Research

"Were efforts to desegregate the public schools worthwhile?" Researchers from Teachers College, Columbia University, and the University of California, Los Angeles, interviewed 242 graduates from six racially diverse high schools across the country. The five-year study, "How Desegregation Changed Us: The Effects of Racially Mixed Schools on Students and Society," was published in 2004. Researchers asked the question of students in the class of 1980; 75% of the participants were white and 60% were non-white graduates.

"Our central finding is that school desegregation fundamentally changed the people who lived through it, yet had a more limited impact on the larger society," the researchers concluded.

The vast majority of graduates across racial and ethnic lines greatly valued the daily cross-racial interaction in their high schools. They found it to be one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives, the best—and sometimes the only—opportunity to meet and interact regularly with people of different backgrounds.

"The Race Connection," a study by Thomas Dee of Swarthmore College, analyzed data from a "randomized field trial of the effects of class size on student performance." Dee found that both white and black students perform better on the Stanford Achievement Test when they have a teacher of the same racial background as they are. "Black students learn more from black teachers and white students from white teachers," Dee concluded. Only 8% of public school teachers nationwide are black, Dee notes, though 17% of the students are African American. This may account for the "persistent racial gap in student performance," Dee suggests.

In the commentary "The Impact of 'Brown'; Fifty Years Later, Still More Rhetoric Than Commitment," in The Post Standard of Syracuse, New York, Linda Carty, and Paula C. Johnson write that "The societal context of the Brown decision in 1954 parallels Reconstruction in that despite grand legal pronouncements on racial equality, both eras suffered from lack of political, institutional, and individual will to enforce rights and opportunities for people of color." Carty, chair of the African-American Studies Department at Syracuse University, and Johnson, professor of law at Syracuse, cite the Harvard Civil Rights Project report indicating that children of color, particularly African Americans and Latinos, "attend substantially segregated and poorly funded primary and secondary schools." For Brown to have worked, the writers contend, would have "necessitated government policy addressing inequality in housing, employment, social welfare, health care, the legal system, and many other realms of society."

Professor Pedro A. Noguera of Harvard University, and Antwi Akom, a doctoral student in Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, in 2000 studied "The Significance of Race in the Racial Gap in Academic Achievement," an issue, they say, that has historically generated "controversy and paralysis for those charged with figuring out what should be done." It is at the level of policy and practice, the researchers contend, that lack of clarity on these issues is most apparent. The researchers put forth many explanations for the disparities in achievement that have been found in almost every school in the nation. They cite the close correspondence between test scores and broader patterns of social inequality within American society, particularly manifest in "woefully inadequate" inner-city schools. But the racial achievement gap is evident also in the scores of middle-class African-American and Latino students.

Noguera and Akom suggest that the explanation may be found in understanding "the ways in which children come to perceive the relationship between their racial identities and what they believe they can do academically. Racial images rooted in stereotypes, which diminish the importance of intellectual pursuits," the researchers believe, "limit the aspirations of young African-American and Latino students." Noguera and

Akom believe that if racial inequities are ever to be eliminated, "it is more likely to occur in education than in any other sector." Public education, they contend, "remains the most democratic and accessible institution in the country," and "all that remains of the social safety net for poor children."

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