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November 30, 2004

School Resegregation and the Exurbs

Stephen Darwall: November 30, 2004

My son Will has been writing a paper on school desegregation for his AP US History class, specifically, on the landmark (Metropolitan Detroit) case, Milliken v. Bradley (1974), which pretty much stopped active desgregation in its tracks and led ultimately to increasingly resegregated schools (data below).  So I have been thinking about what I've been learning from Will in relation to the growing exurbs, whose role in the Bush victory has been much discussed, for example, by David Brooks.

In Milliken, the Court struck down a plan imposed by a federal district court to desgregate schools in Metropolitan Detroit across district lines (i.e., by including suburbs) on the grounds that there had been no showing of multi-district de jure school segregation (notwithstanding substantial housing discrimination in the suburbs--Dearborn, for example, had maintained 0% African-Americans through particularly agressive means).  This stalled desegregation progress throughout the U.S. and led, ultimately, to a reversal.  In 1968, the year of Green v. County School Board, the first case to put teeth into Brown, 76.6% of African-Americans attended schools that were 50-100% minority.  By 1972, that number had decreased to 63.6%.  This progress pretty much stopped with Milliken--only 62.9% by 1980.  By 1986, the percentage actually began to climb, reaching 70.2% by 1998.  For an excellent discussion, see Gary Orfield's "Schools More Separate: Consequences of a Decade of Resegregation.)  As Orfield pointed out in a talk at the University of Virginia Law School last February (video here) even communities like Charlotte, North Carolina, find it difficult to maintain multi-district desegregation despite public support in the judicial climate spawned by Milliken and continued by an increasingly conservative judiciary.

What does this have to do with exurbia?  The fastest growing county in Michigan, Livingston County, is exurban.  It grew approximately 35% between 1990 and 2000, and has grown another 10% since then.  Much of this growth has been fueled by ex-suburbanites from Metropolitan Detroit (itself the most residentially segregated area in the country).  Although African-Americans represent 14.2% of citizens of Michigan (and a much higher percentage of Metropolitan Detroit), they are only 0.5% of the population of Livingston County.

So far as I can tell, there has been very little discussion of the increasing resegregation of American schools.  And from this perspective, a growing exurbia (indirectly public funded by cheap gas, Interstates, and tax incentives for home ownership) seems to be very bad news.


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Posted by: David Velleman

Here is an interesting piece about the "exurbs" from the LA Times. Bush/Cheney won in 97 of the 100 fastest growing counties in the country, with a total margin of 1.7 million votes.

Posted by: David Velleman | Dec 5, 2004 7:57:55 PM

Posted by: Steve

Exurbs are growing, presumably, because people want to live in them. Its 'very bad news' when people do what they want to do...
And you wonder why you lose elections...


Posted by: Steve | Dec 7, 2004 9:45:12 AM

Posted by: Laura

I think you're on to something here. Whether you call them exurbs or suburbs or satellite towns there is a regrouping going on. Although not exclusively organized around a conservative agenda, the conservative agenda is doing well for a couple of reasons I can attest to and probably more I'm not aware of.

First, conservatives--and the religiously motivated moreso than secular conservatives--have done their work in local communities that I know well. They have consciously been engaged in school district issues and in the churches and the tattered remains of community groups to build consensus around social issues disturbing people. Liberal-minded folk have been much less active and have continued to look away from social questions with a moral relativism stance that makes for good neighbors and good civil service but poor leadership.

Second, I agree that race does continue to play its part and the resegregation of schools is an indicator of this package of conservative regrouping, but I think you are missing a bigger part of the package and that is class. I currently live in a middle to upper-middle class neighborhood that is populated with people from every continent and of every skin color. On the school issue I can tell you that there appears to be a slow-growing trend toward more children in the neighborhood being enrolled in private schools and it doesn't matter whether their parents are white, black, or any other ethnic/racial/religious category. The biggest debate around the public school atmosphere has to do with parents concerned that their children will be "held back" from achieving their potential by "FARMS" (free-and-reduced meals) families. The relatively well-to-do families don't want to deal with the complexity of a multi-class society.

