Archives for category: Segregation , Racial Isolation and Integration

David Safier is a journalist in Tucson who often writes about education.

He wrote the following two articles about charters, enrollment decline, and white flight in Tucson.


A Multi-Factored Look At TUSD’s Enrollment Decline

POSTED BY  ON THU, JUN 20, 2019 AT 1:32 PM


Tucson Unified School District has been losing students steadily since 2000. Lots of students. At its turn-of-the-millenium high point, the district had 62,500 students. This school year, the number was 46,000. That’s a loss of 16,500 students, over 900 a year.

Why is TUSD losing students year after year? The answer you’re most likely to hear is, the district is the problem. It’s the administration. It’s the teachers. It’s the curriculum. It’s “D,” all of the above. Fix the administration, fix the teachers, fix the curriculum, and the numbers will climb.

But the standard answer is far too simple. The district may deserve part of the blame for declining enrollment, but most of the drop was inevitable, created by changes in Arizona’s educational landscape and a slowing of Tucson’s population growth.

For the sake of argument, let’s start with the assumption that TUSD is no better or worse now than it was at its 2000 high water mark of 62,500 students and see what else is causing the district to lose students.

I see three factors beyond the control of the district as the major reasons for the enrollment decline. 

Two of the factors were created by the Arizona legislature’s push for “school choice.” The first is the emergence of charter schools. The competition for a limited pool of students means that every student inside the TUSD boundaries who attends a charter is one less student in the district. The second is the state’s open enrollment policy, which lets parents send their children to schools in nearby districts. Open enrollment gets far less attention than charter schools, but it is a significant force pulling students living inside the TUSD boundaries to suburban school districts with more affluent, whiter populations.

The third important factor is the slowdown of Tucson’s population growth. Students lost to charter schools and open enrollment haven’t been replaced by an influx of new students.

Let’s look at the factors one by one.

Charter Schools

Arizona’s first charter schools opened their doors in 1995. They grew steadily, but since they started from zero, it took awhile for them to have an impact on school districts’ enrollment numbers.

In 2000, 50,000 Arizona students were enrolled in charters. I don’t have any direct data on how many of those charter students lived inside the TUSD boundaries, but a reasonable estimate is about 3,500. TUSD students made up about 7 percent of the state’s public school population in 2000, and 3,500 is 7 percent of the state’s charter school population.

Assuming charters exert the same draw on Tucson-area students as they do in Arizona’s other urban areas, about 13,000 students who would otherwise be in TUSD are now attending charters, 9,500 of those added since 2000.

So we can subtract 9,500 from TUSD’s student population since 2000 due to the advent of charter schools.

Open Enrollment

In 2019, TUSD had 16,000 fewer Anglo students than it did in 2000, a number, not coincidentally, almost identical to the district’s overall enrollment decline of 16,500. Where did those students go?

Anglo parents who moved out of the city with their children during those years account for some of the decline. In 2018, Tucson had about 5,000 fewer Anglo residents than in 2000. A significant portion of charter school students are Anglo, accounting for more of the decline. But those two factors don’t add up to all the Anglo students who left TUSD. Open enrollment played a significant role as well.

Open enrollment became state law at the same time the first charter schools opened their doors. With open enrollment, students were no longer bound to the attendance area of their local schools. For the first time, if a district school anywhere had an empty desk, any student could fill it regardless of where he or she lived. That means parents can pick and choose between schools inside or outside their home districts.

Open enrollment doesn’t get much press coverage, but it is a major change in the options parents have when choosing schools for their children. For TUSD, it has led inevitably to parents living in the district sending their children to schools in neighboring districts. Districts like Catalina Foothills and Vail are two big draws for TUSD-area parents who want their children to have the kind of education offered in affluent suburbs, and other nearby districts may pull some students from the TUSD areas as well. Other than University High, TUSD has few schools which draw a significant number of out-of-district students.

Think of open enrollment as the most recent version of “white flight.”

Before there was an open enrollment policy, beginning in the 1960s, Anglo families around the country fled from cities and moved to the suburbs in search of schools they believed would give their children a better education. White flight hit TUSD the hardest from 1975 though 1985, with the district’s Anglo student population dropping by 10,000. After 1985, the number of Anglo students in the district stabilized until 2000, when it began dropping again.

With open enrollment, Anglo families — and, of course, families from other ethnic groups — could send their children wherever they wanted without hanging a “For Sale” sign on their homes. All they needed were nearby districts with room for out-of-district students and the ability to transport their children to those schools.

I don’t have solid figures for the number of students living inside TUSD boundaries who attend nearby school districts, but it looks to be in the thousands.

Catalina Foothills School District is one of the places where parents living in the TUSD boundaries are likely to send their children. According to the CFSD website, 3,000 students used open enrollment last year. That’s an extraordinarily large number for a district of 5,200 students, far more than you would expect from in-district parents opting to send their children to a school outside their attendance area. 

Some of the people making use of the open enrollment policy are certainly district residents. But CFSD has only one high school, meaning there cannot be in-district high school transfers. When you take the approximately 1,700 students attending Catalina Foothills High from the district total, that only leaves 3,500 attending the district’s two middle schools and five elementary schools. It’s unlikely that more than a few hundred of the open enrollment students are children living in the district whose parents choose to send them to a district elementary or middle school outside their enrollment area.

A high percentage of the 3,000 open enrollment students are likely to be from outside the district. They can come from any nearby district, but because of the number of students living in the TUSD attendance area and the likelihood of a significant number of those parents wanting to place their children in a suburban school, it’s probable TUSD students make up the largest group of out-of-district students.

Vail is the other affluent district adjacent to TUSD. Because it sits to the southeast of Tucson, away from other suburban population centers, most out-of-district students are likely to come from TUSD.

Unlike Catalina Foothills, Vail doesn’t list how many of its 4,000 students take advantage of open enrollment. I know from anecdotal evidence that Vail actively courts TUSD students, but I don’t know how many attend schools in the district.

I can only estimate a range for the number of students living in the TUSD area who attend schools in other districts since I don’t have hard figures to go on. I’ll put that number at anywhere between 1,500 and 3,000 students, acknowledging it could be lower or higher.

