Desegregation Falters

THE United States Supreme Court's landmark 1954 decision outlawing ``separate but equal'' public education for white and nonwhite American children has wrought significant change - but not enough.

Much integration of US public schools has taken place. But educators, parents, and children have found that simply taking down the demeaning racial barriers has not transformed the ``integrated'' schools into institutions where all students breathe the air of reformed and viable educational programs.

And why not?

Prof. Gary Orfield of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education has been seeking, with the help of School of Education students, the reasons why desegregation seems to be faltering and why segregation by race, ethnicity, and class is still a factor in America's schools (a condition also documented last November in a series of articles in The Christian Science Monitor).

Earlier this year, Professor Orfield produced an exhaustive study of the status of desegregation in American public schools. He found that, in many cases, more ``resegregation'' than integration was occurring.

Now Orfield has launched a new phase of his examination into why desegregation has been faltering. He says that in the 1980s the US government ``portrayed desegregation as a temporary punishment, not a national goal.''

And he indicates that too many school systems lack the leadership, skill, and resources needed to create viable integrated programs.

Orfield notes that segregation of Hispanic students continues to increase, and they will soon be the largest minority group in US public schools.

The impact of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, whose proponents - black and white - were both far-sighted and courageous, should not be underestimated. But gains from the decision are eroding and the situation is likely to worsen, he says, if those who still have the means do not act to truly ``make freedom ring through the nation's schoolrooms and homes.''

``The most basic need,'' he says, ``is for strong affirmation of the goal to integrate schools.''

This affirmation must come from teachers, school officials, parents, civic organizations, and others in adult society, who must make it a point to see that students break through ethnic, racial, and social stereotypes.

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