David L. Kirp asked in a recent article why our society has abandoned school integration since it is “the one tool that has been shown to work.” Kirp wrote:

“To the current reformers, integration is at best an irrelevance and at worst an excuse to shift attention away from shoddy teaching. But a spate of research says otherwise. The experience of an integrated education made all the difference in the lives of black children — and in the lives of their children as well. These economists’ studies consistently conclude that African-American students who attended integrated schools fared better academically than those left behind in segregated schools. They were more likely to graduate from high school and attend and graduate from college; and, the longer they spent attending integrated schools, the better they did. What’s more, the fear that white children would suffer, voiced by opponents of integration, proved groundless. Between 1970 and 1990, the black-white gap in educational attainment shrank — not because white youngsters did worse but because black youngsters did better.”

Kirp’s article drew a response from James S. Liebman, a law professor at Columbia University and former chief accountability officer for the New York City public schools. Liebman, wrote a letter asserting that today’s “reformers” had found a way to advance racial integration. He wrote:

“David L. Kirp (“Making Schools Work,” Sunday Review, May 20) is right that school integration has done more to improve the life chances of poor and minority children than other known interventions. He is wrong to suggest that there’s no longer any way to achieve integration and to pit it against recent school reforms that also improve life chances.

“A cornerstone of the new reforms is to replace failing schools with higher performing ones. If the new schools are integrated, as a number of civil rights and new-school groups have recently proposed, we can get the best of both worlds.”

Kirp has the better of this debate.

When was the last time you heard a testing-and-choice corporate reformer propose a plan to reduce racial segregation in the schools?

What proportion of charter schools are racially homogeneous or racially integrated?

What evidence is there that new schools are more integrated than the large schools they replaced?

What evidence is there that the brand new school will be high-performing in comparison to the low-performing school that it replaces?

How many of the new schools “succeed” by avoiding or excluding the low-performing students who were previously enrolled in the “failing school”?

How many of the new schools are racially integrated?

If the Schott Foundation’s latest report is correct, New York City systematically provides schools that are more segregated and less likely to have adequate resources to students who are poor and black and Hispanic.

Until we have answers to these questions, it is wishful thinking to see the “closing schools” strategy as one that advances racial integration.

Based on history as well as research, it is likely that the reformers’ strategy of school choice will exacerbate S. And the replacement of large schools by small schools will also exacerbate racial segregation. One of the reasons that public policy encouraged comprehensive schools in the 1960s was to increase the demographic reach of schools and promote integration.

But that was then. We seem to learn nothing from history.

Diane