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A Closer Look At Louisville's Innovative Integration Plan

Emily Bazelon has a great New York Times Magazine article this week taking stock of what the school district in Louisville has done in response to the Supreme Court's decision last year striking down its previous racial integration plan. The basic outline of the plan has been reported elsewhere, but as Bazelon describes in detail, the district has devised a new integration scheme that takes up Justice Kennedy on his invitation to use class and geography, rather than race explicitly, as a means of integrating schools. Under its new plan, no more than half the students at any school in the district are to come from neighborhoods that have disproportionately large low-income and minority populations--so no individual students are being discriminated against on the basis of race. Setting aside the legal arguments, Bazelon surveys the academic literature on the subject and concludes that there's substantial evidence that class-based integration schemes may well be more effective, in terms of raising student achievement, than those that focus purely on race. It's too early to reach any firm conclusions, but the article sure makes it seem like some of the invective directed at the Court after it issued its ruling last year may have been a bit overblown. One of the school district officals interviewed told Bazelon that she was no longer angry with the Court's decision, saying, "It's been a personal emotional trek, but I think we've come out better for it."

Incidentally, Bazelon's piece answers a question I had been wondering about--why is it that so many of the most well-known integration plans come from mid-sized southern cities like Louisville and Raleigh? The answer is that many urban school districts in the north, concentrated in the inner cities, are so overwhelmingly poor and nonwhite that it's all but impossible to do any real integration within district lines. The South, by contrast, owing to its rural heritage, has more county-wide school districts, which are more racially and socioeconomically diverse--an historical curiosity that, under some circumstances, can facilitate desegregation efforts.

--Josh Patashnik