Diversity and Integration

Rafael Angeles
Rider University

Integration is still sought out and remains a goal of the educational system. Diversity is something that schools want because of its positive outcomes. New Jersey is one of the most diverse states but also one of the most segregated in the nation (Clark, 2018). So how is it possible that integration is not achieved? Matt Delmont’s book titled Why Busing Failed gives a general clue as to why integration hasn’t been achieved. Many may argue that busing failed, the argument has been made repeatedly, each time looking at different reasons, typically political. However, the first proponents of busing desired it because they believed it was their moral duty and that it would improve the condition of predominantly black schools. The opponents of integration through busing believe that it is not necessary and ineffective and as a result continue to uphold segregation.

            To this day opinions of busing are mixed. There are individuals who wished more would be done about the situation; some think that there is unfinished business. Then there are those that are happy that it got done away with in the 1990s beginning with the Missouri v. Jenkins case. The primary result of this case was that the court ruled that a unitary education system had been achieved, therefore the state did not need to fund programs that were typically used to achieve integration. The attitude shifted due to “a lack of rising test scores” (Missouri v. Jenkins, 2018). The test scores not increasing meant that the integrated schools had done all that they could. This court decision would act as a domino effect around the country Busing was the primary method of integration in the past. It became nationally accepted in 1971 with the Supreme Court ruling that districts do indeed have the right to bus students to different schools to achieve racial integration. Despite that the decision, years later it became acceptable to take away funding from busing and integration programs once “unitary status” had been achieved. This is where busing began to be seen as a failure. Delmont argues: “Anti bussers and politicians succeeded in stopping full scale busing” (Cornish, 2016). Others were upset that busing had been done away with because they thought it was a great cause. “Busing was a major success” (Lang, Erdman, & Handley, 2016). a quote by Arthur Griffin, a former superintendent of Charlotte schools in North Carolina. He said in a documentary that he was one of the students that experienced integration and that he was thankful for it. People like him are not rare cases. There are as many people who speak fondly of busing as there are those who opposed it. The truth is that the causes for failed busing are strongly linked to people’s opinions. There are many opinions that will continue to be studied by historians to provide different narratives as to why true integration failed. “Society in general expected school desegregation to solve too many things” (Tilove, 1992).

            Based on research from busing and integration in the 1970s, this paper focuses on how in the modern United States, specifically New Jersey, there are still examples of segregation. It is common knowledge that the United States values equality, especially in education. This means that there should be equal opportunity. After all, in America if you work hard enough you can succeed. This belief however was not always around. It became cemented into American society when with a set of court decisions in the twentieth century. The most recognizable decision is Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS. The decision most remembered for stating that schools cannot be separate but equal.

The most memorable piece of legislation when it comes to integration of the school system is Brown v. Board of Education, it was the foundation of the values of education in America and the first proponent of integration. Its importance cannot be denied when discussing reform to the schools. It laid down the foundation for what would be motivation to improve all schools (Wraga, 2006). The Supreme Court’s reasoning for ruling the way it did also established a set of beliefs about the American education system that would serve for the coming years as goals to be achieved and beliefs to live by. It would take many years before the nation would collectively start working to end segregation. After the civil rights act, and five more court cases, the government issued an ultimatum due to the delay in desegregation plans. The importance is that this could not have been possible without Brown v. Board of Education. The values were summarized by a Princeton newspaper article written in the twilight of busing, “It put forth a vision based on the highest principles and ideals this nation had to offer. These aimed to create a better America, a better society, by improving education for all children and by relieving both whites and blacks of their senses of guilt and inferiority, respectively” (Adieh, 1993).

Brown’s decision created values and from that point on the goals of reformers would be drawn to not only change the school system, but society. We first must look at the beginning of the movement towards school integration. Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka; It is an argument in the historiography that has been beaten on society over and over, but nonetheless will forever hold importance in our nation, and especially in education. This court decision was truly meaningful to society. It was just supposed to be about reform, about education, but the court’s decision on the issue led to values and implications that changed the nation. If the schools were not to be segregated then why would anything have to be segregated? William G. Wraga wrote a short excerpt titled The Heightened Significance of Brown v. Board of Education in our Time. In this he argued what most historians have been arguing for the sixty plus years since the ruling; that Brown v. Board of Education was more than just a school ruling. “By insisting that all students attend school under the same roof, the high court affirmed both the importance of the concept of equal educational opportunity and, implicitly, the unifying function of public education in a Democracy” (Wraga, 2006). This was indeed the start of an affirmation by the government of the value of equality in which education was seen in many areas of the world throughout history to carry.

