McDermott, Kathryn, Frankenberg, Erica, & Diem, Sarah
The “Post-Racial” Politics of Race: Changing Student Assignment Policy in Three School Districts
University of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania State University, University of Missouri
Does having residents from multiple jurisdictions make it more difficult for districts to maintain support for student assignment policies, particularly given population differences between city and suburban residents? Does a district’s ability to maintain political support for integration differ by whether the goals and means were race-conscious or race-neutral?
Journal Name or Institutional Affiliation:
Vol. 29 No.3 pp. 504-554
- These case studies reinforce the criticisms of race-neutral politics and policy that have been made by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and others. Race-neutral politics during fiscal retrenchment tends to reframe privilege as common sense and to obscure some students’ structural disadvantages.
- In all three, access to enclave schools was a major issue, and advocates also made a case for not consigning low-income students and students of color to default schools. All three districts also show the effects of race-neutral politics playing out in a context that has been shaped by histories that are anything but race neutral.
- Among other race-neutral arguments, critics of diversity promoting school choice plans say that they are too complicated and expensive, even though the complexity is in the service of equity and the expense of transportation is sometimes overstated.
- Calls for more stable school placements have a solid pedagogical grounding, but also may have the effect (in a race-patterned environment) of entrenching racial inequality. The two metropolitan districts’ diversity politics have been at least as contentious as Boston’s, suggesting that having demographics that are more conducive to diversity does not necessarily make politics less divisive.
- In general, despite hopes that de-emphasizing race in integration policies would make them more politically palatable, controversies have remained intense.
Boston, which has less potential to integrate by race or SES than the two county districts because it includes only the city, shows the particular challenges of pursuing diversity within an urban school district and the enduring power of the racial definition of diversity that traces its ancestry to the civil rights movement.
- Wake County remains very much in flux, but at this point is politically somewhere between Boston and Jefferson County. It has a long commitment to diversity that is now under intense political challenge.
- Race-neutral politics during fiscal retrenchment tends to reframe privilege as common sense and to obscure some students’ structural disadvantages.
- These case studies all demonstrate that recent proposals to change student assignment policy have produced heated controversy.
Journal Article Empirical Research
District, Diversity, Policy, Race, Segregation, Student Assignment Policies
Case Studies, Interviews
Method of Analysis:
Politics and student assignment polices in three major cities
Unit of Analysis:
- The authors selected cases that had different combinations of characteristics that appear likely to affect the politics of student assignment and diversity. Analysis contains data from press conferences of the three districts, supplemented with policy-maker and community interviews.
In metropolitan (city-suburban) districts, having residents from multiple jurisdictions may make it more difficult for districts to maintain support for student assignment policies, particularly given population differences between city and suburban residents. Jefferson County and Wake County are metropolitan districts, and Boston is city-only.
The authors theorized that a district’s ability to maintain political support for integration might differ by whether the goals and means were race-conscious or race-neutral.