TCS Daily


Counting by Race

By Andrew J. Coulson - December 15, 2006 12:00 AM

Can public schools accept or reject students based on their race? Last week, the Supreme Court took up that question in a pair of school integration cases from Seattle and Louisville. In each case, students were denied admission to their chosen public schools because they were not the right color to increase racial balance.


Supporters of race-based student assignment, from the NAACP to MTV, believe it promotes socially and educationally valuable interaction among white and minority students. In reality, these policies have been about as effective at producing meaningful integration and educational excellence as arranged marriages are at manufacturing true love.

Even in their most basic goal of achieving racial balance in school-level enrollment, forced integration policies have fallen short. Harvard's Civil Rights Project has observed that public schools are little more racially integrated today than they were before such policies were introduced, with "more than 70% of the nation's black students now attend[ing] predominantly minority schools."

The historical attempt to force racial balance through busing not only failed to integrate schools, it dramatically increased residential segregation by accelerating the shift of the predominantly white middle class to the suburbs. (Middle-class blacks fled, too, but were fewer in number.)

Denying students their chosen public school drives still more families out of urban districts. Court documents show that in 2001 alone, 30 students left the Seattle Public School District because they ran afoul of the racial assignment policy. Many of these families will likely move to suburban districts, and since most of the students rebuffed under this policy are white, that will further aggravate residential segregation.


It is not even clear that racial balance at the school level is the right goal, since it does not guarantee meaningful integration. Students commonly sort themselves into cliques along racial or ethnic lines, having relatively little interaction with those outside their own group.

Sociologists such as James Moody of Ohio State University have demonstrated that "simple exposure does not promote integration." So schools that seem "integrated" on paper do not always have meaningfully integrated hallways, lunchrooms, or even classrooms.

There is a better way: providing a system of financial assistance so that all families have access to the public or private schools of their choice. A recent study by Greg Forster of the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation finds that "private schools are actually less segregated than public schools when examined at the classroom level; and that private schools participating in voucher programs...are much less segregated than public schools."

A study by Duke University economist Thomas Nechyba also finds that such programs would significantly reduce residential income segregation -- which would help to undo the perverse residential segregation effects caused by compulsory integration policies.

What's more, integration in the private sector tends to be more meaningful. A multi-city study of school lunchrooms by Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas found that children are more likely to choose to sit with peers of different races in private schools than in public ones. In other words, private school students are less likely to have their friendships broken up along racial lines than are public school students.

Finally, the most significant educational benefits to private schooling tend to be enjoyed by African American students, both in achievement and graduation rates. Economist Derek Neal has found that African American students attending urban Catholic schools are vastly more likely to complete high school, be accepted to college, and complete college than similar students who attend public schools. And a review by Harvard University researcher Paul Peterson and others finds that the academic achievement gains to students attending private schools under voucher programs are greatest among black students.

More than 150 years ago, a young graduate of the New York African Free School lamented his career options, writing: "Am I arrived at the end of my education, just on the eve of setting out into the world, of commencing some honest pursuit, by which to earn a comfortable subsistence? What are my prospects?...Shall I be a mechanic? No one will employ me; white boys won't work with me. Shall I be a merchant? No one will have me in his office; white clerks won't associate with me. Drudgery and servitude, then are my prospective portion."

Today, any high school graduate able to write with such grace would be fought over by both colleges and employers. If America is to be a just society, we must ensure that every child has the opportunity to become so well educated. We can do that by giving all families a free choice of school, and by obliging all schools to compete for the privilege of serving them.

We will never solve our cultural and educational problems simply by having bureaucrats move black and white schoolchildren around like pawns on a chessboard.

Andrew J. Coulson is Director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom and author of Market Education: The Unknown History.


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11 Comments

REPEAL CIVIL RIGHTS NOW!
Let's go one step further, and repeal the civil rights laws that make discrimination illegal. In many countries, people have the right to discriminate. Americans had the right to discriminate before the civil rights movement of the 1960's. Laws that make everything open to everybody go too far. Discrimination is a normal part of life. It is acting with knowledge and wisdom to achieve a preferable outcome. In some situations, it is better to chose.

Didn't we already try this?
Well full circle we have come. In the 1960's liberal politicians tried busing and it was a total failure. Now they want to do it again. The liberal wing and educational establishments are so utterly bankrupt of new ideas it is pathetic. Failure is replaced by failure. After all "the right people didn't do it then". Children should be allowed to attend any school they wish. Education advancement should be based soley on intelligence and ability. Race has no place in any decision on anything. In fact, I think you can show that quotas and busing, etc actually hurt Blacks and other minorites. The civil rights leader empower themselves thru this racial hogwash so they are vested in perpetual servitude of minorities. Like all peoples, minorites have a right to succeed. The right to succeed also means the right to fail. This is accomplished by ending all forms of subsidy, racial preferences, etc. The sooner people learn to sink or swim the sooner they build productive lives. The minority communities, especially black communities, are proof of the failure of modern liberal ideology. Give a man a fish he eats for a day. "Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime". Compassion takes many forms.

The Legal Argument
I listened to the oral arguments of the Seattle and Kentucky race quota cases. Kennedy, Scalia, Roberts and Alito seemed very hostile to the notion that the constitution permits assigning legal benefits and burdens directly to individuals based on the color of their skin. However, they agreed that the state can pursue diversity through measures that don't single out individuals solely on the basis of their skin color. This approach makes sense.