Sure, some of them are motivated by racial prejudices, but many are not keen on the white kids in vocational programs or who graduate from high school for a career at the local grocery store. Many don't want their African-American sons and daughters to socialize with the African-American sons and daughters who live in the apartment complex and affordable-housing neighborhoods in our school area. The Latino parents in my neighborhood do not want their children to suffer low expectations at school because the school has to accommodate children from poor Central American immigrant families.

I am not arguing for this class perspective, but it's just as common among people who identify themselves as liberal as it is among those who call themselves conservative. What really bugs me is that we seem to have given up on the basic principle of equal opportunity for all. Our politics are reflecting this, and the Democratic party isn't offering any other suggestions.

Posted by: Laura | Dec 7, 2004 11:17:45 AM

Posted by: Steve

I liked your post. However, I question one assumption in the second to last sentence. "What really bugs me is that we seem to have given up on the basic principle of equal opportunity for all." I question whether that was ever the basic principle for very many people. Lets face it: people (of all races) move to the suburbs because they want to improve the schooling for their kids-they don't want the average school, they want a good one (why else move to the suburbs). To be frank, I'm not convinced most people bought into the 'equal opportunity for all' theory. Rather, they believed in a 'minimum acceptable opportunity for all' theory. In other words, if you show pictures of a school with cracked walls, or a school in which there aren't enough textbooks, or leaking pipes, etc., most people would not accept that, and would want to improve that school. But if you show a school that is better than one in the next county (or a decent school that is worse than one in the next county), most people (outside of Berkeley and Cambridge) would probably not care too much.


Posted by: Steve | Dec 7, 2004 12:26:14 PM

Posted by: Mike Enright

While it is very popular for upper class liberal professors (I have had my share, including you, Professor Darwall)to talk about Milliken v. Bradley as a case that lead to re-segragation, I think that the difference between official segregation enforced by the government and voluntary segregation are two very different things.

Furthermore, I happen to wonder how many of those same professors would be happy sending their children to failing inter-city schools in order to "save" them.

Posted by: Mike Enright | Dec 7, 2004 3:02:43 PM

Posted by: the prof

resegregation *has* been a hot topic as Darwall's own cites show. the more interesting question, i think, is not exurbia but what resegregation shows about parental choice and educational achievement.

resegregation in urban areas has been taking place because parents, both black and white (but mostly black) found that busing their children long distances to integrated schools didn't do much to increase educational achievement.

small neighborhood schools work best, and as long as we continue to live apart, these schools will inevitably be segregated.

is this a problem if a) segregation is voluntary and not mandated by the state and b) if educational achievement remains high?

Posted by: the prof | Dec 7, 2004 3:24:39 PM

Posted by: ZF

People want to live near people like them. This is the same the world over. The only people not happy with this are liberals (often without children of their own) who want to run other peoples' lives for them.

Have some children. Become responsible for someone else. Get your fill of running other peoples' lives for them that way, in a healthy, traditional, productive manner. Deal with real children, instead of trying to infantilize other adults.

Posted by: ZF | Dec 7, 2004 7:52:52 PM

Posted by: Rob

This is at the end of the post:
...a growing exurbia (indirectly public funded by cheap gas, Interstates, and tax incentives for home ownership) seems to be very bad news.

If the author believes that somehow the public is subsidizing exurbia, creating a market distortion, that is one thing. If a conservative made such an observation, it would be with the intention of convincing others that the subsidy should be eliminated in order to remove the market distortion.

But when a liberal says such a thing, what I always sense is a desperate grab at power: an assertion of the right to directly intervene because of this (imaginary) subsidy.

I say imaginary because gas taxes pay for the interstates, home ownership is just as subsidized in the cities, and "cheap gas," well, cheap gas needs explaining.

But I am sure the author can make an argument -- probably not a case, but certainly an argument. My point is that he smells like a fascist. If I am wrong and he would never, ever do anything except eliminate market distorting government programs, I apologize. Because if that is the case, he's no liberal.

