… so says Professor David Kirp (Public Policy, Berkeley) in this morning’s New York Times. It’s a piece that begs, I think, of a firm response. And because it’s about desegregating schools, I think it’s appropriate material for this blog. Here’s how his piece gets under way, though you should read the whole thing.
AMID the ceaseless and cacophonous debates about how to close the achievement gap, we’ve turned away from one tool that has been shown to work: school desegregation. That strategy, ushered in by the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, has been unceremoniously ushered out, an artifact in the museum of failed social experiments…. But as the anniversary was observed this past week on May 17, it was hard not to notice that desegregation is effectively dead. In fact, we have been giving up on desegregation for a long time. In 1974, the Supreme Court rejected a metropolitan integration plan, leaving the increasingly black cities to fend for themselves.
A generation later, public schools that had been ordered to integrate in the 1960s and 1970s became segregated once again, this time with the blessing of a new generation of justices.
The balance of Professor Kirp’s essay, which laments the fading of court-ordered desegregation orders, can be summed up as follows:
(1) Desegregation/integration produces empirical academic benefits for Black students.
(2) Desegregation/integration produces no empirical injuries or drawbacks for White students.
(3) Therefore Desegregation/integration is a good thing.
(4) The courts should support good things.
(5) Therefore the courts should support Desegregation/integration.
To be fair, this is my summary of his work. I could be misrepresenting it, though I obviously don’t think I am.
Now I’m willing to grant him (1) and (2); he’s a public policy expert and presumably he’d know better than I would whether the evidence supports these things. I’ll even grant him (3), so long as we keep it at “a good thing” and not “an unqualifiedly good thing, all-in.” If something gives relevant benefits, and doesn’t have the most obvious sorts of drawbacks one might suspect, odds are that it’s a good thing.
But I seriously question what I’ve presented as his implicit premise (4). Kirp seems to lack a certain understanding of how the law works, as demonstrated by the fact that he has linked to Milliken v. Bradley (418 U.S. 717 (1974)), but doesn’t seem to actually understand what the case is about. That’s a serious charge to level at an academic, so let me explain. Along the way, I think it will become clear both why I think (4) is wrong, and that Kirp does indeed hold it as a view.