Tuesday, December 05, 2006

More on the school "desegregation" cases.

I wrote about these cases yesterday because the Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments on them. This is from Slate's analysis:

In the decades since Brown [v. Board of Education], school boards around the country strove to integrate their schools—sometimes by court decree and sometimes voluntarily—with an eye toward undoing the racial segregation that follows urban housing patterns.

Right now, these school districts are classifying students by race (which actually isn't that easy to do) and "distributing" them using a desired ratio of 60% white and 40% black in each school, which mirrors the ratio present in the overall population. The goal is to prevent urban minorities from being stuck in worse public schools while white kids in the suburbs get the better schools.

Why not -- instead of using race -- using the "housing patterns" to redistribute placement of the students? Not sending all urban kids to one school and suburban kids to another, but dividing them up so that some urban and some suburban kids are in each school. Surely there are poor white kids in urban ghettos, just as there are rich black kids in the suburbs. It would shift the focus from remedying past injustices to finding a fair system now. It would give poor kids (regardless of race) an equal shot at better schools, and it would make challenges under the Equal Protection Clause irrelevant.

This might still result in placement along racial lines just like the current policy does, but at least racial discrimination charges would be baseless.


ADDED: It seems that the justices support my reasoning against placement by race.

...Michael F. Madden, the Seattle district’s lawyer, tried to argue that because the Seattle high schools were “basically comparable,” and “everyone gets a seat,” the court should not view the plan as “a selective or merit-based system where we judge one student to be better than the other.”

It was, Mr. Madden said, “a distributive system” that was “quite wholly dissimilar to a merit or selective-based system.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. countered, “Saying that this doesn’t involve individualized determinations simply highlights the fact that the decision to distribute, as you put it, was based on skin color and not any other factor.”

He added: “I mean, everyone got a seat in Brown as well. But because they were assigned to those seats on the basis of race, it violated equal protection. How is your argument that there’s no problem here because everybody gets a seat distinguishable?”

“Because segregation is harmful,” Mr. Madden replied.

“It’s an assignment on the basis of race, correct?” the chief justice persisted. (NYT)

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