Sort by

Giving Up on Busing, and Integrated Schools

David Callahan

It's disturbing that American schools remain deeply segregated by race more than half a century after Brown v. Board—given all we know about the damaging effects of segregation on kids.

What's even more disturbing, though, is that U.S. schools are more segregated now than they were twenty year ago. If you were to draw a line graph of school integration, it would show years of steady progress starting in the 1960s and then years of blacksliding beginning in the 1990s. 

I've written a few posts lately about the unrealized promise of the Fair Housing Act, which—if fully enforced—would provide blacks and Latinos with more housing choices in mixed neighborhoods. As long as our society lets the free market dictate where people can live, school integration will be difficult to achieve. 

But the more immediate reason for resegregation was the abandonment of busing. The New York Times has an article and video on this shift today, and it's pretty depressing stuff. It notes that while busing will killed in most northern cities in the 1970s, it was widespread and worked pretty well in parts of the south, including North Carolina -- until the 1990s:

But in the end, the same federal courts that had ushered in integration helped kill it. In the late 1990s, Judge Robert D. Potter of Federal District Court essentially said that the Charlotte district had met its constitutional duty by successfully creating a single school system serving all children regardless of race and that no more need be done.


In a few years’ time, West Charlotte High, which had been roughly 40 percent black and 60 percent white in the 1970s, became 88 percent black and 1 percent white. And it wasn’t just Charlotte. Today, nearly two-thirds of the school districts that had been ordered to desegregate are no longer required to do so, including Seminole County, Fla. (2006); Little Rock, Ark. (2007); and Galveston County, Tex. (2009).


The New York City system is more segregated than it was in the 1980s: half the schools are more than 90 percent black and Hispanic.

Yes, these stats are depressing, but the moral of the story is uplifting: In fact, history shows that segregation is not some immutable reality that can't be changed by public policy. We do have policy levers that can be used against this problem. We just need the will to use them.