Income, Race, and School Diversity.

If you haven't already, you should read Robert Barnes' fascinating Washington Post piece on how Louisville, Kentucky, is working to keep its schools integrated, while complying with a 2007 Supreme Court that struck down race-based measures for diversity:

The final product, which integrates schools based on socioeconomic factors rather than on race alone, has proven to be more complex and costly than the previous system. Long bus rides and complaints from a vocal minority of parents have threatened popular support of the plan. The school board has delayed full implementation. The legislature is contemplating whether to guarantee parents a spot in their neighborhood schools. [...]

Louisville's new plan splits the county into two geographic districts -- one having higher concentrations of minorities, lower incomes and less educational attainment -- and requires each school in the district to have a mix of students from both.

It's not entirely surprising that Louisville has trouble maintaining school integration under this new system, since race and socioeconomic status aren't actually reliable proxies for each other. In a 2006 study, researchers from Standford University and the University of California found that high levels of racial segregation are possible -- and even likely -- in an "income-based school assignment policy," especially if school systems are using imprecise criteria for income. That said, even under the most precise form of income-based integration -- where school assignment is based on exact family income -- "income integration does not guarantee a modest level of racial desegregation."

The problem, as you can probably imagine, is that levels of school integration depend a great deal on levels of residential segregation; if whites are clustered in one neighborhood and blacks in another, you could achieve income integration as long as both neighborhoods are income diverse. As such, most cities have a hard time creating diverse schools when race-based assignment policies are off the table, since most cities -- Louisville included -- are very segregated in their residential patterns. Race may be a blunt measure of diversity, but it's actually more straightforward and effective than the alternative.

One last thing: I still think it's worth reflecting on John Robert's declaration that "the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." Not only is it a ridiculous statement -- it's absurd to see efforts to end racial segregation as indistinguishable from efforts to achieve racial integration --but it is reflective of a broader conservative attitude that views anti-racism as a lot more problematic than actual racism and its effects.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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