Supplemental: Keeping the focus on “resegregation!”

TUESDAY, JUNE 17, 2014

Bouie survives the real stats: In her lengthy report, “Segregation Now...,” Nikole Hannah-Jones focused on the alleged “resegregation” of Tuscaloosa’s public schools.

She said this “resegregation” is occurring all over the country, especially in the South.

Are American schools being “resegregated?” Early in her report, Hannah-Jones offered this deeply flawed statistical comparison:
HANNAH-JONES (4/16/14): In 1972, due to strong federal enforcement, only about 25 percent of black students in the South attended schools in which at least nine out of 10 students were racial minorities. In districts released from desegregation orders between 1990 and 2011, 53 percent of black students now attend such schools, according to an analysis by ProPublica.
Alas! Hannah-Jones was comparing apples to kumquats there, as we explained in our previous post. In fact, as of 2011, only 34 percent of black students in the South were attending schools in which at least nine out of 10 students were racial minorities.

Over the previous 39 years, the number had risen nine points.

You may think that number—34 percent—is much too high. But it isn’t 53 percent, and the increase in question has coincided with a large rise in the percentage of “racial minorities” in American public schools.

Alas! Hannah-Jones had her thumb on the scale in that passage. In that way, she created a sense of alarm.

Here's where things get intriguing:

About one month later, Jamelle Bouie discussed the same general topic in Slate. Unlike Hannah-Jones, Bouie used apples-to-apples statistics.

Bouie's comparison was perfectly valid.
In this passage, he described the percentage of black kids “across the country” who attend that same type of school:
BOUIE (5/15/14): As Nikole Hannah-Jones details for ProPublica, federal desegregation orders helped “break the back of Jim Crow education in the South, helping transform the region’s educational systems into the most integrated in the country.” She continues, “In 1963, about 1 percent of black children in the South attended school with white children. By the early 1970s, the South had been remade—fully 90 percent of black children attended desegregated schools.”

The problem today is that these gains are reversing. As the Civil Rights Project shows, minority students across the country are more likely to attend majority-minority schools than they were a generation ago.


In 2011, more than 40 percent of black students attended schools that were 90 percent minority or more. That marks an increase over previous years. In 1991, just 35 percent of black students attended schools with such high levels of segregation.
Can we talk? Using consistent statistics, Bouie reports a rather small increase in the number of black students attending such schools across the country. (He referred to them as “hyper-segregated schools.”)

In twenty years, the figure had gone from 35 percent to 40 percent—not a gigantic jump.

(As noted, this occurred during an era when the percentage of minority kids in American school substantially increased. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Grade 4 student population was 72 percent white in 1992, but only 52 percent white in 2011.)

You might think that percentage—40 percent—is way too high. You might prefer that no black child should ever attend a school with large numbers of other black kids.

(For years, we taught in Baltimore schools with all “black kids.” Our conclusion? “Black kids” are excellent kids. So are other kids.)

You might think that percentage is too high. There are obvious reasons for preferring racial balance in our public schools.

But that really wasn’t a giant increase, especially over a twenty-year period during which the percentage of white kids had decreased so much. In her own report, Hannah-Jones had offered a highly misleading comparison, thereby creating alarm.

Here’s what we found interesting in Bouie’s report: Even though he reported a rather small increase, he still acted like “resegregation” was coming on quite fast!

His basic claim was true—“minority students across the country are more likely to attend majority-minority schools than they were a generation ago.” But as we look at Bouie’s numbers, the change seems much smaller than you might have thought from reading Hannah-Jones.

Despite this fact, Bouie spread the same sense of alarm. Many of us liberals/progressives simply love these racial alarms, especially when they let us use language from the civil rights years.

On balance, we’d prefer to see racially balanced schools too. Given the demographics in our biggest school systems, that remains the impossible dream. But as a general matter, we like it when that happens too.

That said, the problem of our achievement gaps seems much larger, at least to us, than the problem posed by “resegregation.” This is especially true since the latter problem basically can’t be solved.

The achievement gaps are a giant problem. On the whole, the “segregation” problem simply can’t be fixed.

But so what? Within the current liberal world, we love to talk about racial injustice of the traditional kind. We enjoy heading to Alabama, where we like to pretend that Governor Wallace is still in the schoolhouse door.

