race.
  • A mixture of socioeconomic classes provides for some racial integration.

Currently, about a dozen school districts employ an “economic integration model.”

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Do you attend an integrated or apparently “segregated” school? What percentage of your class is made up of minority students?
  2. What benefits can a racially integrated school provide its students? What disadvantages?
  3. What do you think a minority student, coming to your school for the first time, will feel? How could you help this student feel welcome? Would you want to?
  4. Do you think schools are better off integrating by socioeconomic status or by race? Why?


  1. Whether we like it or not, our school systems are, in general, segregated, and the courts are raising the danger that they will become even more so. While one avenue for cross-cultural experience has been the schools, deliberate steps may be needed to provide your group other avenues for this experience. One suggestion is to take your youth group to a place or activity that is ethnically different than your own.
  2. There may be some in your group who feel that segregation from those of different ethnic (or socioeconomic) groups is preferable to integration.

Tom Livingston
© 2018 CYS

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