Tucson’s Population

To say Tucson has grown since the beginning of the 20th century is an understatement. In 1900 it was a small town of 7,500 residents. By 1950, its population had increased six times, to 45,000 residents. In the next decade the city had a growth spurt. By 1960, the population tripled to 213,000.

After 1960, the city settled into a slower but steady pattern of population growth of about 20 percent per decade. Tucson took 40 years to double its population again, reaching 487,000 residents in 2000.

Then in 2000, the city’s population growth hit a wall. It continued growing, but at a quarter the rate of the earlier four decades, adding just 46,000 people by 2017. If it had continued at the post-1960 rate, it would have added 180,000 people.

It was at the beginning of the slowdown in population growth that TUSD began losing students.

If Tucson’s population growth had been higher since 2000, newly arriving students would have masked the loss to charter schools and open enrollment by replacing the students who went elsewhere. But the slow growth meant, when parents chose to send their children to charters or to schools in neighboring districts, they made a large dent in TUSD’s enrollment numbers.

Population Movement Within Tucson

The number of students who I have estimated live in the TUSD area but attend charter schools or other districts is 4,000 to 5,000 students short of the actual 16,500 drop in enrollment. It may be that my charter and open enrollment estimates are low. I believe they are, but I would rather lowball the numbers than inflate them. However, there is another aspect of TUSD’s enrollment decline I haven’t mentioned yet, and that is the shifts in population within Tucson.

Four school districts other than TUSD have part of their enrollment areas inside the city of Tucson. Flowing Wells and Amphitheater school districts are on the northwest corner of the city, Vail is on the southeast corner and Sunnyside is in the south. That means a number of Tucson children live in those districts’ attendance areas.

I haven’t delved into the Tucson census data in detail, but what I have looked at indicates that, since 2000, the areas served by those four districts have grown faster than the part of Tucson served by TUSD. It makes sense that the outer areas of Tucson would have put on more growth than the more central portion of the city. The rest of the metropolitan area outside of the city of Tucson grew at about three times the rate of the city, so you would expect the area on the periphery of Tucson to follow a similar pattern.

If the Tucson growth patterns I’ve seen in census data are an accurate indication of where Tucson has added people since 2000, that would mean that the population inside the TUSD boundaries hasn’t grown significantly in the last 18 years. It may even have decreased a bit. If true, that would also play a part in TUSD’s enrollment decline.


From 2000 onward, TUSD’s enrollment fell victim to two “school choice” initiatives from the legislature and a slowdown in the city’s population growth.

Whenever charters set up shop in an area, they take students from the local school district, as they did with TUSD. When parents of means decide to take advantage of the state’s open enrollment policies and send their children to schools with high test scores and low numbers of minority students, the students leave TUSD for suburban pastures without actually leaving the city. When those two factors pull students from TUSD and not enough children move into the district to replace them, the district’s enrollment numbers plummet.

That’s what happened in TUSD. Similar factors have led to declines in urban district enrollments around the country. It’s less the quality of the district’s administration, instruction and curriculum than outside forces which have led to shrinking enrollment numbers.

It’s impossible to know if the decline in TUSD enrollment would have been lower if the district had put together more successful efforts to hold onto its students and attract new ones, but the difference would have been a few thousand students. Certainly TUSD could have done better, and it can do better in the future. But most of the student loss over the past 18 years has been due to factors beyond the district’s control.

Why the Common Wisdom About TUSD’s Declining Enrollment Is Wrong

POSTED BY  ON FRI, JUL 5, 2019 AT 1:34 PM

Two men I admire, Jim Nintzel, the editor here at the Weekly, and talk show host John C. Scott, have frustrated the hell out of me recently. Both men know more about Tucson and Arizona than I would if I lived another lifetime. Both are intelligent, perceptive analysts of the political scene. Neither accepts the “common wisdom” just because it’s what other people think.

Well, they don’t accept the common wisdom in most cases, anyway. When it comes to TUSD, though, Scott and Nintzel seem to go along with the prevailing notion that the school district is doing a terrible job and has brought its problems, specifically its loss of students, on itself.

Common wisdom always has a kernel of logic to it. If TUSD has lost an average of 900 students a year for the past 18 years, it’s only logical, it’s something they’ve done. Isn’t it? How can it not be the district’s fault?

The problem is, the common wisdom about TUSD is wrong.

This all came up because of one of my recent posts, A Multi-Factored Look At TUSD’s Enrollment Decline. My main point was that the district’s precipitous enrollment decline over the past 18 years has more to do with outside factors than with the district itself. Two of the factors were created by the state legislature when it green-lighted charter schools and open enrollment in 1994, creating two new forms of competition for students. The third factor is the city’s population, which essentially stopped growing around 2000, meaning TUSD hasn’t had an influx of new students to replace the ones who left.

When I talked about this on John C. Scott’s show, he came back with a litany of sins TUSD has committed which have led to parents pulling their children out of the district — problems with student discipline, poor administration, poor money management and so on. 

Most of what Scott said about TUSD is true, but not his contention that the problems he listed are the primary reasons students have left the district.

Nintzel agreed with me about the mechanism for TUSD’s enrollment decline, but said I haven’t paid enough attention to parents’ dissatisfaction with the district which led them to send their children elsewhere.

Nintzel is right that dissatisfaction with TUSD leads many parents to seek other options for their children, but often, their dissatisfaction has more to do with the changing ethnic and economic makeup of Tucson than anything the district has done.

The arguments made by Scott and Nintzel aren’t wrong factually. They’re wrong in emphasis, putting too much blame on the district and too little on national demographic shifts and Arizona’s Republican politicians’ continuing efforts to dismantle our district-based, publicly run school system by encouraging school privatization. Compound those factors with Tuscon’s glacial population growth over the past few decades, and you have a recipe for plummeting enrollment.

Unfortunately, their views mirror the local “common wisdom” about TUSD. Attacking TUSD has turned into a blood sport, and that’s bad news for the district and the city. When people magnify TUSD’s problems, it encourages even more people to leave the district. And the notion that TUSD is responsible for the problems it faces gives the impression that the district should be able to turn this thing around if it can just get its act together. What the district actually needs is thoughtful, incremental improvements to help it better serve the needs of the community.

