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.
Not only were they more successful in school, they were more successful in life as well. A 2011 study by the Berkeley public policy professor Rucker C. Johnson concludes that black youths who spent five years in desegregated schools have earned 25 percent more than those who never had that opportunity. Now in their 30s and 40s, they’re also healthier — the equivalent of being seven years younger.
I actually just finished the beginning of what I hope to be some considerable research on this - a phenomenal work called The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South by Michigan professor Matthew Lassiter. He explains extensively how cities responded to the call for integration - especially mandatory busing programs. Charlotte, over the course of several years, became the gold standard for successful school integration, whereas cities like Atlanta and Richmond failed and created hyper-segregated residential sections of the city and surrounding counties.
Since the 1960s and 70s, however, there has been determined and gradual judicial erosion of Brown and Swann vs. Charlotte-Mecklenburg in the Supreme Court. With Nixon appointing four of the justices in his first term alone, a decidedly conservative tone overcame the group, and over time, they dismantled many of the landmark acts meant to even the playing field for children all over the country.
In short, integration is easily one of the most important tools we can use to solve many of the problems associated with American public education today. Lassiter’s book is an incredible text that focuses almost exclusively on the political make-up of the groups supporting and opposing integration in mid-century Southern cities, and is a great start for anyone who would be interested in learning more.