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Harvard's Civil Rights Project tracks schools and desegregation


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CNN's Dan Lothian looks back at the pivotal Supreme Court ruling that forced the integration of U.S. public schools and laid the foundation for the civil rights movement. (May 15)
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(CNN) -- Harvard University's Civil Rights Project has been tracking desegregation issues and public education in the United States since it was created in 1996. Its reports have examined desegregation since the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Earlier this year, the Project released its latest report on segregation. The report, "Brown at 50: King's Dream or Plessy's Nightmare?" tracks public schools since 1991, when the Supreme Court, in an Oklahoma City case, authorized a return to neighborhood schools.

"Plessy's nightmare" refers to the 1896 Supreme Court's Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, which authorized segregation by finding Louisiana's "separate but equal" law constitutional. That ruling, built on notions of white supremacy, provided legal justification for "Jim Crow" laws that required separate accommodations for whites and blacks in many U.S. states and cities, laws that continued right into the 1960s.

Among the report's findings:

• In many districts where court-ordered desegregation was ended in the past decade, there has been a major increase in segregation;

• The direction of desegregation and resegregation among the four school districts included in the original Brown decision varies widely, with three of the districts showing long-term success in achieving desegregated education. The four original Brown districts are in Topeka, Kansas; Wilmington, Delaware; Clarendon County, South Carolina; and Prince Edward County, Virginia.

• U.S. public schools are now 60 percent white nationwide, and nearly one-fourth of all U.S. students are in states with a majority of nonwhite students.

• Asian students are the most integrated ethnic group, and are most likely to attend multiracial schools.

• The vast majority of intensely segregated minority schools face conditions of concentrated poverty, which are related to unequal educational opportunity.

• Latinos confront very serious levels of segregation by race and poverty; non-English speaking Latinos tend to be segregated in schools with each other.

• A massive demographic change has occurred in the western United States, which has become the nation's first predominantly minority region in terms of total public school enrollment.

The Project's report list nine steps that could be used to reverse resegregation of public schools. Among the most significant are:

• Revive federal aid programs used by the Nixon and Carter administrations that helped multiracial schools deal with race relations issues, multicultural curricula and more effective classroom operation.

• Use housing subsidy programs more effectively to provide low-income families access to middle-class schools.

• Use educational choice programs -- such as magnet and charter schools and vouchers -- if they are enacted to explicitly promote integration.

• Provide financial incentives and positive recognition to white and Asian suburbs that accept significant numbers of segregated minority students from schools designated as failing in segregated locations.

• Implement plans that reward communities and metro areas that work to provide subsidized and affordable housing in suburbs and market it to minorities.

From CNN's Kevin Drew.


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