Let me lay out what I believe to be true about the changing nature of TUSD and many similar urban districts across the country. Admittedly, this is a subjective view, but it’s based on extensive study of urban education in the U.S.

TUSD is like a lot like urban school districts around the country which find themselves educating an increasing number of low income students, many of whom are African American and Latino. Over the past few decades, the districts’ test scores have declined, and their enrollment has dropped.

The first thing that happens to a school district when a city’s population becomes increasing low income is, student achievement falls. Student achievement correlates more strongly with family income than any other variable, whether in Tucson, in other areas of the U.S. or around the world. Anywhere you look, high income students do better on every academic measure than low income students. Schools matter, of course. Some schools are more successful at raising low income students’ achievement than others. But a scholarly ballpark estimate is that family income is three times more important to students’ academic achievement than the schooling they receive.

No one should be surprised by low test scores at TUSD schools when a majority of their students come from low income families where parents often have a high school education or less. By the same token, no one should be overly impressed with the high test scores in districts like Catalina Foothills and Vail when their students come from homes with comfortable incomes and parents with college educations.

But maybe I’m going too easy on TUSD. Even if it makes sense to expect low test scores from its current student population, should they be as low as they are? Maybe if TUSD had its educational act together, the scores would be higher.

Fine. That a reasonable assertion. Let’s test it out.

If TUSD is doing a lousy job, if schools run by excellent administrators and staffed with competent teachers would get better results, local charter schools with student populations similar to those in TUSD should be kicking the district’s ass. After all, charters aren’t burdened by hide-bound administrations, musty old educational practices, unionized teachers and burdensome state regulations, all of which are said to bring down the quality of school district education. That’s why charters were created, right? To show school districts how it’s done.

Well, Arizona charters have had 25 years to prove they can succeed where school districts fail. But it hasn’t worked out that way. Students at some charters exceed expectations while others perform below the level you might expect. Which is exactly what you find at various schools in TUSD. Specialty schools like BASIS attract successful, motivated students and get stellar results, but the same goes for TUSD’s University High which attracts a similar type of student.

If you ignore the charter hype and look at the numbers, whether it’s in Tucson, across the state or around the country, charters and district schools that share similar student populations tend to group together in their high stakes test scores and other measures of academic success. There isn’t the night-and-day difference you would expect if the districts like TUSD were failures.

With all TUSD’s flaws and shortcomings — as with any educational institution I’ve ever known, it has plenty of flaws and shortcomings — district schools are doing the educational job you would expect them to do with their students, sometimes a little better, sometimes a little worse than local charter schools with similar populations.

Here is the conclusion I draw from the district/charter comparison: If local charter schools haven’t been able to put TUSD to shame, then the people of Tucson should stop shaming their district as well.

But that begs the question: If charters are no better than district schools, why do students continue to leave districts and head over to charters? Right now, 15 percent of the state’s school children are in charter schools, and the number keeps growing.

Charters have a few advantages over districts which have nothing to do with the quality of the education they provide. Their growth has been stimulated by the encouragement they have received from our state’s Republican politicians, including those who have run the department of education, since the first charters opened in 1995. And they have gotten additional help from the national school privatization industry which spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year pumping up charters’ reputation and infusing the schools with funding beyond what they receive from the state. Put those forces together, and Arizona has the highest percentage of students in charters of any state in the country.

Charters have been sold as the Next Big Educational Thing. And I use the word “sold” advisedly. A full-blown public relations campaign has made charters look like New! Improved! versions of the public schools which preceded them. Parents who are looking for something better for their children hear again and again, charters are the answer.

With charter school names including words like “College” and “Preparatory” and “Academy,” who wouldn’t think the schools will guarantee their children a shot at a college education? With charter cheerleaders chanting, “You say charter, we say BASIS! You say charter, we say BASIS,” who wouldn’t think their children will attend a charter school like BASIS, which claims, falsely, to turn ordinary students into academic superstars?

The rapid growth of charter schools is a matter of PR over performance.

But charters aren’t the only thing drawing students in the TUSD attendance area away from the district’s schools. Open enrollment, which began at the same time as charters, allows parents to enroll their children in any school with an empty desk, in any district they want. That means for the past 25 years, TUSD area parents have been able to load their children into their SUVs and drive them to schools in neighboring districts like Catalina Foothills and Vail.

As with charters, it’s possible to say, if TUSD-area parents take advantage of open enrollment and send their children to schools outside the district — I estimate there are between 3,000 and 6,000 children in that category — that proves TUSD is doing a poor job educating its students. Clearly, the district is driving parents away.

But there is another, more likely explanation which is as old as the push for school integration in the 1950s and 1960s: White Flight. Ever since white parents have seen their children’s schools filling with students from other ethnic groups, they have been fleeing to the suburbs where they built shiny new school buildings filled with students who look like their children and come from similar backgrounds. White flight feeds on itself. The more white parents leave the city, the more black and brown the city schools become, which encourages more white families to follow the earlier emigrants.

According to a population graph on the city of Tucson’s website, Tucson in 1960 was 80 percent Anglo and 18 percent Latino. Latinos became the city’s majority ethnic group in 2015. Currently, Tucson’s population is 37 percent Anglo, 50 percent Latino.

Prior to 1995, Anglos who wanted to send their children to schools in other districts to escape the ethnic diversity of TUSD schools had to pull up stakes and move. Now, with open enrollment, they can stay put and ferry their children across district lines.

I don’t blame TUSD for Whites fleeing the city any more than I blame the African American family which moves into an White neighborhood for the For Sale signs sprouting on their neighbors’ lawns. It is all part of our country’s shameful heritage of racial animus and discrimination.

It’s no coincidence that when TUSD’s enrollment declined by 16,500 from 2000 to 2019, its Anglo enrollment dropped by 16,400 students. 

Regardless of the reasons for TUSD’s declining enrollment, the drop in student population leaves the district in a precarious situation. And we can expect enrollment to continue its decline unless the city’s population takes an upward turn or charter schools become less popular. Either is possible, but neither can be counted on.

Regardless of the reasons for TUSD’s declining enrollment, the district has to marshal whatever powers it has to slow or stop the downward trajectory. One hope is, from knowledge, the district and the city can draw strength. If we understand the underlying causes of the district’s enrollment decline and support the efforts to improve the quality of its education incrementally rather than condemning TUSD out of hand, we have a reasonable chance of creating a stronger, more successful school district.


