Has School Desegregation Improved Academic and Economic Outcomes for Blacks?
A half a century has passed since the landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education (1954) overturned the doctrine of separate but equal in the realm of public education. This chapter attempts to summarize what we know about the impact of Brown on enrollment patterns and academic and economic outcomes for blacks. There can be little doubt that the decisions in Brown and several subsequent cases dramatically altered public education in the US. From 1968 to 1980 there is an almost 67 percent increase in the average percentage of blacks' schoolmates who are white in the US as a whole and a whopping 130 percent increase in the south despite the efforts of many whites to avoid the newly integrated schools. The discontinuous nature of the white enrollment changes following the implementation of desegregation programs provides strong evidence of a causal link between desegregation and white enrollment declines. Not surprisingly, programs that require student participation and urban areas with larger numbers of alternative school districts appear to evoke a larger enrollment response. This responsiveness along with other factors that determine the choices of neighborhoods and schools complicate efforts to identify desegregation program and racial composition effects on academic, social, and labor market outcomes. The evidence on school demographic composition indicates that expanded inter-racial contact improves both academic and labor market outcomes for blacks. There is less evidence on desegregation program effects, and existing evidence is mixed. In recent years demographic changes across the nation have reduced the average share of blacks' classmates who are white despite the fact that segregation of blacks from whites has declined in all regions since 1980 except in the south, where the increase has been small. Importantly, it is the sorting of families among communities rather than districts' allocations of students among schools that limit the extent of inter-racial contact in the schools.
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