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Desegregation busing in the United States is the practice of remedying past racial discrimination in American public schools by assigning and transporting children to specific schools in an effort to counteract discriminatory school construction and district assignments. As these locations were often not the closest "neighborhood schools" for many, appropriate and free transportation to accomplish the assignments was also included, usually by school bus, hence the simple terminology "busing" came into use to describe the plans. The plans were referred to as "forced busing" by the opponents in some areas.
Even with "free" transportation, there were practical problems with assigning pupils to schools a greater distance from their homes than had been past practice. Partially due to this hardship for individual families, parents of all races called upon school district leaders to consider alternatives to accomplish integrated schools.
In response, to reduce the more extreme distance situations and encourage voluntary participation in racially-balanced schools, many school districts successfully used combinations of magnet schools, new school construction, and more detailed computer-generated information to refine their school assignment plans. Due to these efforts and the fact that housing patterns had changed, most school districts had been released from court-supervision by the early 1990s. However, in the aftermath, even after release from court mandates to do so, many school districts continued to provide school bus services, to which families and communities had become accustomed.
After the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in Brown vs Board of Education and other cases overturned racial segregation laws for public schools which had been in place since the late 19th century and ruled that separate but equal schools were "inherently unequal", the public schools in many parts of the country continued to be segregated by race. Many times, supporters of segregation claimed that neighborhoods retained racial imbalances and there was no intent to discriminate, even though evidence adduced in court cases showed conscious efforts to send black children to inferior schools.
A federal court found that in Boston, schools were constructed and school district lines drawn intentionally to segregate the schools racially. In the early 1970s, a series of court decisions found that the racially imbalanced schools trampled the rights of minority students. As a remedy, courts ordered the racial integration of school districts within individual cities, sometimes requiring the racial composition of each individual school in the district to reflect the composition of the district as a whole. This was generally achieved by transporting children by school bus to a school in a different area of the district.
"Forced busing" was a term used by many to describe the mandates that generally came from the courts. Court-ordered busing to achieve school desegregation was used mainly in large, ethnically segregated school systems.
Proponents of such plans argued that with the schools integrated, minority students would have equal access to equipment, facilities and resources that the cities' white students had, thus giving all students in the city equal educational opportunities. They also pointed out that the United States Supreme Court had found that separate but equal schools are inherently unequal.
Critics claim the rationale behind busing was based on flawed research by Kenneth Clark, who hid research results that would have weakened the case for busing. Another mystery was why Asian students, segregated in some school systems, nevertheless thrived academically.
Opponents of desegregation busing claim that children were being bused to schools in dangerous neighborhoods, compromising their education and personal safety. Many also criticized the implementation of the policies, claiming that children were often bused from integrated schools to less integrated schools. The increased average distance of students from their schools also contributed to the reduced ability of students to participate in extracurricular activities and parents to volunteer for school functions, although parent volunteering percentages were historically low in city schools. The increased journey times to and from school - sometimes hours a day on buses - results in less time for recreation, study and (in the case of older students) employment and operating the busses costs a lot of money which would be better spent elsewhere in the education system.
Radical busing plans could place enormous stresses on students and their parents—i.e., the transporting of children to very distant neighborhoods, the last-minute transfer of high school seniors who would not be able to graduate with their class, and the sometimes annual redrawing of school district lines to attain racial balance. Such stresses led white middle-class families in many communities to desert the public schools and create a network of private schools. (After more than twenty years of desegregation busing, from the fall of 1970 through 1992, Georgia's Savannah-Chatham public school system is now close to 80% minority, and most white students now attend private schools.)
Busing is claimed to have accelerated a trend of middle-class relocation to the suburbs of metropolitan areas. Many opponents of forced busing claimed the existence of "white flight" based on the court decisions to integrate schools. Many believe that this white flight has increased cost of travel time, and increased many other costs related to suburban sprawl
Some opponents of busing also claim that busing exacerbated both economic and racial segregation, forcing cities to divide themselves along explicitly racial lines. They contend that the "white flight" to the suburbs exacerbated by busing has permanently eroded the tax base of major metropolitan areas, impairing the metropolitan areas' abilities to offer programs aimed at improving the plight of the ethnic minorities whom busing was allegedly supposed to benefit. and that a better way of tackling racial segregation within schools would be to find ways of tackling racial segregation within cities and neighborhoods.
It is also said that busing eroded the community pride and support that neighborhoods had for their local schools.
Some black leaders have spoken against forced school busing as the sole means of educational equality as well. Wisconsin State Rep. Annette Polly Williams, a Milwaukee Democrat, and Cleveland Mayor Michael White have called for most convenient ways to equalize their schools.
A 1992 study led by Harvard Professor Gary Orfield, who supports busing, found black and Hispanic students made only "modest overall improvement" as a result of court-ordered busing, with reading score improving five percentage points, and no real gains in math scores.
Effects of busingEdit
Busing integrated school age ethnic minorities with the larger community. The Milliken v. Bradley Supreme Court decision that busing children across districts is unconstitutional limited the extent of busing to within metropolitan areas. This decision made suburbs attractive to those who wished to evade busing. Enrollment in private schools increased in some metropolitan areas as a means to avoid "race-mixing."
Rust Belt cities experienced large population declines which some have blamed on integration. Declines of fifty percent or more in population are reported between 1950 and 2000 in Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo, although much of the decline was due to the erosion of the industrial base in each city. In Boston and California, where higher land values and property tax structures were less favorable to relocation, it became more common for some parents to enroll their children in private or parochial schools, although in Boston the Roman Catholic archdiocese forbade the use of its schools with such racist intent.
- Money And School Performance: Lessons from the Kansas City Desegregation Experiment by Paul Ciotti. Policy Analysis, CATO Institute.