The Brown decision of 1954 marked the beginning of a dramatic transition in American society. I attended segregated public schools in Houston. I remember segregated buses and water fountains marked “white” and “colored.” I remember the social codes that required black peoples to enter through the back door, never the front door. I remember segregated movie theaters, public swimming pools, beaches. So many degrading laws, rules, practices, customs, but only for black peoples.

So much has changed. After a period of years in which school segregation shrunk markedly, it has rebounded and intensified.

The UCLA Civil Rights Project has tracked civil rights issues for years. Here is its latest report on the state of school segregation. 

Harming Our Common Future: America’s Segregated Schools 65 Years after Brown

Authors: Gary Orfield, Erica Frankenberg, Jongyeon Ee, Jennifer B. Ayscue


The publication of this report marks the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case declaring racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. There have been many changes since the ruling, but intense levels of segregation—which had decreased markedly after 1954 for black students—are on the rise once again. White and Latino students are the most segregated groups.

Related Documents


The publication of this report marks the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case declaring racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. In the immediate years after the Brown ruling, the effort to integrate schools faced many difficult challenges and progress was limited. But the passage of the l964 Civil Rights Act as well as a series of Supreme Court decisions in the l960s and early 1970s produced momentum towards increased desegregation for black students that lasted until the late l980s, as districts across much of the country worked to achieve the promise of Brown–integrated schools for all children.


As we mark the 65th anniversary of Brown, there have been many changes since the ruling, but intense levels of segregation—which had decreased markedly after 1954 for black students—are on the rise once again. In the 1990s, a series of Supreme Court decisions led to the end of hundreds of desegregation orders and plans across the nation. This report shows that the growth of racial and economic segregation that began then has now continued unchecked for nearly three decades, placing the promise of Brown at grave risk.


These trends matter for students, and for communities whose futures are determined by how the public schools prepare their students for a diverse future. Research shows that segregation has strong, negative relationships with the achievement, college success, long-term employment and income of students of color. At a time of dramatic demographic transformation, the implications of these trends and research are important for us to address.


White students are now a minority across the country’s public school enrollment, and they have been for a while, particularly in the public schools of the nation’s two largest regions, the West and the South. Since 1968 the nation’s enrollment of white students has declined by 11 million students while the enrollment of Latinos has increased by 11 million. There are now nearly three million Asian students and two million students who identify as multiracial. These changes are a direct reflection of lower birth rates among white households and population growth due to immigration. Latino students were 5% of U.S. enrollment in 1970 and 26% by 2016. At this stage, the vast majority of Latino students are U.S. citizens, but the Supreme Court’s Plylerdecision requires that public schools enroll all students regardless of citizenship status.


White and Latino students are the most segregated groups. White students, on average, attend a school in which 69% of the students are white, while Latino students attend a school in which 55% of the students are Latino. Segregation for black students is rising in all parts of the U.S. Black students, who account for 15% of enrollment, as they did in 1970, are in schools that average 47% black students. Asian students, on average, attend schools with 24% fellow Asians. Black students attend schools with a combined black and Latino enrollment averaging 67%, and Latino students attend schools with a combined black and Latino enrollment averaging 66%. White and Asian students have much lower exposure to combined black and Latino students, at 22% and 34%, respectively.


Suburban schools in our nation’s largest metropolitan areas had only 47% white students in 2016, a ten-percentage point decline in a decade. About a seventh of these suburban students were black, and more than a fourth (27%) were Latino. There was considerable segregation within the suburbs, where both African American and Latino students typically attended schools that were about three-fourths nonwhite. White students in these same large suburbs attended schools where two-thirds of the enrollment was white students, on average. Our book, Resegregation of Suburban Schools, showed that few of the racially changing suburbs we studied had any desegregation plans. Doing nothing means accepting resegregation.


Even rural schools that were 70% white had stark differences in segregation. The typical white student went to a rural school in which 80% of students were white, while the typical black or Latino student went to a rural school with 57% nonwhite enrollment.


New York remains the most segregated state for African American students with 65% of African American students in intensely segregated minority schools. California is the most segregated for Latinos, where 58% attend intensely segregated schools, and the typical Latino student is in a school with only 15% white classmates. These numbers, especially in California, are related in part to sweeping changes in the total population structure as well as the termination of desegregation efforts, and reflect the changing realities of classroom composition.


The federal government has no programs devoted to fostering voluntary integration of the schools, aside from the small Magnet School Assistance Program. It has been decades since federal agencies funded significant research about effective strategies for school integration. Encouragingly, there are efforts for integration under state law and policies now in process in several states. Additionally, court-ordered and Office for Civil Rights-negotiated desegregation plans remain in a few hundred smaller districts, and there are dozens of local districts and regional desegregation efforts as well. We end with recommendations that research has shown can help achieve the promise of Brown, and that sharply reduce the number of segregated schools the Court described as “inherently unequal.”


This report is available on eScholarship:





Stephen Suitts is an adjunct professor at Emory University’s Institute for the Liberal Arts. He is the author of Hugo Black of Alabama: How His Roots and Early Career Shaped the Great Champion of the Constitution. Earlier in his career, Suitts served as the executive director of the Southern Regional Council, vice president of the Southern Education Foundation, and executive producer and writer of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” a thirteen-hour public radio series that received a Peabody Award for its history of the civil rights movement in five Deep South cities.

In this illuminating and important article, he examines the roots of the “school choice” movement, which began as an integral part of the segregationist opposition to the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown decision. Contrary to the rhetoric of Betsy DeVos, Mitt Romney, Donald Trump and even some Democrats, school choice is NOT the “civil rights issue of our time.” School choice was born as a way to maintain segregation of the races. Read this article in full. It is a brilliant and necessary history of the fight to block desegregation of the schools in the South (and other regions), and it is a fight that is ongoing. Next time you hear Betsy DeVos lecture about “educational freedom,” bear in mind that she is echoing dozens of segregationist politicians, like George Wallace. You will meet many more if you this stunning history of school choice and its origins.

