Voluntary Integration After Parents Involved: What Does Research Tell Us About Available Options?

by Erica Frankenberg

In the aftermath of separate, lengthy opinions by five members of the Supreme Court in the Louisville and Seattle voluntary school integration cases, educators in local districts across the United States are surely wondering whether or not their desegregation policies are legal and what their options are for maintaining racial diversity. In a 4-1-4 decision, in the consolidated case, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, the Court struck down the use of race as employed in the particular voluntary school desegregation plans in Louisville and Seattle. However, the Court also allowed for the use of race in some circumstances and affirmed the maintenance of diverse schools—as well as the prevention of racially isolated schools—as compelling state interests.

This paper reviews research and examples of options intended to achieve or maintain racial diversity in K-12 public schools. It is not an exhaustive review of different policies and should not be mistaken for legal guidance. However, the work provides practical information and a starting point for educators sorting through their options afterParents Involved.

Part I reviews the demographics of today’s student population. A discussion of the rationale for integration policies comes next, as research has long noted the need to continuously educate the community about the rationale for such policies (e.g. Hawley et al., 1983, chapter 5). The bulk of the paper explores a variety of student assignment policies — including both inter-district and intra-district policies — and what available research says about their effectiveness in creating racially integrated schools. The paper examines whether or not housing integration efforts and other kinds of school policies might improve the chances that traditional student assignment policies will create racially diverse learning environments.

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