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Tackling Racial Segregation One Policy at a Time: Why School Desegregation Only Went So Far

The 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education caused many in the United States to contemplate the value of public policies that flowed from that decision, especially the desegregation of public schools. Over the last half century, we have received mixed messages about whether such efforts were worth the trouble.

To some, school desegregation was in many ways a successful public policy, as measured by various educational outcomes. Proponents point to mixed test score results but a positive trend toward higher African American student achievement during the peak years of desegregation, as well as long-term academic and professional gains for African American adults who had attended racially mixed schools. To critics, politically, school desegregation was a failure. Whites never strongly supported public policies that took away their freedom to choose where and with whom their children attend school. Meanwhile, many African Americans and Latinos have grown weary of the various ways in which White resistance to desegregation has manifest itself inside desegregated schools and districts, often making the goal of equal educational opportunity an illusive one.

This article provides an overview of the major findings from the "Understanding Race and Education Study," a 5-year research project conducted by the authors at Teachers College Columbia University and UCLA.

By Amy Stuart Wells, Jennifer Jellison Holme, Awo Korantemaa Atanda & Anita Tijerina Revilla,

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