On Oct. 14, The Washington Post published an article by Willis Hawley and Betsy Levin taking issue with a conclusion of mine that (to quote the speech of mine from which this controversy emerged), "It is not the case that school desegregation, as it has been carried out in American schools, generally brings achievement to disadvantaged children." Hawley and Levin, professors at Duke University, took issue with a report of that speech and of further comments that appeared in a Post article by Lawrence Feinberg on Sept. 18.
But the central point of my speech was something different: School deseg-regation in the form of mandatory busing for racial balance has been destructive to its own goals. It has led to losses of whites from central cities and thus increased segregation between city and suburbs.
By conclusions about achievement were based on a review of school desegregation carried out by Nancy St. John and published in 1975, supplemented by my own unsystematic reading of other studies.
To support their disagreement with my conclusions, Hawley and Levin cite a review completed this year by Robert Crain and Rita Mahard. That review covered 41 studies of desegregation -- 19 studies showing a positive effect on achievement, 12 showing a negative effect and 10 showing no effect. Thus more studies showed a positive effect than showed a negative one. This result, however, is quite consistent with my statement; including the 10 studies showing reviewed by Crain and Mahard showed positive effects from desegregation.
Crain and Mahard do report hopeful indications, restated by Hawley and Levin, that desegregation showed more positive effects in the South and that desegregation that begins in early grades is more likely to show positive effects and less likely to show negative ones than desegregation begun in later grades. There is in these studies, as well as in other studies, evidence that desegregation can bring about positive achievement benefits. This is important, as Hawley and Levin point out, and should not be overlooked.
But there is also evidence that it has not done so in many cases, and that it has had negative effects in some. What Hawley and Levin do not point out is that of the 26 studies of desegregation in the North that Crain and Mahard reviewed, 11 showed negative effects, only 9 positive effects, and 6 no effects. Thus I believe it is probably an understatement to say that desegregation, as it has been carried out in American schools, has not generally brought achievement benefits to disadvantaged children. And it is important to remember that most desegregation currently under consideration is not in the South, but in the North where Crain and Mahard show more negative than positive effects.
But a major point of my speech was that achievement benefits have been something of a red herring in discussions of school-desegregation plans. There are many other consequences as well. The day after the Hawley-Levin piece appeared in The Post, newspapers carried a report of an enormous loss of whites from Los Angeles schools in response to this fall's court-ordered mandatory-busing plan. Many other cities in which mandatory busing has been imposed have experienced such losses (though not always as extensive), creating a racial segregation between city and suburbs that is far more difficult to overcome than that within a district. I reported those losses in a detailed 1975 study and pointed out at that time the serious harm to long-term integration that racial-balance plans in large cities were causing. That study was violently attacked at first; only recently has it come to be generally accepted.
The issue now is not desegregation v. segregation. It is, rather, beneficial desegregation v. destructive desegregation. What is most disturbing is that we know the most destructive methods of desegregation -- mandatory busing in large cities -- and we know as well methods that are not destructive. In the speech Hawley and Levin referred to, I pointed out that there are ways to bring about school integration by increasing the opportunities of minorities. Those ways expand and facilitate the range of choice; they do not punish both black and white children by imposing an artificial racial balance through mandatory busing.
For example, a major problem in nearly all cities is that black children who live in the city are restricted to schools within its boundaries, which are themselves increasingly black. To expand their range of choice, legislative action is necessary, at either the state or federal level, requiring districts to accept cross-district transfers. In Wisconsin, the legislature has taken such action. The result is greatly increased opportunity for Milwaukee's black children and a great increase in integration in its schools. Not all the all-black schools have been eliminated, as has been the object of some desegregation plans. But why should they be, if they continue to attract black children who are no longer forced by residence to attend them? What is the aim in desegregation plans? To punish children for living in a city with a desegregation plan or to increase opportunity for those children who have been most deprived of it?
There appears to be a belief among some that to state, out in the open, negative consequences of school desegregation is harmful to school and social integration in America. Nothing could be further from the truth. Responsibility lies in pushing hard for beneficial forms of school desegregation, but pushing just as hard against destructive forms.