This is what we don’t like to do—we don’t like talking about the gaps, which are very large and deeply punishing. We seem to have no idea how to address the gaps, and we have no plan to discuss them.

Our view? Low-income kids badly need our help, and we’re off playing the clown.

Hannah-Jones offered misleading numbers. Bouie used the actual data, but he maintained the same tribal cry.

For the most part, racial imbalance in schools can’t be fixed. What is our plan for the gaps?


  1. Desegregation is not a panacea and it is not feasible in some situations. Where it is possible-- and it still is possible in many areas-- desegregation properly implemented can make a very real contribution to equalizing educational opportunities and preparing young Americans for the extremely diverse society in which they will live and work and govern together.

    Desegregation progress was very substantial for blacks, and occurred in the South from the mid- 1960s to the late 1980s. Contrary to many claims, the South has not gone back to the level of segregation before Brown. It has lost all of the additional progress made after 1967 but is still the least segregated region for black students.

    The growth of segregation has been most dramatic for Latino students, particularly in the West, where there was substantial integration in the 1960s, and segregation has soared. A clear pattern is developing of black and Latino students sharing the same schools; it deserves serious attention from educators and policymakers.

    Segregation is typically segregation by both race and poverty. Black and Latino students tend to be in schools with a substantial majority of poor children, but white and Asian students are typically in middle-class schools.

    Segregation is by far the most serious in the central cities of the largest metropolitan areas, but it is also severe in central cities of all sizes and suburbs of the largest metro areas, which are now
    half nonwhite. Latinos are significantly more segregated than blacks in suburban America.

    The Supreme Court has fundamentally changed desegregation law, and many major court orders have been dropped. Statistical analysis shows that segregation increased substantially after the plans were terminated in many large districts.

    A half century of research shows that many forms of unequal opportunity are linked to segregation. Further, research also finds that desegregated education has substantial benefits for educational and later life outcomes for students from all backgrounds.

    1. "On the whole, the “segregation” problem simply can’t be fixed.

      But so what?"

      Bob Somerby

  2. Somerby spots a legitimate error in statistical reporting, but he puts his thumb on the scale, too. By focusing on the "small" increase from 35% to 40%, he assumes the extent of desegregation reached in 1991 was as far as desegregation (as measured by that statistic) was ever going to go. If by now continued efforts had brought it down to 20% or 25%, targets that do not look unrealistic and indeed look fairly conservative for a 20-year-plus period, then the 40% figure would represent a dramatic increase. There is also the implicit assumption that Hannah-Jones should have waited until it got much worse and the trend were clearer before writing an article like this. So much for spotting and reporting on dangerous trends early -- and Hannah-Jones is entitled to consider such a trend dangerous and not take her instruction on how she should react as an African-American from a white person who taught black kids for a few years. She may quite legitimately think it important to nip the momentum in the bud. There is something unseemly in a white person calling it reprehensible for her doing something about it. She is also entitled to the sensible belief that concentrating low income black kids in certain schools -- the very kids who may well have had a grandparent or great-grandparent who lacked the opportunity to learn to read or felt it was prudent to remain illiterate -- will make it harder for the gap to be reduced.

    He also puts his thumb on the scale with a strawman by saying segregation in schools is a problem that can't be "solved." Well, neither can the gap be "solved." These are both gigantic national problems caused by institutionalized racism over centuries. It will take many decades for the effects to be erased to the extent it is no longer perceived as a problem. None of these problems is going to be "solved."

    Once again, segregation was the essential building block that maintained the gap that was created by slavery and anti-literacy laws. Reduction in the commitment to destroying that building block is unlikely to make it easier to reduce the gap. And is the way Hannah-Jones used statistics improperly to embellish a story without changing its essence worth 15 or 20 article-length posts? Trying to keep solving the gap is worth a zillion articles. Resegregation, even if only suspected, is worth a lot, too. But repeating (and embellishing) the criticism of her article time after time is focusing not on the problem itself but on defending a position taken in the beginning. If it takes that much effort and repetition to defend it, it must not be very defensible.