See, when a state entity imposes legal burdens on individuals based solely on their skin color, then it can also avoid the political costs of doing so as long it doesn't do so too often. In Seattle, the school district's diversity program burdened about 3% of students while 97% were unaffected. Accordingly, this 3% of students surrendered a portion of their individual liberty to the school district because their skin was the wrong color while the other 97% bore no burdens while reaping all the benefits. And with this ratio of burdens to benefits, the political cost remains low for the school district but enormous for the 3%

Individual freedom can't survive a state whose constitution permits it access to such political tactics. Nor can a democratic society survive if its majorities can legally impose every cost of their social order on minorities without recourse in time or law. Thank God enough of our supremes have finally figured this out.

Private Schools
Finally, the most significant educational benefits to private schooling tend to be enjoyed by African American students, both in achievement and graduation rates. Economist Derek Neal has found that African American students attending urban Catholic schools are vastly more likely to complete high school, be accepted to college, and complete college than similar students who attend public schools. And a review by Harvard University researcher Paul Peterson and others finds that the academic achievement gains to students attending private schools under voucher programs are greatest among black students.

Correlation is not Causation. In his book Freakonomics Steven Levitt looked at this. It seemed that the relationship may be between parents who care enough to move their kids and those who don't. In Chicago there's a lottery to the best public schools. Not surprisingly the kids that go to the better schools do better than those who don't. What was surprising is that kids who entered the lottery and LOST did as well as those who entered and won. It seems that children of good parents will do better than the children of bad parents without regard to the school.

Right on!
You've made a very valuable point, Buckland. And relative to this same rich vein of inquiry, I've realized that crime's correlation (not causation!) to poverty is due to the fact that they tend to suffer the same root cause, that is, dissolute parenting.

My favorite argument for this claim is that for those who've enjoyed a good upbringing, poverty is an incentive rather than a bar to achievement whereas for those who've suffered an atrocious upbringing, poverty is an excuse for failure and crime but not a bar to achievement and civil rectitude.

Note how our society worships excuse and victimhood nowadays instead of condemning evil as the true cause of suffering, which is a necessary prequisite to truly remedying evil's causes to remedy suffering. The reason for this, I think, is simple: Identifying evil undermines our tolerance for it, which in turn undermines the notion that no one is acountable for the costs of evil, which in turn undermines the notion that society owes individuals the obligation to finance their self-inflicted suffering.

At the logical conclusion of this calculus lies the notion that money is neither cause nor remedy to all our problems, itself a notion that undermines our age's materialistic dogma. It will be interesting to see how many people reach this conclusion, for the very next one is that the state, whose prefered tools are violence and money, can't solve our problems.

american schools
I thought that the US was supposed to be some kinda bastion of freedom. Then I see that they have something like a Stalinist edu system whereby the big brother government tells people where they can send their kids to school. And the parents must be pretty sheepish to put up with such an obvious infringement. But then again I guess they are held hostage by those crappy retrograde teachers unions who are the vested interests who don't whant change. I've read that they also hold the admin people in the school boards hostage. It reminds me of the of 'political commisar' behind the iron curtain who everyone had to be careful not to displease, so the same with the union reps around the schools.

Political Competition
If individuals have the right to an education and the state has the obligation to provide that education, then the nature and content of that right/obligation becomes the subject of political competition. Every stakeholder then enters the political arena gird to fight for its interests, and everyone else be damned.

Truth is, the shortsighted, selfish, liberty-undermining idiocy you see in America's public education system is par for the course in every arena of political competition created by a right/obligation relationship between individual and state. Worse, I've rarely seen an outcome emerge from these arenas that honestly and efficiently advances the common good. Indeed, politics is why I believe that the state offers very few solutions to society's problems while causing many of them and frustrating the solution to many more.

No Subject
I don't recall anybody saying that there was any right to education, perhaps that's your own false assumption. People keep saying how that have rights to this and that, and mostly it's phoney. I like the idea they had for the GI Bill which seems like the voucher system that the vested interests keep trying to stymie. Why not a GI bill for every kid?

Subject: No
By law, Washington State has granted every child residing therein the right to an education on the public dime. This necessitates an education system endowed with a huge pot of money, the control over which draws every razor-beaked vulture with a teacher's certificate, a social engineering agenda or a character whose dominant component is self-righteous besserwisserness.

See, laws grant rights, but there can be no rights without corresponding obligations. That's why freedom only flourishes in that realm where the state has the obligation NOT to do something for you or to you. Conversely, you lose plenty of freedom when the state undertakes the obligation to do something for you or to you, such as educate you or render you amenable to diversity.

obligations
Right, that's why I think that no level of govnmt should have anything to do with edu at any level. We see independant private schools all over the world functioning fine, without any involvment with governments. A recent example would be the I.B.(international baccalaureate) which is accepted all over the world. Leting government beaurocrats and corrupt unions run education would be like saying that it's better for the US post office to handle parcel delivery than FEDEX or UPS. Yet it's funny people still don't revolt against this stalinist system.

Right on!
Gubmint excells at killing people, terrorizing them, dehumanizing, despoiling and dispiriting them, and generally screwing them over while talking dirty to them. At everything else, gubmint does well to strive for mediocrity. That's why my kid doesn't go to public school.

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