He writes:

The political movement for “school choice” is employing the icons and language of civil rights and social justice to advance private school vouchers that fifty years ago were primary tools for segregationists to preserve unequal education for African American and Hispanic children. President Trump’s call for a national program of “school choice” echoes the language of George Wallace and others who demanded the federal government and US courts permit Alabama and the South to administer “freedom of choice” for elementary and secondary schools.

These apparent contradictions emerge from the unexamined legacy of segregationists who designed and developed effective, lasting strategies that frustrated and blocked K–12 school desegregation. It is a legacy that turns the icons and language of civil rights inside-out while thwarting the national goal of an effective, equitable system of education for all children.

So now we see the Heritage Foundation, Betsy DeVos, evangelicals, President Trump, and others who paint themselves as the newly minted defenders of the rights of poor black and brown children. They do so by perverting the language of the civil rights movement to support their goal of transferring public funds to private schools.

Suitts described the broad coalition of white supremacists who used every tool they could fashion to fight desegregation and racial justice. School choice was one of those tools.

Political leaders such as Georgia’s Ernest Vandiver won office by campaigning on a slogan of “No, not one” African American child would ever be allowed in a white school but discovered after entering the governor’s office that complete, absolute segregation was impossible to achieve—and counter-productive to preserving as many virtually segregated schools as possible. There were segregationists such as Alabama state senator Albert Boutwell—who later as a “moderate” mayoral candidate defeated “Bull” Connor—and Birmingham corporate attorney Forney Johnston. While Wallace began as a white liberal before shifting his politics to become governor, Boutwell and Johnston were the first segregationist leaders to develop a variety of strategies, tactics, and rationales for school choice that often delayed and defeated the promise of Brown.

Resistance to school desegregation differed across the states of the former Confederacy according to class, geography, religion, and political ambition.18 Only by recovering and understanding the work of a wider cast of white actors who crafted enduring tools and strategies protecting segregation can the reactionary heritage of today’s school choice become clear. As Justin Driver has found, the efforts of these segregationist leaders “to maintain white supremacy were often considerably more sophisticated, self-aware, and nuanced than the cartoonish depiction of southern stupidity and hostility would admit.”19 These forgotten and ignored strategies help explain how today’s proponents of public financing of private schools can employ the language of civil rights without widespread discredit. They also reveal how the origins and historical development of “freedom of choice” have shaped and continue to define the impact and role of “school choice” and vouchers in public education across the nation.20….

From 1954 to 1965, southern legislatures enacted as many as 450 laws and resolutions attempting to discredit, block, postpone, limit, or evade school desegregation. A large number of these acts allowed the re-direction of public resources, including school resources, to benefit private schools.25 In 1956, the Georgia legislature permitted the leasing of public property to segregated private schools. Five years later, the state enacted a law to provide vouchers for students to attend any non-sectarian private school, boldly declaring the act was to advance “the constitutional rights of school children to attend private schools of their choice in lieu of public schools.”26

The North Carolina legislature enacted eight bills, the first of which was a constitutional amendment to authorize vouchers for private education and to allow whites to close public schools through a local referendum. In Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, legislatures passed laws to publicly fund vouchers for private schools and to transfer public school property to private educational organizations. Citizens’ Councils were active in setting up private schools, especially in Mississippi. The Virginia legislature declared its support for this “freedom of choice” movement by enacting a system of vouchers for private organizations and citizens.27

In addition to direct transfers of public funds and assets, some states employed tax schemes, including tax credits, to build and finance private school systems. In the Little Rock Crisis of 1957, after President Dwight Eisenhower was forced to call out federal troops to protect a handful of black children attempting to attend Central High School, Governor Orval Faubus funneled public monies through contracts and tax credits to the Little Rock Private School Corporation until the federal courts stopped the subterfuge (along with further attempts by Arkansas to enact vouchers). In 1959, Georgia governor Ernest Vandiver led the legislature in passing the six segregation bills, including one that supported “the establishment of bona fide private schools by allowing taxpayers credits upon their State income tax returns for contributions to such institutions…”

By 1965, seven states had enacted some type of voucher that enabled the largest growth of private schools in the South’s history. Yet, vouchers as a preferred and essential method of resistance to Brown did not stand alone but worked most effectively through larger plans that emerged from the different states. These plans were not uniform, but most incorporated strategies and language that have evolved and endured as the ways and means by which vouchers, school choice, and private schooling have escaped the stigma of their segregationist origins without losing much of the same purpose or effect.

Alabama’s Citizens Council proposed legislation to close all public schools and use vouchers for white parents to enroll in private schools in order to “keep every brick in our segregation wall intact.”

The die-hard segregationists came up with a three-way solution. Every student and family would have “educational freedom.” They could choose to go to an all-white school, an all-black school, and an integrated school.

All of the Southern states endorsed vouchers.

In Mississippi, white voters approved state constitutional changes recommended by Governor Hugh White’s advisory group that authorized state funding for children to attend their parents’ choice of a private school and for transferring public school properties to private schools. Afterwards, the strategy committee did little more since Mississippi’s white leaders employed other groups and strategies as their first line of defense. The legislature approved small funding increases for black public schools in an attempt to convince black citizens that the state would move closer to “separate but equal” facilities…

Lindsay Almond became Virginia’s new governor in 1957 after a campaign in which he supported the hardline approach. “I’d rather lose my right arm,” he proclaimed, “than to see one nigra child enter the white schools of Virginia.” He dropped his hardline stance and adopted “freedom of choice” as his policy. Some counties, however, went further.

Prince Edward County in Virginia maintained absolute segregation by closing the county’s public schools and providing county tax credit scholarships to supplement state vouchers for white children to attend private schools. In 1964, however, Justice Hugo Black issued the Supreme Court opinion outlawing the die-hard segregationists’ schemes. The Court ordered the public schools reopened on a desegregated basis and held that both tax credit and direct vouchers were unconstitutional.

Suitts traces the resistance to desegregation and the growth of private “white flight academies” in the South.

By 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected, this history of die-hard resistance to desegregation and white-supremacist ideology had begun to fade from memory.

President Reagan transformed a “love of white skin” into a color-blind doctrinal belief that individual freedom of choice in schooling created diversity and opportunity for all in an era without segregation. Reagan became the nation’s primary voice for why and how government should support private schools, and, as a former actor and California governor, his own past and national leadership obscured the original role and rationales of southern white supremacists from public memory.