Posted by: Rob | Dec 7, 2004 8:37:57 PM

Posted by: Laura

Just for the record, I want every child to have the opportunity to have a good education, not just my children. Now, Steve, you're right about the relativity of good, but my version of equal opportunity in the world's wealthiest nation is measured in terms of literacy and critical thinking skills, competency in math, competency in scientific method, exposure to the arts and adequate preparation to support oneself in an occupation or profession that pays above the poverty level, and I'm not from Cambridge or Berkeley. I am very concerned that today's segregation by class in public education may be a consequence of the widening gulf between rich and poor in our society at large, but if people don't "buy into" (interesting choice of words) raising expectations and investment in public education, this segregation will become the cause of the gulf.

Posted by: Laura | Dec 7, 2004 9:08:05 PM

Posted by: cas

There is only ONE factor that will increase a child's performance in school, and it crosses every division mentioned in this post: race, class, location of neighborhood, "socio-economic" grouping, etc. A child does well in school when that child's PARENT(s) are directly and intimately involved with that child's education. In every neighborhood I've lived in, around the country or in other countries, there was only one thing that all of them had in common; they all wanted the "best" education for their children. How can the government MANDATE that a child do well in school, if the parent(s) do(es) not get involved? Increased spending on state-run education is useless unless this involvement is present. Ask any teacher in any school, public or private, if this is not a basic fact. (Make sure to find out if they are officials in the local teacher's union first!)

Posted by: cas | Dec 7, 2004 11:33:48 PM

Posted by: ZF

People move to the exurbs to escape the racket produced by liberal teachers' union-dominated inner-city schools. We don't have to argue about whether this is so, if you are only willing to ask the parents concerned. This is a form of large-scale, repeated, institutionalized child abuse, disparately affecting racial minorities, which liberals never want to address, or even recognize. I'll let you ponder why that is.

The rest of us have better things to do than argue it out with people who aren't listening. We moved out instead, and got on with our lives. Liberals could care less, until they started losing national elections, at which point it became a problem worth noticing.

Posted by: ZF | Dec 8, 2004 12:20:59 PM

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce

One of the issues behind re-segregation is that many black families have missed the down-home atmosphere they grew up in and moved back into black neighborhoods. The thing that frustrated me most as an undergrad was the existence of university programs that encouraged minority students to arrive for a week of minority orientation a week before everyone else, which led to friendships among people none of whom were white, which in turn made it much harder for me to make inroads into the communities that already existed. Black students were already interacting with other black students, and when they saw them in the dining hall they sat with them rather than meeting someone new, as I would have to do. I didn't feel comfortable sitting with a group of people I didn't know, and it wasn't because of their race. I was a very introverted person at the time. I also did want to sit with people who lived in my dorm, so I did, provided they weren't with a large group that I didn't know, as most of the minority students were. All this is just to show that some of the segregation in our society today comes from people's good intentions and the fact that bonds are created due to proximity and time spent with anyone, regardless of race, and some of it comes from merely sensing a familiarity with those that people perceive to be like them.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce | Dec 8, 2004 6:29:15 PM

Posted by: MarkW

Just a short drive south of Livingston County on US-23 is Ann Arbor. It is, as you probably know, a university town. The schools are high-performing and mostly integrated. The elementary schools are somewhat unbalanced racially (due to neighborhood attendence areas) but there are no majority black elementary schools, and the middle schools and and high schools are quite well balanced. Not only that, but many people live here because they *don't* want to live around only people like them (the city also has significant numbers of residents of east asian, south asian, and middle-eastern origin)

Sounds good? Mostly, it is. But the combination of tolerance, integration, affluence, and liberal politics has definitely *not* solved the problem with African-American achievement. Ann Arbor is one of those affluent citiies (like Evanston, Illinois and Shaker Heights, Ohio) with a big 'achievement gap' that stubbornly refuses to budge, year after year.

Integration, even under what seem like ideal conditions, has not solved the problem of African-American achievement. Had Miliken been decided differently, cross-district busing would have been expensive, disruptive, divisive...and would not have solved the problem it was intended to address.