    1. I'm going to tentatively take back my magnanimous concession that Hannah-Jones' reporting on the statistics was an "error." First of all, the actual wording is apparently accurate, and it doesn't take any more than a modest degree of care to realize the bases being cited are different. Second, it appears the kind of statistical propriety to which Somerby purports to hold her simply does not exist or she had not found it. There appears not to be any published apples-to-apples data for the base of districts where orders have been lifted. According to another Hannah-Jones article in ProPublica, the school desegregation order program is in complete disarray, with basically nobody minding the store. More than half the orders have been lifted, but sometimes nobody seems to know whether it is still in place or not. The 25% figure for entire South and the 53% figure for districts where orders had been lifted -- one might expect that desegregation had proceeded further where orders were being enforced -- is a legitimate suggestive comparison. The 53% figure does indeed look very high. This is journalism by a generalist, not a scholarly article.

      I wonder if Somerby would agree with John Roberts that we've come far enough on voting rights because, after all, a lot more blacks vote now in the South than they did in 1965. Is all this worry about voter suppression just a lot of hot air? Was 95% of the Senate and a majority of the House just full of it when they extended the Justice Department review program?

    2. So the great ul discovers that Somerby based his complaint about Hannah-Jones "apples to kumquat" on ignoring that Hannah-Jones clearly said she was comparing apples to kumquats.

      Way to go! What are you, some kind of troll or something?

  3. "These are both gigantic national problems caused by institutionalized racism over centuries. "

    No need to go back centuries. Go back one generation to find the source of the problem for today's black kids representing "the gap." Their parents chose to produce their underprivileged children less than 15 years ago and before producing them had every opportunity to make sure those children were provided for when they arrived, and to speak 30 million words to them by age 3. They chose not to do so and let their offspring fend for themselves, as do all abusive and negligent parents, unlike many immigrant families starting at the same level of poverty with even greater disadvantages than black skin who made other choices. It is true that the black negligent parents had one genuine disadvantage, they were handicapped by the victimology of the left.

    1. Progressives love movies about slavery and the pre-civil rights era and fake stories of racism like Trayvon and Duke LaCrosse because it gives them the opportunity to imagine they are heroes. They rely on distant history and Sharpton's lies about current incidents to support their outrage, because focusing on the present truth would mean facing the (cruel) failures of their 50 year approach to social issues which is the real cause of misery for blacks, 75% being illegitimate because the left failed to recognize illegitimacy, absent fatherhood, single motherhood, and government dependence equal poverty and misery.

    2. Welcome to your new readership, Somerby. Enjoy the attention.

    3. New readership? Trolls and others like Anonymous @5:04P have infested this blog for a while now.

      Do you think TDH reads his commentariat? Why would he bother?

    4. 5:43 You haven't been here very long. People like 5:04 and 4:56 didn't come here. Of course, it's possible 4:56 is doing satire. It's hard to believe anyone could be that dense or lacking in knowledge of history.

    5. "Trolls and others . . . " Zzzzzzz!

    6. "Do you think TDH reads his commentariat? Why would he bother?"

      Yes indeedy deadrat. BOB would rather count the comments to Maureen Dowd's columns, copy them and paste them over here so he can pummel them in witch hunt fashion like old Melissa Harris-Whomever-She's-Married does at MSNBC.

    7. Anonymous @10:39P,

      That's still a win for him.

      Do you actually read the comments here?

    8. 5:04 - your head must really hurt when you try to put on your hat, since your hear is so far up your Clavin.

    9. Sad to see this become an issue the right wing can exploit. The sad truth is if poverty is part of the problem then so-called "illegitimacy" (not the most apt word for it) is a major factor.The economy is simply not structured for the benefit of low income single families, in some cases zero income teenage girls. It's a plan, or lack of a plan that usually produces a lot of hardship and dependence. One can't wish it otherwise. First things first, regardless of ethnicity- if you don't have your shit together you shouldn't be having kids.

    10. deadrat @ 11:41

      Only yours. But since they are always in response to comments made by others and usually in defense of the blogger, they make little sense.

    11. If you're down to answering rhetorical questions, then I imagine lots of things don't make sense to you.

    12. I sense that there are some here who do not especially care what happens to other people's children. This seems foolish to me, since these children are not going to simply disappear. They will eventually grow to adults who will be living here among us and potentially creating problems (like unemployment and crime) that we will have to address. These are innocent children who need our help and we would be wise to help them. This is not just an opportunity to "bash' their parents and score points.

