Friday, September 08, 2006

The L.A. Times On "Diversity" In Our Public Schools

The Bush Administration receives a less-than-satisfactory grade when it comes to "diversity," asserts a recent editorial in The Los Angeles Times:
TO HIS CREDIT, PRESIDENT BUSH chose a Cabinet that (to quote former President Clinton) "looks like America." Now the same administration that takes race into account in assembling a government has asked the Supreme Court not to allow school districts to do the same thing in filling their classrooms.

Bush has appointed two African Americans — one a woman — as secretary of State, named the first Latino attorney general and had two Asian Americans in his original Cabinet. Of course, Bush would argue that these appointees were superbly qualified. But that doesn't mean that he was indifferent to their impact, both practically and symbolically.

Last month, Solicitor General Paul D. Clement sent a different message, filing a brief with the high court arguing that public schools in Seattle and Louisville, Ky. — and everywhere else — may not take steps to maintain a measure of racial balance. Like other school districts, Louisville and Seattle decided that bringing children of different races together makes for a better educational experience. The administration is siding with white parents who are challenging the programs as unconstitutional.

In the 1970s, such integration was fostered by what opponents called "forced busing." With federal courts no longer spearheading school integration, racial diversity in the classroom must be achieved through other kinds of pupil assignment. Many districts, including L.A. Unified, further this goal by establishing magnet schools aimed at parents who want their children to have an integrated experience.

There is a world of difference, morally and legally, between these schools and the all-white and all-black public schools that the Supreme Court outlawed in its landmark 1954 ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education. One system was designed to separate white and black children. The other seeks to bring them together. The latter objective remains what the courts call a "compelling interest."

The Justice Department disagrees. The administration is telling the court that school systems that place a priority on diversity violate the "equal protection of the laws" guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. In his brief, Clement argues that "the use of a racial classification to achieve a desired racial balance in public schools" is just as unconstitutional as old-fashioned racial segregation.

It may well look that way to the parents of a child — white or black — who is denied a place in a specialized school because of racial-balance guidelines. As Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. observed in an opinion in a voting rights case: "It's a sordid business, this divvying us up by race." Yet the high court has recognized, sometimes reluctantly, that taking account of race is the lesser of two evils when the alternative is to perpetuate segregation and stereotypes.

In a colorblind society, there would be no need for school administration to keep track of the race of its pupils. That is not, unfortunately, the society in which we live. Given segregated housing patterns and persistent racial disparities in family income, in many places the only way to bring students of different races together is to take account of race — just as Bush has done in his own administration.
I think that the L.A. Times editorial staff should have focused less on race and more on the need for educational opportunities to be increased for those students (of all races) who are from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

One of the positive aspects (as we see it) of the president's No Child Left Behind Act is that those students who are classified as "socio-economically disadvantaged" are receiving more attention (from the EduCracy) than ever before.

In all-too-many cases, for the first time ever.
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