The Supreme Court this week agreed to hear two cases-one from Seattle, the other from Kentucky-that will decide the extent to which race can affect the assignment of students to public schools. In each case, white parents argue that districts' desire to maintain racial balance in classrooms led to discriminatory policies in their public school choice programs. While the districts did not set formal racial quotas, they did use race as a factor in deciding which students could attend over-subscribed schools. For instance, if a disproportionate number of white students want to attend a certain school, black students might be given priority in a tie-breaker. The legal world is buzzing, eager for its first chance to parse the affirmative action views of justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito. But as a matter of education policy, the matter seems rather simple. Why should districts obsess over the racial make-up of their schools when they should be stressing about what's actually going on (or not) inside their classrooms? Especially when most urban systems are "majority minority," isn't it time for them to focus on achievement first? The lesson from great charter schools like KIPP is simple: offer a great education, and parents of all races will knock on your door. Then social engineering can go where it belongs: out of the courtroom and into the history books.
"Justices to Hear Cases of Race-Conscious School Placements," by Charles Lane, Washington Post, June 6, 2006