TEACHERS COLLEGE CONFERENCE ON EDUCATIONAL EQUITY
The Future of School Desegregation & Affirmative Action: Analysis of Seattle & Louisville U.S. Supreme Court Ruling
This morning panel kicked off the two day Symposium “Equal Educational Opportunity: What Now?” Panelists included Ted Shaw, President and Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, john a. powell, Executive Director, Kirwin Institute for Race Ethnicity, Ohio State University, and James Ryan, Professor of Law, University of Virginia Law School. The panel was moderated by Dr. Amy Stuart Wells, Professor of Sociology and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University.
This past summer, the Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision, to overturn Seattle and Louisville’s plan of voluntary school desegregation. At the same time, a different majority of the court indicated that other voluntary integration plans which do not assign individual students by race, but which rely on mechanisms, like magnet school, re-drawing of attendance zones, strategic site selection of new school, allocated resources for special programs, recruitment of students and faculty in a targeted fashion, and tracking enrollments, performance, and other statistics by race are permissible. Justice Kennedy was the swing vote in his concurring opinion.
Mr. Shaw, a legal expert in the continuing struggle for civil rights for people of color, conveyed his disappointment in the Supreme Court decision and said that in essence, the court has turned its back on the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. He said there is a need for political pressure and called the challenge before the nation, “daunting and depressing.” Shaw said that if the issue of school segregation can’t be solved by both whites and blacks together, the nation as a whole, will suffer.
john powell of Ohio State University, had a more positive outlook on this case. He admits the court seems conflicted, that Kennedy isn’t clear on what the decision means. He himself admits he doesn’t know what it means. powell states that this case is a very complicated and confused opinion. And, precisely because of this, he sees a place for “potential movement.” Kennedy is telling us there is something that we can do. powell states that this issue is not over; he said that 95 percent of the people in the U.S. say they support having integrated schools. powell notes an “Implementation Gap”, saying people agree to do something, but they don’t want to make the effort and that applies to integration in schools today. Progress can be made, but we, as a nation, need to be clear about what we want. powell refers to the work of Thomas Jefferson who noted that education is the bedrock of democracy. This is the goal that we need to work toward, that everyone, regardless of color, have equal access to education.