    13. Their parents should be bashed as should be all negligent and abusive parents. Bashing these parents is the best thing that ever happened to the kids who internalized educational achievement and work ethic as a result of the influence of parents who themselves grew up knowing irresponsibility and negligence would be bashed instead of embraced as it is by the left.

  4. The problem of de-facto segregation is difficult to fix but privatization is going to make the separation of school systems more complete. If this goes to completion there may be reseparation of schools with no public obligation to try to make them equal, let alone address the gap. Can the racist element be separated from the "reform" movement? Some idealistic influential rich "reformers" may sincerely think that privatization is the way to make all schools better, but in many real school districts it is a tool of racism.

  5. The charter school movement is really an attempt to drive a class wedge between poor blacks and those with middle class aspirations. Nobody can blame parents for wanting to get their kids the best education possible, and the alleged "reformers" are exploiting that natural sentiment. But do you ever see the pro-reform people, in their enthusiasm for closing neighborhood schools and turning them into charters, go all out for increasing the funding for the neighborhood schools that remain for the kids who couldn't for any number of reasons get into or go to the charter school?

    The right-wing billionaire-sponsored movement has absolutely zero to do with trying to improve public education. It is 100% about destroying teachers' unions, maybe the strongest remaining bastion of unionism in the country labor, with propaganda (like "Waiting for Superman" and "Won't Back Down") that tries to turn the public against teachers by falsely attributing to the unions about ten times the amount of power than they actually have. The propaganda obviously has duped President Obama, Arne Duncan and Bill Gates -- all with liberal leanings but also the products of expensive private schools and little natural affinity for (or understanding of) unions or public schools -- and, sadly, Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

    1. But do you ever see the pro-reform people, in their enthusiasm for closing neighborhood schools and turning them into charters, go all out for increasing the funding for the neighborhood schools...

      Good Heavens, Yes! School funding has increased enormously. E.g., This paper claims that true public school spending is very high and uner-reported

      this paper reviews district budgets and state records for the nation’s five largest metro areas and the District of Columbia. It reveals that, on average, per-pupil spending in these areas is 44 percent higher than officially reported.

      Real spending per pupil ranges from a low of nearly $12,000 in the Phoenix area schools to a high of nearly $27,000 in the New York metro area. The gap between real and reported per-pupil spending ranges from a low of 23 percent in the Chicago area to a high of 90 percent in the Los Angeles metro region.

      To put public school spending in perspective, we compare it to estimated total expenditures in local private schools. We find that, in the areas studied, public schools are spending 93 percent more than the estimated median private school.

    2. You realize, of course, that these generic comparisons are completely false. Private and charter schools will always cost less per pupil since they do not have to accommodate all of the children and their special needs. Private and charter schools also do not have the same restrictions placed on them by the public. This is the same false argument used to claim that the US Postal Service costs too much because FedEx is cheaper.

  6. If you desegregate the schools in terms of overall percentages, how do you prevent segregation of that school within classrooms based on the performance gaps? It seems to me these two problems are related.

  7. There is an interesting book called "Why are all the black kids sitting together?" by Beverly Tatum. It tries to explain the observation that within integrated schools there is still considerable self segregation. The goals of affirming identity based on ethnicity and behaving as if we were all color blind are inherently incompatible.

  8. "The goals of affirming identity based on ethnicity and behaving as if we were all color blind are inherently incompatible."

    Difficult, sure, but many who have thought about these issues for a long time would beg to differ with "inherently incompatible." We have been through the same process many times in our history. Being taught from the womb that skin color is critically important makes this one the most difficult yet, but is there any inherent reason why skin color should be more important than hair color?

    1. I for one was never taught, least of all "from the womb", that skin color was critically important.

    2. I figured out that skin color was critically important without ever being taught.

    3. I'm with urban legend. IMHO liberalism, for many, is an ego trip. They don't so much care about the betterment of various minorities; they care about they being the ones to produce the betterment.

      E.g., the liberals who run UCLA admissions illegally benefit black applicants while they illegally discriminate against Asian applicants. Both races were historically discriminated against, but liberal are concerned only about the one where they can claim credit.

    4. @11:25, I suspect more people are more "enlightened" than you might think.

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