In 1984, in re-nominating Reagan, the Republican Party’s education platformincluded support for the right to pray in public schools, opposition to busing for desegregation, passage of tuition tax credits for private schools, and redirecting billions of federal funds dedicated to assist low-income students in public schools into vouchers for private schools. It was the first time a national political party endorsed school vouchers. In his State of the Union address fourteen months later, President Reagan declared: “We must continue the advance by supporting discipline in our schools, vouchers that give parents freedom of choice; and we must give back to our children their lost right to acknowledge God in their classrooms.”120 It was the first time a US president expressly advocated for school vouchers before a joint session of Congress. Without attribution, the views and tools of southern segregationists had become the official position of the national Republican Party and the Reagan presidency…

With the increased number of conservative justices appointed to the Supreme Court and federal District Courts and Appeals Courts, the judiciary abandoned its activist role in protecting the rights of black students.

The US Supreme Court began to bless these developments. As early as 1973, Justice William Rehnquist became the first member of the Court to issue a dissent from a school desegregation case relying on the precedent of Brown. In a case concerning school segregation in Denver, he condemned the Court’s opinion for requiring a school district to advance desegregation—employing the old scare word, “racial mixing”—where there were “neutrally drawn boundary lines” that sustained segregation.129 Barely a year after the Bob Jones decision held that religious private schools could not hold a tax exemption and discriminate on the basis of race, the Supreme Court slammed shut the courthouse door on those seeking to challenge the IRS’s weak enforcement. Parents of twenty-five black public school children sued the IRS, charging that its standards and procedures were inadequate to fulfill its obligation to deny tax-exempt status to racially discriminatory private schools. In 1984, the US Supreme Court held that the parents had no standing to bring such a suit.130 

With the appointment of other justices across more than three decades, the Court increasingly refused to require school districts to use any method of desegregation that proved effective in dismantling the dynamics of separation. By 2007, the Court had turned Brown on its head as a precedent for backing public school districts’ voluntary efforts to desegregate. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that Brown commanded school districts to avoid using race as a consideration, even for the purpose of recognizing and diminishing public school segregation. “When it comes to using race to assign children to schools,” Roberts wrote without doubt or irony, “history will be heard…”

During the heyday of the first era of school vouchers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. decried that “token integration is little more than token democracy, which ends up with many new evasive schemes and it ends up with new discrimination, covered up with such niceties of complexity.”149 King’s words have proven prophetic, although he could not have foreseen how dramatically the icons and language of the movement he led would be used, even by his own lineage, to develop and advance the tools and strategies that segregationists of his day thought could defeat the promise of Brown…

Even if most Americans find repugnant the absolute separation of the races that George Wallace defiantly championed as destiny in 1963, his words have transformed into a prophesy about schools across the nation that rings true by the most accurate, historical definition of the term: “segregation now . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever.”




The Mayor of Rochester, Lovely Warren, has called upon the New York State Education Department and the Board of Regents to take over the city’s public schools, oust the elected board, and appoint a different board of its choosing. She claims that Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has a plan, but apparently this is not the case. To say this is incoherent is an understatement. The state has not expressed a desire to take control of Rochester city schools. Mayor Warren apparently has decided to throw them under the bus, abandon local control, and let the state take responsibility.

THIS MATTERS: 56% of the children in Rochester live in poverty, the third highest rate in the nation! Only Gary, Indiana, and Flint, Michigan, have higher  rates of child poverty.

What is Mayor Lovely Warren doing about it?

Here is another point of view, from journalist Rachel Barnhardt. She explains that the negative and misinformed attitudes of public officials guarantee that the children will not get the support they need to succeed in school.

She writes:

We don’t blame the mayor for poverty, so why do we blame the school board?

The Rochester City School District is the worst in the state. It’s also the district with the highest concentration of children who live in poverty. The research is clear: poverty impacts educational outcomes.

Mayor Lovely Warren says poverty is no excuse. Poor children can learn. Black children can learn. We must do something.

She’s right.

We must solve poverty.

No one has been able to figure out how to solve poverty. We’ve been nibbling around the edges with various programs and initiatives, none of which has been transformative.

In the meantime, we must figure out what to do right now. The crisis is urgent. (It’s been urgent since I attended city schools in the early ‘90s.)

Warren does not offer a clear path and stops short of asking for mayoral control. She has been an ardent advocate of charter schools. The mayor also sees community schools, where extra resources are dedicated to addressing issues related to poverty, trauma and education, as a potential solution.

Community schools, however, show mixed results. School 17 has a chronic absenteeism rate of 40 percent and fewer than 10 percent of children are proficient in reading and math. Charter schools siphon money and students away from the district, and don’t always succeed.

Warren also offered another solution, one parents like her have been implementing for decades: abandon the district.

In her State of the City address, Warren said parents who send their kids to city schools are “sacrificing” children. If you can pull your kids from the district, she counseled a friend, you should do so.

That’s what got us into this mess. We have a segregated school system because of the wholesale disinvestment in our schools. We have children denied opportunities because of where they were born.

What would happen, Barnhardt asks, if all parents returned to the public schools instead of abandoning them? What would happen if everyone acknowledged that we have a common fate and we must stand together?

She bravely concludes:

We will never fix the schools long as we refuse to acknowledge that separate is not equal.

Rucker Johnson, economist and professor of public policy at Berkeley, has written an important new book called Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works. 

It arrives at an opportune moment, as the Disruption Movement (AKA Reformers, Deformers) has decided that school segregation is a very good thing indeed, because charters are more segregated than public schools. A charter operator in Minnesota recently argued in comments here that segregation was just fine so long as it was voluntary. That was to rationalize the fact that Minneapolis has purposely segregated charters for children who are black, white (“German immersion”), Hmong, Hispanic, and Somali. Most recently, a charter supporter said that it was time to abandon the promise of the Brown decision, because it had not been realized.

In short, embrace the status quo, don’t fight it.

It is thus refreshing to read Rucker Johnson, who briefly summarizes his findings in an article at Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet.”

Do not be content with reading the summary. The book is rich with history and anecdote, as well as Johnson’s meticulous research about the long-term and significant benefits of school integration.