Posted by: MarkW | Dec 8, 2004 8:05:05 PM

Posted by: Stephen Darwall

I'd like to make two comments in response to a number of comments above. First, I very much agree with Laura's points that the fundamental issue is equality of opportunity and that from this perspective much of the problem (although I think, not all) is class- rather than race-related. Second, in response to MarkW's thoughtful observations about the case of Ann Arbor in relation publicly mandated desegregation, I would like to make two points. First, what you (and I) observe in Ann Arbor is that this is not sufficient to meaningfully address the "achievement gap." It does not, of course, follow that it is not necessary. I'm sure we both know that very endemic, long-standing factors are in play here. Moreover, the best research I have seen on this, by the Stanford psychologist Claude Steele, both suggests a plausible explanation for much of the enduring gap and suggests that substantial integration is a key to addressing it long-term. Second, I think it's simply false that inter-district busing could not have been (could not still be) an important policy tool in achieving equal opportunity education. I believe that the way that school districts like Ann Arbor purposefully integrate schools intra-district is certainly such a tool. In effect it is intra-district busing. And since public education is not simply a local responsiblity, I can see no reason in principle why it shouldn't also be a permissible inter-district tool. I understand that Milliken and its progeny are making it difficult for schools in Charlotte, North Carolina, site of inter-district busing mandated by Swann (1970), to continue to purse this policy despite substantial local support. Of course, school districts can always amalgamate for this purpose, but it seems incredible to me that there would be the degree of support we see today among the citizens of Charlotte but for the prior decision in Swann.

Posted by: Stephen Darwall | Dec 9, 2004 9:16:16 AM

Posted by: Mike

Why do you say that public education is not "simply a local responsabilty"? It would seem to me that many people on the right don't assume this. To simply state this as a matter of fact is to close debate with the people on the right and anyone in favor of localism and local control.

If the purpose is to open debate or understand and converse with people on the right, starting with this basic assumption will not work.

Posted by: Mike | Dec 9, 2004 1:36:11 PM

Posted by: MarkW

Let me respond to Stephen Darwall's comment. I'm not suggesting that there are no conditions under which integrated schools could improve the performance of African Americans, I'm saying those conditions have proven very difficult to create. In districts that have integrated living patterns, money, tolerance, liberal politics and that have made repeated, concerted efforts to address the problem, the gap has not closed. This is not true just in Ann Arbor, but in comparable communities across the country.

One result is that African-Americans have, understandably, lost enthusiasm for integration via busing. Having kids bused to distant schools has many drawbacks -- hours spent riding the bus each week, difficulty in participating in after-hours activities, difficulty of parents making connection with teachers and schools, etc. There is no reason to accept all of that if there is minimal payoff.

Of course, with cross-district busing, one could try to focus on busing the majority rather than minority kids -- but parents would not accept it. In fact, I wouldn't accept it. My kids now attend integrated schools and I value that. It is actually part of the reason we live in Ann Arbor and not one of the surrounding bedroom communities. But I would not put my kids on a bus to ride to a school in an out-of-town district. They'd go to a private school or we'd move.

But it's not an issue because there's no prospect of it happening--there is no constituency to push for busing to achieve integration across district lines. I would expect African-American parents to oppose it almost as vociferously as white ones.

Yes, there is still some within district busing in Ann Arbor, but it's mostly vestigial--elementary school boundary islands put in place in the '80s and not changed since then. But there's no longer a legal requirement to maintain them or create new ones as population shifts occur. At this point, school populations in Ann Arbor mostly reflect housing patterns, and that provides a reasonable level of integration, especially at the upper levels.

Lastly, we do know, in fact, that integration is not necessary for black achievement--the traditionally black colleges demonstrate it. But it doesn't really even need to be demonstrated--to doubt it is to believe that there's something about African Americans that makes it impossible for them to achieve at high levels if there are 'too many' of them in one place.

Posted by: MarkW | Dec 9, 2004 8:04:15 PM

Posted by: Jacqueline Duty

Jacqueline Duty

Posted by: Jacqueline Duty | Apr 7, 2005 11:08:19 PM

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