School Integration Has Unintended Consequences, Brooks Finds

October 16, 2006
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Yale law professor Richard Brooks

During the current Supreme Court term, justices will consider a pair of cases that could determine whether race will be a continuing factor in assigning students to specific schools at the elementary and secondary level. Conventional wisdom holds that there is a substantial benefit to minority students when they learn in integrated schools. Recent studies, however, suggest that may not necessarily be true, said Yale law professor Richard Brooks, who explained the findings of a new body of statistical analysis in an Oct. 3 event at the Law School. While Brooks took care to point out that the research is too incomplete at this point for significant conclusions to be drawn, the raw findings could influence the Court when it resolves these cases.

"Integration has been found to be associated with lower drop-out rates for black students. Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to score higher on tests when they are integrated," Brooks noted. "On the other hand, there are studies that show that black and Hispanic students are more likely to smoke. Asian students are not only more likely to smoke [in integrated schools], they put in more effort, get higher test scores, and report being happier when they are segregated from white students at the elementary school level."

Borrowing from the "peer effects" phenomenon from the discipline of economics, some sociologists have recently sought to identify how performance and behaviors are affected when there is integration and when there is not. Brooks has extended that research into how students in integrated schools perceive social, economic, and criminal justice. A survey administered to 28,000 ninth- and tenth-grade students in Chicago's public schools could show a great variance in that regard.

"As a general pattern, as the percentage of white students in the school increases, black students, and to a lesser extent Latino and Asian students, perceive more injustice," Brooks said. In more integrated schools, minority students are more likely to perceive discrimination on the part of police, employers, teachers, and in housing, Brooks said, while they are less likely to do so as the percentage of white students drops.

Chicago, he said, is an especially interesting case study because the city's public schools are not very diverse due to the influence of private and parochial schools, as well as growth in the suburbs. From 1970-2000, the percentage of white students enrolled in Chicago public schools has dropped from about 35 percent to just 10 percent today. While the percentage of black students has not changed much, the percentage of Hispanic students has increased almost in identical proportions, from 10 percent in 1970 to 35 percent in 2000. Due to the fact that Chicago has a lottery system for assignment of students to some schools, if students lose the lottery, they are probably going to a school where there are almost no white students. Lottery winners are more likely to agree that injustice is a real factor.

Brooks pointed out that no causal conclusions can be drawn from this research. A number of factors, including socioeconomics, were not considered. Because students with high socioeconomic status of any race are less likely to enroll in Chicago public schools, this could influence conclusions and shows that more research is needed, Brooks said. However, the study provides ammunition for those who argue that over 50 years after the Brown decision, its goal is not yet realized.

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