            From the time between Brown v. Board of Education and the court decision of Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education there were other decisions in the fifteen year span. It wasn’t until the Alexander v. Holme’s decision that the government called for immediate action (Lang, Erdman, & Handley, 2016). There would be no more stalling.  The Supreme Court having to make decisions after Brown proved that the latter was not enough to fix the segregation problem. The cases had to be brought to court by people who were demanding their rights since the court themselves can’t create cases. The opposition to integrated schools was prevalent throughout the twentieth century.

            Busing was opposed even by presidents, Nixon was a key example. “the integration of schools, so that they will be racially balanced. This is a policy that requires busing, and it is this policy that Mr. Nixon and the Republican platform oppose when they oppose busing” (Bickel, 1972, p. 21).  The Republican party gained a lot of support because of their open disapproval of busing. This meant that there was a large number of individuals out there that was not for having black and white students go to school together. The reasons varied, but generally they believed the government was wrong for imposing integration on the people. “Forced busing is depriving 90% of the American people of their civil rights and its unconstitutional” (Ruffra, 1974, p. 122).  

            White Americans do not support busing or school reforms that involve integration to this day. The source What Americans Think about Their Schools is a compilation of research that was put together through surveys. The survey would ask different Americans of various backgrounds questions on what they thought about the school system and the schools their children attended. What was found was that Americans generally wanted change in education. Americans both care about their schools and want them to improve. Though adults give the nation’s public schools only mediocre grades—a plurality confer a “C”—they are willing to invest more money in public education and they are reasonably confident that doing so will improve student learning” (Howell, 2017). Everyone seems to want the education system to improve, and are willing to pay to make those changes.

            There is a reform that is being proposed to improve the education of low income students. Since typically low income students come from schools that are typically minorities, the schools that are generally attended by a majority of white students have higher incomes, thus better opportunities, and as a result better education.  An example of this is Hopewell Valley Central High School which is ninety percent white as opposed to Trenton Central High school which was majority black with a very small white population. The reform calls for, “proposals to enable parents, especially low-income parents, to exercise greater choice over their children’s education through school vouchers, tax credits, charter schools, or home schooling” (New Jersey Department of Education, 2017). These reforms are trying to be introduced with the goal of creating equal opportunities for all students despite their background. Reforms like this have the values of Brown v. Board of Education in mind.

            It seems that a lot of Americans, especially white Americans, still don’t want reforms that include the government intermingling the races. This attitude is the same as it was when busing first began in the 1990s. One argument against busing that many would probably still agree with today, from a Kentucky organization in the 1970s to oppose busing:  “It is true, some districts are rich in children, but poor with poverty, but because some of our children must suffer from poverty–should we insist the rest suffer along with them?” (Ruffra, 1974, p. 122). Integration and plans that involve the education system being equitable. Are often seen as negative by White Americans, because they feel that their children’s level of education should not be reduced to aid the education of others. This has not changed, and is evident that it has not changed when going back to look at the research data on what parents think about education reform. “A plurality of the general public supports choice initiatives. African Americans and Hispanics express more support for school choice than do white Americans”. The fact that the African American and Hispanic population are more willing to reform the system means that they are not content with it. A majority of white Americans however want to keep things the same. This means that they think their educational system should not be tampered with as they are satisfied. “Few education reforms inspire as much debate as do proposals to provide low-income families with vouchers that would allow them to send their children to private schools” (Howell, 2017). This is yet another example of a group of privileged individuals wanting to keep others out.

            Since the early days where the government proposed desegregation there had been individuals that were against the idea. When there was no more legally mandated segregation but instead segregation by the people, the idea of integration was introduced. Though integration became enforced by law, many found ways to oppose it. “Forced busing has created an economic segregation…Parents who could afford to have enrolled their c0hildren in private schools to avoid crosstown busing, thereby segregating the underprivileged from the more affluent” (Ruffra, 1972, p. 122). This then becomes an issue that is beyond the power of the government. Private schools are not illegal, but they’re existence harms the cause of integration. That is one reason why New Jersey is still very segregated. Most of the schools in America are as well, but there is one example of reintroduced busing in Boston that might spark a movement to busing a second chance. “But while integration is still a process, METCO has made a big difference in education. The most recent research of the program shows that nearly 90 percent of METCO’s black and Latino students graduate from high school on time, and they score higher on state achievement tests than their peers in Boston Public Schools” (Cornish, 2016).   The METCO program acts much in the same way that busing did. It takes students away from schools in their neighborhood and sends them to majority white schools in a different area. The program cites success in improving the education of minority students and thus fulfilling the values of educational equality of Brown v. Board of Education. We are still nowhere near an equal educational state but perhaps we can give integration a second chance and change that.


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