Saturday, May 08, 2004

School "Resegregation" is a Load of Bunk

As I suspected, the conventional wisdom that American schools were undergoing racial resegregation, thanks to the undermining of Brown v. Board of Education by dastardly conservatives, turns out to be a load of horse manure:

As the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision approaches, numerous media reports have stated that our schools are in the midst of a massive resegregation movement, compromising the achievement of the 1960s and 1970s. This is the conclusion reached by Gary Orfield, Co-Director of the Harvard Civil Rights Project and author of many books, articles, and reports on school segregation. “We are losing many of the gains of desegregation,” he is quoted as saying (The Washington Post, January 18, 2004). “We are not back to where we were before Brown, but we are back to when King was assassinated” [in 1968].

The chief evidence in favor of this thesis is the declining share of black and Hispanic students in majority white schools since 1990. But is this trend caused by resegregation or by broader changes in the American population? Our analysis points to the latter, demonstrating that whites did not move toward increasingly white schools as minorities increasingly attended minority schools. Instead national demographic shifts involving all racial and ethnic groups have resulted in schools with lower shares of whites and higher shares of black, Hispanic, and Asian enrollment. It is misleading to label these trends as resegregation.

Specifically, we find:
  • White students make up a declining share of public elementary enrollment due to rapid growth in the number of Hispanic and Asian students.
  • There has been an overall shift in the composition of elementary schools, with declining numbers of students of all races in schools that are predominantly (more than 90%) white and growth especially in majority minority schools.
  • White students have shifted from schools that are predominantly white, increasing their representation in schools that are moderately (50-89%) white or moderately (50-89%) minority.  Black, Hispanic and Asian students have shifted from schools that are moderately white toward those that are moderately or predominantly minority.

In other words, statistical illiterates who have bought into the notion that "integration" is identical with minority dispersal into a sea of white faces have taken what they ought to have regarded as a positive development and interpreted it as a negative! The trends described here are exactly what we'd expect if white Americans were taking racial integration in their stride, and to describe a situation in which the disproportionate expansion in the numbers of Asian, black and Hispanic students - thanks to the younger demographic profiles of those groups - has led to an increasing number of "majority-minority" schools as evidence of white racism, is to set up the argument in such a manner that one cannot ever lose. There are straightforward ways of measuring heterogeneity, like the Herfindahl index, that avoid making ridiculous errors of this sort, but why look deeper into such matters when it is so convenient to be able to argue that the right-wing racists on the Supreme Court want to take us back to the dark ages, by repealing the laws that are the only means of keeping white America's bestial impulses in check? It seems that for many on the left, the notion that all white Americans are just itching to institute apartheid, if only the judiciary can be gotten out of the way, is as unquestionable an article of faith as the belief of many on the right that all men would flee their wives in an instant if offered the prospect of rampant gay sex.

UPDATE: This OpinionJournal editorial is also worthy of a read.