Defining Diversity

By Rebecca Jones

Forget about race.

That's what many federal courts seem to be telling school districts. Almost 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, courts are dissolving old racial desegregation orders, forbidding even voluntary desegregation plans, and ruling in favor of plaintiffs who see themselves as the victims of reverse discrimination. The result, according to a report released in August by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, is the resegregation of public schools.

"It's an absolute tragedy that we're losing a lot of those desegregation plans that were successful for 30 years," said Civil Rights Project co-director Gary Orfield.

The courts' aversion to anything racial, along with expanding ghettos and barrios, is fast turning public schools into one of the most racially segregated institutions in America. They're certainly more segregated than the workplace and, in many cases, the country club.

But a funny thing is happening on the way to resegregation. A small but growing number of school districts are resisting. They are either fighting for the right to integrate by race or finding other ways -- such as using students' socioeconomic status (SES) -- to encourage a healthy mix of children with different backgrounds. The reason, their leaders say, is that they don't want to give up the academic and social benefits their districts have experienced with integration. 

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