Segregated schools are back with a vengeance, according to the Harvard-based editors, the director and assistant director of the project that conducted these powerful case studies. The 1954 US Supreme Court ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education was, Orfield and Eaton assert, doomed to failure from the outset; although it outlawed school segregation and laid the foundations for challenges to racial and ethnic discrimination in other areas of American life, it ``failed to spell out, either in educational or numerical terms, what successful desegregation should look like.'' The result, they continue, has been divisive strategies for desegregation, such as school busing programs, accompanied by white flight to the suburbs, district gerrymandering, and other attempts to get around the Court's decision. Subsequent rulings have weakened Brown v. Board of Education's intent. Notably, the editors remark, in 1990 the Supreme Court affirmed the idea of ``unitary status,'' giving lower courts extensive power over deciding whether individual school boards had made good-faith efforts to provide equal educational opportunities within their jurisdictions. Thanks to that decision and others like it, Orfield and Eaton suggest, ``the road to resegregation or at least away from desegregation seemed to be wide open''; one such road is the creation of ``magnet schools,'' in which academically gifted students—usually white or Asian—are offered `` `schools within schools,' meaning that students in the magnet program have little or no contact with students in the comprehensive, nonmagnet program.'' The editors convincingly argue that the ideal of desegregation is disappearing as the Supreme Court, led in several recent cases by Clarence Thomas, chooses the path of judicial avoidance by claiming that segregation is the result of demographic shifts that the courts have no ability to counteract. Down this road, Orfield and Eaton maintain, lies the promise of further ``urban apartheid,'' and steadily narrowing opportunities for minority students.
Read full book review >