Wednesday, December 06, 2006

SCOTUS and Diversity

The Supreme Court heard two cases this week related to policies in Seattle and Louisville to promote racial diversity in public schools. (Links are to the oral arguments.)

Findlaw has an overview of the relevant Supreme Court cases for education deriving from the 14th Amendment. One past decision that caught my eye was the Swann (1971) case, described as follows:
Because current attendance patterns may be attributable to past discriminatory actions in site selection and location of school buildings, the Court in Swann determined that it is permissible, and may be required, to resort to altering of attendance boundaries and grouping or pairing schools in noncontiguous fashion in order to promote desegregation and undo past official action; in this remedial process, conscious assignment of students and drawing of boundaries on the basis of race is permissible. Transportation of students--busing--is a permissible tool of educational and desegregation policy, inasmuch as a neighborhood attendance policy may be inadequate due to past discrimination. The soundness of any busing plan must be weighed on the basis of many factors, including the age of the students; when the time or distance of travel is so great as to risk the health of children or significantly impinge on the educational process, the weight shifts.
The Court here was analyzing remedies for past discrimination by school district officials. But what if there has been no past discrimination in the location, quality, and attendance of public schools?

From the descriptions of the case and my quick skimming of the arguments, it seems that some students are denied opportunities available to others solely based on their race. I do not see how this can be reconciled with the Equal Protection Clause as it has developed through the two University of Michigan cases. In the undergraduate case, a majority of the Court ruled that the admissions system (a point system that awarded extra points for members of minority groups) was too "mechanistic." It seems that these two systems are even more mechanistic. I'm guessing this will be 5-4 to strike down both systems.

So what are school systems supposed to do to ensure Equal Protection? In a degenerate way, having only one school in each district would do it, as would having completely random assignments if there are multiple schools. Beyond that, we could start with a system of schools constructed and staffed as similarly as possible and allow choice, requiring that every school accept all applicants. As long as those two requirements were maintained--identical offerings and a requirement to take all applicants--then there should be the presumption that everyone has the same opportunities. But this would do nothing to ensure "diversity" as it is being used in this context.


Jon Shea said...

"As long as those two requirements were maintained--identical offerings and a requirement to take all applicants--then there should be the presumption that everyone has the same opportunities."

Right a system os physically distinct and separate schools that are non-the-less equal in their quality and offerings.

Donald Douglas said...

Schools are going to be unequal as long as family income and residential patterns are unequal. Schools must not assign students by race, which can't be squared with the requirement of equal protection. Perhaps the court will strike down these racial balancing plans, and the courts can get out of the business of superintending the schools. Will this be a last gasp for desegregation efforts? Who knows, as long as we have diversity mavens charging racism everywhere? But we need to get beyond race, really, and not by taking more race into account, like in the Michigan cases or anywhere else.

Burkean Reflections

bakho said...

One way for parents to give their children a leg up on the future is education. By making the schools their own children attend better than average, parents can give their own children an advantage. In the US, Public Schools are mostly controlled and funded at a local level. There is little incentive for parents in wealthy school districts to fund improvements in poor districts. Requiring level funding would spark massive outrage from parents in wealthy districts. They would never approve cuts in their own districts. These wealthy people are the politically well connected, so our system of local control of grossly unequal schools and school districts is perpetuated. Poor districts may spend less than $4000 per student and wealthy districts far above $10,000 per student. There is not enough money to bring all schools up to the higher level. This may be one of the most difficult problems to solve.

Funky Disposition said...

If school districts performed the HR, where a teacher base could be built centrally (I can't believe I'm advocating anything "centrally") and blindly as to final assignments. A place where want ads were placed and staff applicants were screened, interviewed and hired THEN assigned a school. You could argue that you were staff neutral across the district. You advocacy of "identical offerings and a requirement to take all applicants" I think would be enhanced with my plan.

Of course right now lawsuits are being waged on districts because of unequal schools within. I wonder if your idea of EQUAL schools were put into place within the district if then lawsuits would change. I wonder if lawsuits would be against the state for tolerating unequal districts. Schools are funded by-and-large by local taxes and depending on the aggregate wealth of a particular district and it's proximity to a district with substantially lower wealth, could the same arguments be made against this proposed system...?

My charity of choice this Christmas is the Milton and Rose D. Friedman foundation. They argue that vouchers are the way to go. Perhaps SCOTUS will trump the Friedman foundation ... I don’t think so. There is room in this world for voucher funding of education and public school reform; in fact they would compliment each other. Freedom of choice in a non-corrupt market will make as good as possible a primary-secondary education system.

I enjoy economics because I see how the world can be made better if good ideas are used as structure and framework for public decisions. High quality primary-secondary schools will do more to ease poverty and human suffering than any other government program. I also believe it will add to a more stable society in general.

alphie said...

I enjoy economics because I see who's trying to put one over on society.

Vouchers are just a scam pushed by people who want the government to fund their religious indoctrination academies...better quality schools got nothin' to do with it.

If we want a better public education system...maybe we should stop using so much money training children to mimic the functions of a $5 calculater and a simple word processor.

My youngest kid is currently spending time at school learning how to write in cursive...cursive!

Now there's a skill that will get him far in the 21st century job market...

Maybe we should stop kidding ourselves and just sell our kids into bondage to Chinese-owned sweatshops....and use the savings to pay down the national debt.

Unknown said...

Now more then ever we need to hold our schools to higher and higher standards. We just have so much we could lose!