He writes:

How did we get here? How has de facto Jim Crow been nurtured back to health?

Policy amnesia. We have forgotten the efficacy of the boldest suite of education policies this country has ever tried: school desegregation, school funding reform and Head Start.

School desegregation and related policies are commonly misperceived as failed social engineering that shuffled children around for many years, with no real benefit. The truth is that significant efforts to integrate schools occurred only for about 15 years, and peaked in 1988. In this period, we witnessed the greatest racial convergence of achievement gaps, educational attainment, earnings and health status.

Using nationally representative longitudinal data spanning more than four decades, I analyze the life outcomes of cohorts tracked from birth to adulthood across several generations, from the children of Brown to Brown’s grandchildren. The slow and uneven pace of desegregation, school funding reforms, and Head Start programs across the country created a natural “policy lab,” that allowed for rigorous, empirical evaluation of integration, school funding and Head Start.

The research findings are clear: African Americans experienced dramatic improvements in educational attainment, earnings and health status — and this improvement that did not come at the expense of whites.

Sixty-five years after the Brown decision, our nation is at an inflection point. Do we intend to pursue the goal of  equal educational opportunity for all or do we want to cling to the discredited policies of our apartheid past?

Do we listen to those with a vision for progress or to those who embrace a failed and corrosive status quo?

Rucker Johnson explains the way forward. Read his book. Send a copy to your members of Congress.


A paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Toronto reported on the extent to which online charter schools have racial diversity. Benjamin Herold wrote about the paper in Education Week. 

This struck me as an odd finding, because online instruction by definition is delivered by computer tostudents at home. There is little, if any, face to face contact among students.and since students may be spread across an entire state, the opportunities to interact with others is minimal.

There may be “diversity” in the school’s purported enrollment, but this would be diversity without integration. Students could be enrolled in a “diverse” virtual school yet never encounter a student of a different race.

Herold wrote:

“While full-time online charter schools nationally enroll a relatively high percentage of white students, there are significant variations in enrollment patterns by state, according to new research presented today at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association, being held here.

“In Colorado, for example, the enrollment of online charters is just 36 percent white, compared to 54 percent in brick-and-mortar traditional and charter schools throughout the state, according to University of Alabama assistant education professor Bryan Mann.

“Online charters in Arizona, Nevada, and South Carolina, meanwhile, enroll significantly higher percentages of white students than do brick-and-mortar traditional and charter schools in their states.

“Most states have majority-white online charter school populations with less diversity than … other schools. However, there are states where students experience more diverse environments in online charter schools,” Mann wrote in a paper presented at the conference, titled “Whiteness and Economic Advantage in Digital Schooling: Equity Considerations for K-12 Online Charter Schools.”


The Jackson Free-Press (Mississippi) reported that Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith attended an all-white segregation academy in her high school years.

The story was picked up by Huffington Post.

It’s important to remember that segregation academies were created as the first statewide examples of school choice. Their purpose was to allow white students to avoid being forced by federal courts to go to school with black students after the Brown vs, Board of Education decision in 1954.

Senator Hyde-Smith’s alma mater, Lawrence County Academy, “was established in 1970, one year after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Mississippi to desegregate its schools. For 15 years after desegregation became law of the land, Mississippi dragged its feet on integrating black and white students.”

It was part of the school choice movement across the South whose purpose was to avoid and defeat desegregation.

The editorial pages of the New York Times have been an echo chamber for school choice for years. The editorials regularly applaud charter schools as escape hatches from public schools and repeat the talking points of the billionaires and hedge fund managers who have gleefully replaced public schools with privately managed schools. I can’t recall an editorial that acknowledged the importance of rebuilding, revitalizing, and strengthening public education as a major responsibility of our society. I can’t recall one that criticized the onslaught of privatization against public education in our nation’s urban schools, where parents of color have lost not only their public schools, but their voice as citizens in creating public schools that serve the entire community. The editorial board has steadfastly ignored the coordinated and bipartisan assault on democratic governance of public schools in cities and states across the nation. The op-ed page, which was created to provide a space for views different from the editorial page has seldom challenged school choice orthodoxy. Almost every regular opinion writer has lauded the “miracle” of charter schools, including David Brooks, Nicholas Kristof, and David Leonhardt. The op-ed page recently included an article urging liberals not to give up on charters even though Betsy DeVos likes them too, even though they are segregated and non-union.

But now comes a new and welcome voice.

Erin Aubrey Kaplan writes that school choice is the enemy of justice. She has been selected as a regular opinion writer, which is more good news. She writes about her personal experience as a child in California, a state that is controlled by Democrats but purchased by the billionaires who sneer at public schools and want to replace them with charter schools. She reminds us that school choice was the battle cry of segregationists. In many states and cities, it still is.

Her article poses an essential question: Is public education, democratically controlled, still part of the social contract? And she writes that many white liberals, including Jerry Brown (and in New York, Andrew Cuomo) have said no.

She writes:

“LOS ANGELES — In 1947, my father was one of a small group of black students at the largely white Fremont High School in South Central Los Angeles. The group was met with naked hostility, including a white mob hanging blacks in effigy. But such painful confrontations were the nature of progress, of fulfilling the promise of equality that had driven my father’s family from Louisiana to Los Angeles in the first place.

“In 1972, I was one of a slightly bigger group of black students bused to a predominantly white elementary school in Westchester, a community close to the beach in Los Angeles. While I didn’t encounter the overt hostility my father had, I did experience resistance, including being barred once from entering a white classmate’s home because, she said matter-of-factly as she stood in the doorway, she didn’t let black people (she used a different word) in her house.

“Still, I believed, even as a fifth grader, that education is a social contract and that Los Angeles was uniquely suited to carry it out. Los Angeles would surely accomplish what Louisiana could not.

“I was wrong. Today Los Angeles and California as a whole have abandoned integration as the chief mechanism of school reform and embraced charter schools instead.

“This has happened all over the country, of course, but California has led the way — it has 630,000 students in charter schools, more than any other state, and the Los Angeles Unified School District has more than 154,000 of them. Charters are associated with choice and innovation, important elements of the good life that California is famous for. In a deep-blue state, that good life theoretically includes diversity, and many white liberals believe charters can achieve that, too. After all, a do-it-yourself school can do anything it wants.

