Monthly Archives: July 2019

Busing Is Really About Racism, And Other Things Historians Already Knew

Education issues almost never make it into the presidential debates, but one created a flashpoint in the last Democratic primary debate. Instead of tuition-free college or raising teacher pay, it was the unlikely topic of busing. Even if it was only a savvy bit of debate theatre by Kamala Harris designed to take Biden down a few pegs, I’m glad it was a topic that cuts to the core of racism, inequity, and segregation in our education system rather than one of the many impossible-for-the-president-to-implement ideas that have been floated.

The debate has brought the topic back into the news, so work by academics and journalists school segregation and integration strategies like busing have enjoyed renewed coverage. Education and civil rights historians are having a moment. Busing is a multifaceted topic, so the best writing out there includes all angles: inequity, segregation, politics, racism at the root of the problem, and racism that fueled resistance to busing as a solution.

For instance, on Monday, scholars Matthew Delmont and Jeanne Theoharis recentered the busing discussion on the real issue — segregated schools — and refused to let Democrats off the hook for the lack of progress since Brown v. Board:

But despite its prominence in recent debate, busing was never actually the issue. The real issue was the pervasive and damaging segregation that existed in schools throughout the country and whether all schools would actually desegregate. And with their slippery positions on desegregation, Harris and Biden expose the longtime cowardice of the Democratic Party in dealing with school segregation, particularly outside the South.

Liberals express outrage at federal judges nominated by President Trump who refuse to say whether Brown v. Board was correctly decided, yet Democrats, both historically and in the present, have been largely unwilling to take concrete steps to fulfill Brown’s legal and moral mandate of equal education, so as not to alienate their local white constituencies. As such, school desegregation has long been a third-rail issue for liberal politicians.

Below are a few more pieces that I think are worth your time. Drop your recommendations in the comments.

And lastly, both “busing” and “bussing” are acceptable spellings of the word. “Bussing” is antiquated but not incorrect. “Busing” is more popular. “Bus” is short for “omnibus.” The word “buss” is a synonym for “kiss.”

– Guest post by Jason Weeby

Long Weekend Edu-Reads

Mike Antonucci stays with the Janus story and recommends we take the long view.

Ashley LiBetti has three things Head Start programs can do to get better.

The Center for American Progress has a new agenda for education policy.

A new working paper finds that, at least among survey participants, “the provision of growth data causes participants to choose less white and less wealthy districts.”

Here’s an interesting new study by Jason Grissom and Brendan Bartanen on turnover among Tennessee principals. The key graph is below: For the most part, principals who leave their positions are less effective, although the very highest-performers are also slightly more likely to leave.

The stories coming out of Providence and Oakland right now are sobering. If nothing else, they are a reminder that there’s plenty more we could be doing rather than getting bogged down in the existential debate over ending poverty versus fixing schools. We can (and should!) do a better job of delivering educational services to low-income students than what these districts are providing today.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Posted on Jul 2, 2019 @ 10:26pm

American Schools Are Not Resegregating

Let’s start with a math problem. Say you have ten marbles. Eight are red and two are blue. If you blindly draw two marbles, what are the chances you’ll draw the two blue ones?

Now let’s say you have ten marbles, but this time five are red and five are blue. If you blindly draw two marbles again, what are the chances you’ll draw two blue ones this time?

The answer to the second question is ten times higher than the first (2/9 versus 1/45). By changing the composition of the problem by a little bit, the odds have changed dramatically.

This is roughly what’s happening in American schools. In 1968, eight out of ten students were white, and two out of ten were non-white. By 2012, the share of white students had fallen to about five in ten.

While students are not marbles, we’re facing the same basic math problem when we talk about school segregation. On the surface, American schools today appear to be more segregated than ever. The chance that a black or Hispanic student will attend a school with students of their same race has increased significantly, but that’s due to the composition of our society, not sorting. Once you take into account changes in student demographics, American schools are actually less segregated than in the past.

There’s a body of academic research documenting this phenomenon. But perhaps it helps to see it visually. The graph at right comes from a piece by Steven Rivkin for Education Next, documenting the decline in what’s called the “dissimilarity index.” As Rivkin explains it, the dissimilarity index measures, “the percentage of blacks who would need to change schools if blacks and whites were to attend each school in the same percentage as their percentage of public school enrollment.” Across the country, the dissimilarity index has not improved all that much at the district level, but at the school level it’s fallen from 81 percent in 1968 to 66 percent in 2012.

Most of these gains occurred in the 1970s, and the gains have been smaller since then. But remember, these gains are on top of America’s growing diversity. American society has become more diverse, and our schools have integrated even faster.

I’d like to see even more integration, for lots of reasons. There are real benefits to integration efforts, but we should be careful to diagnose our problems accurately, avoid distorting the data, and be wary of universal solutions. As our country gets more diverse over time, it’s going to look like segregation is getting worse. But we have to go deeper to understand what’s really happening.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman