Resegregating America.

Reading between the lines.
May 11 2004 11:33 AM

Post-Brown Schooldays

The new way to integrate—by class, not race.

(Continued from Page 1)

Significantly, Clotfelter notes, the Wake economic plan has also produced a fair amount of racial diversity. Whereas Winston-Salem/Forsyth has seen the share of intensely segregated minority schools rise from none in 1994 to 22 percent by 2002, Wake doesn't have a single such school. Economic-integration plans indirectly promote racial diversity because African-Americans are not only more likely to be low income than whites, they are far more likely to attend schools with concentrated poverty. As the Harvard Civil Rights Project has found, 15 percent of intensely segregated white schools (90 percent-100 percent white) were high-poverty schools in 2000, but 86 percent of intensely segregated black and Latino schools were high-poverty.

As both Kluger and Clotfelter observe, this racial contact is important in its own right. If we think about schools broadly, as institutions that train not only workers who need cognitive skills but tolerant citizens who aspire to live in a unified democracy, then racial separation is intolerable. Kluger quotes the words of Marshall in his dissent in the Milliken case: "Unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together."

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Conservatives often discount these broader, "softer" issues of citizenship and moral intelligence. They are wrong to do so. But even on the "hard" terms they endorse—academic achievement—the evidence is clear that educating poor and middle-class children separately perpetuates failure. The integration ideal of Brown—no longer just black and white, but multiracial in character, and now in some communities centered around the broader idea of economic class—must be pursued if we want to achieve the promise laid down 50 years ago: "The opportunity of an education … where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms."

Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, is the author of The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action.