“But that’s what makes me uneasy, the notion that public schools, which charters technically are, have a choice about how or to what degree to enforce the social contract. There are many charter success stories, I know, and many make a diverse student body part of their mission. But charters as a group are ill suited to the task of justice because they are a legacy of failed justice.

“Integration did not happen. The effect of my father’s and my foray into those white schools was not more equality but white flight. Largely white schools became largely black, and Latino schools were stigmatized as “bad” and never had a place in the California good life.

“It’s partly because diversity can be managed — or minimized — that charters have become the public schools that liberal whites here can get behind. This is in direct contrast to the risky, almost revolutionary energy that fueled past integration efforts, which by their nature created tension and confrontation. But as a society — certainly as a state — we have lost our appetite for that engagement, and the rise of charters is an expression of that loss.

“Choice and innovation sound nice, but they also echo what happened after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, when entire white communities in the South closed down schools to avoid the dread integration.

“This kind of racial avoidance has become normal, embedded in the public school experience. It seems particularly so in Los Angeles, a suburb-driven city designed for geographical separation. What looks like segregation to the rest of the world is, to many white residents, entirely neutral — simply another choice.

“Perhaps it should come as no surprise that in 2010, researchers at the Civil Rights Project at U.C.L.A. found, in a study of 40 states and several dozen municipalities, that black students in charters are much more likely than their counterparts in traditional public schools to be educated in an intensely segregated setting. The report says that while charters had more potential to integrate because they are not bound by school district lines, “charter schools make up a separate, segregated sector of our already deeply stratified public school system.”

“In a 2017 analysis, data journalists at The Associated Press found that charter schools were significantly overrepresented among the country’s most racially isolated schools. In other words, black and brown students have more or less resegregated within charters, the very institutions that promised to equalize education.

“This has not stemmed the popular appeal of charters. School board races in California that were once sleepy are now face-offs between well-funded charter advocates and less well-funded teachers’ unions. Progressive politicians are expected to support charters, and they do. Gov. Jerry Brown, who opened a couple of charters during his stint as mayor of Oakland, vetoed legislation two years ago that would have made charter schools more accountable. Antonio Villaraigosa built a reputation as a community organizer who supported unions, but as mayor of Los Angeles, he started a charter-like endeavor called Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.

“This year, charter advocates got their pick for school superintendent, Austin Beutner. And billionaires like Eli Broad have made charters a primary cause: In 2015, an initiative backed in part by Mr. Broad’s foundation outlined a $490 million plan to place half of the students in the Los Angeles district into charters by 2023.

“I live in Inglewood, a chiefly black and brown city in Los Angeles County that’s facing gentrification and the usual displacement of people of color. Traditional public schools are struggling to stay open as they lose students to charters. But those who support the gentrifying, which includes a new billion-dollar N.F.L. stadium in the heart of town, see charters as part of the improvements. They see them as progress.

“Despite all this, I continue to believe in the social contract that in my mind is synonymous with public schools and public good. I continue to believe that California will at some point fulfill that contract. I believe this most consciously when I go back to Westchester and reflect on my formative two years in school there. In the good life there is such a thing as a good fight, and it is not over.“

New York City public schools include eight high schools that admit students on the basis of a single score, a rigorous test that all applicants musty take. That requirement is set in state law.

Mayor de Blasio wants to increase diversity by scrapping the single test.

The de Blasio administration wants to increase diversity at the schools, which are dominated by white and Asian students, and small numbers of Black and Hispanic students.

“The city’s specialized high schools — considered some of the crown jewels of New York City’s education system — accept students based on a single test score. Over the last decade, they have come under fire for offering admissions to few students of color: While two-thirds of city students are black or Hispanic, only about 10 percent of admissions offers to those schools go to black or Hispanic students…

“Right now, we are living with monumental injustice. The prestigious high schools make 5,000 admissions offers to incoming ninth-graders. Yet, this year just 172 black students and 298 Latino students received offers. This happened in a city where two out of every three eighth-graders in our public schools are Latino or black.

“There’s also a geographic problem. There are almost 600 middle schools citywide. Yet, half the students admitted to the specialized high schools last year came from just 21 of those schools. For a perfect illustration of disparity: Just 14 percent of students at Bronx Science come from the Bronx.”

In the past, efforts to change the admissions requirements of these specialized high schools have been blocked by the Legislature, which includes a number of graduates of the specialized schools.

Chalkbeat summarized the specifics of the mayor’s plan:

“De Blasio’s solution, laid out in an op-ed in Chalkbeat, would set aside 20 percent of the seats at the eight schools for students from low-income families starting next school year. Students who just missed the test score cut-off would be able to earn one of those set-aside seats through the longstanding “Discovery” program. Just 4 percent of seats were offered through that program in 2017.

“The mayor also said he plans to push state lawmakers to change a law that requires admission at three of the schools to be decided by a single test score. That’s something de Blasio campaigned for during his run for mayor in 2014 but hasn’t made a priority since.

“Most significantly, de Blasio says for the first time that he backs a system of replacing the admissions test with a system that picks students based on their middle school class rank and state test scores. The middle-school rank component is especially notable, as an NYU Steinhardt report found that the only way to really change the makeup of the elite high schools would be to guarantee admission to the top 10 percent of students at every middle school.

“If all of these changes were implemented, de Blasio says that 45 percent of the student bodies at the eight high schools would be black or Latino.”

Recently The Century Foundation issued a report about charter schools that are “diverse by design.” The report was intended to show that charters are capable of producing integration (more than public schools) because of their “flexibility.”

The report from this liberal think tank was funded by the Walton Family Foundation, a far-right, anti-union entity that spends $200 million every year on charter schools and so has a huge incentive to sell them, especially to liberals, who might otherwise be dubious about the non-union aspect of privatization by charter schools. (More than 90% of charters are non-union and rely on temp teachers from TFA, which is generously funded by the Waltons).

But as Julian Vasquez Heilig points out in this post, TCF found only 125 charters that were “diverse by design” in a charter universe of nearly 6,000 schools. That is about 2% of the charters examined for the report.

What is the point? He thinks that the report calls attention to the charters’ lack of interest in racial integration and unintentionally makes the opposite point from the one it thinks it is making.