Study Finds Resegregated Neighborhood Schools in Oklahoma City Fail
to Meet District Promises of Achievement and Equity
The return to resegregated neighborhood elementary schools in Oklahoma
City, after 13 years of busing for integration, has not led to the gains
in achievement, parent involvement, and equity the school district had
claimed, according to a report released today by researchers at the Harvard
Graduate School of Education.
The study, "Resegregation and Equity in Oklahoma City," authored
by Jennifer Jellison of the Harvard Project on School Desegregation, examined
the assumptions underlying the Supreme Court's 1991 Oklahoma City-based
Dowell decision, a landmark decision that for the first time sanctioned
a return to segregated schooling by stating that districts may be released
from a desegregation order if they had met certain conditions.
The Supreme Court based its decision on a lower court's findings
that the re-segregated neighborhood elementary schools in Oklahoma City
had increased achievement, parent and community involvement, while maintaining
equity and integration in the city's schools. These "findings"
by the lower court about the purported benefits of neighborhood schools
were based entirely on the claims of Oklahoma City School District officials,
claims which are currently echoed across the country by school districts
seeking to be released from their desegregation orders. The Harvard Project
on School Desegregation report examines both these findings and the assumptions
upon which they rest using court documents, district and state-level data,
"There is little evidence to support the claims about the benefits
of neighborhood schools that the district set forth in court," Jellison
wrote. "The policies that appeared to ‘work' reveal inequalities
when the numbers are disaggregated between the majority-black elementary
schools and the rest of the district's elementary schools. And the
safeguards installed initially in the [neighborhood schools plan] to ensure
equity was maintained for the majority-black schools and that the district
remained desegregated have all but disappeared."
The study made the following findings:
- Segregation has not decreased in Oklahoma City's schools, as
the lower court judge predicted would occur due to projected increase
in neighborhood integration. The proportion of black students in the
majority-black elementary schools has remained consistently high, at
96.7 percent black (as compared with 98.8 percent black in 1985, the
first year the district returned to segregated neighborhood elementary
schools). Today, 37 percent of Oklahoma city's black students
are enrolled in 95 percent or more black schools.
- The proportion of students in poverty in the majority-black elementary
schools has increased over time, and remains at higher levels (currently
at 91 percent poor) than the district's other elementary schools
(76.6 percent poor.)
- Although parent involvement did increase in Oklahoma City's
elementary schools when neighborhood schools were restored, an even
greater increase in parent involvement occurred in the city's
middle and high schools, which are still undergoing busing for integration.
This evidence strongly suggests that the return to neighborhood schools
was not the underlying cause behind the increase in parent involvement
at the time neighborhood elementary schools were re-established; rather,
the increased effort of school officials at getting parents involved
appear to be the source of the increase, an effort that benefited the
schools undergoing busing for integration even more than the resegregated
neighborhood schools. Parent involvement has recently dropped to below
pre-neighborhood school levels.
- The district had claimed in court that when the elementary grades
were returned to resegregated neighborhood schools, safeguards would
be installed to ensure that equity was monitored, and that programs
would be implemented to foster student integration. These claims, the
study found, have gone largely unrealized.
- The Equity Committee, established as the monitoring authority over
equity-related issues in the resegregated neighborhood schools, had
disbanded by the time both the lower court and the Supreme Court were
making their decision to allow the schools to return to segregation.
But because the lower court refused to allow any new evidence about
the actual effects of the neighborhood schools plan to be introduced
in to evidence, both the lower court and the Supreme Court were unaware
of the Committee's dissolution. Although the Committee has been
re-established since that time, its power is very limited, and its membership
is extremely low, so low in fact that the committee has had difficulty
meeting its small self-imposed quorum of 5 out of 21 members to hold
a meeting. As of July, 1996, school board members had only appointed
10 out of the 21 members required to be appointed to the committee.
- The Student Interaction Plan, which was designed to encourage visits
once a month between students in majority black schools and majority
white schools, was only implemented for a few years (with minimal participation),
and was cut entirely from the budget in 1994.
- The number of students exercising the Majority-to-Minority transfer
option, which allowed students to transfer from a school in which they
were a majority to a school in which they were a minority, was extremely
small to begin with (only 1.6 percent of the district'selementary
school students,) and since its implementation, participation has dropped
off dramatically, to less than one percent of the district's elementary
school students. Parents, furthermore, must rely largely on word of
mouth to learn of this option, as they are only notified of this option
through a once-yearly advertisement in the local newspaper and in the
student handbook, distributed once a year.
- Magnet schools, although not a component of the original court case,
have become a new attempt in Oklahoma City to promote integration through
specialty programs, drawing students from all regions of the district.
Although district officials claim that these schools are integrated,
and reflect the racial makeup of the district, this study found that
this claim did not bear out: two of the magnet schools have 28 to 30
percent larger white enrollments than the district elementary white
average, while the other has four times the district number of Hispanics.
Integration is clearly not occurring in these magnet schools.
- In court, Oklahoma City school officials argued that returning to
neighborhood schools would help boost achievement, and they presented
test scores that revealed impressive gains. However, evidence presented
in the report sheds doubt these large test score increases: according
to an Education Writers Association study, when neighborhood schools
were restored, the superintendent in Oklahoma City reduced the number
of low-achievers taking the standardized tests by increasing the number
of students retained (or "flunked") and implementing transition
grades (in which students repeat all or part of the previous grade).
Because these low-scoring students are either exempted from taking the
standardized test, or re-take the same grade-level test two years in
a row, the districts test scores appear much higher overall than they
actually are. The test score gains Oklahoma City school officials presented
to the court, therefore, are suspect.
"The Oklahoma City case study suggests," wrote Jellison, "that
integration plans, with a great deal of effort, can work more effectively
and that courts, rather than releasing districts from desegregation plans
after only several years of operation, should ensure that everything possible
is being done to promote an integration plan's success."
For More Information
Contact Ariadne Valsamis at 617-496-1895