The vast sweep of a good idea: On the merits, was mandated busing a good idea in 1975?
It's astounding to think that our current campaign has turned upon this question. "Consider the shortcomings of the species," disconsolate experts have told us. They report to us from the years which follow the conflagration they ruefully refer to only as Mister Trump's War.
It's amazing to think that this is the way we're conducting our current campaign. That said, Nikole Hannah-Jones thinks mandated busing was a good idea on the merits, and she may well be right.
In her lengthy essay in Sunday's New York Times, Hannah-Jones blew past the political problems which brought the era of busing to an end. In our view, she also blew past some basic facts—some basic facts about the era which followed the era of mandated busing.
For that reason, her lengthy report gives us a way to think about the extent to which you can trust and believe the things you read in the New York Times. We'll start supplying some missing facts in tomorrow's report.
For today, why does Hannah-Jones say that mandated busing was a good idea at that time on the merits? In large part, she bases her view on a highly familiar claim about certain things "we now know:"
HANNAH-JONES (7/14/19): We now know that school desegregation significantly reduced the test-score gap between black and white children—cutting it in half for some black age groups without harming white children. No other reform has reduced the gap on this scale. Rather, the opposite is true: The test-score gap between black and white students reached its narrowest point ever at the peak of desegregation and has widened as schools have resegregated.We've highlighted the key claims in that passage. They go exactly like this:
According to Hannah-Jones, achievement gaps between white and black kids narrowed significantly in the era of desegregation. She also says that achievement gaps have widened in the era of "resegregation."
In support of her claims, she links to this 57-page report about the Naep's Long Term Trend Assessment program, a report which appeared in 2012. For ourselves, we'd rate one of Hannah-Jones' claims as true, one as false or highly misleading.
Later, Hannah-Jones links to the same 2012 Naep report as she discusses the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), which engaged in large-scale busing in the 1970s and 1980s. For the record, if you don't agree with Hannah-Jones, you may be involved in a lie:
HANNAH-JONES: [T]o say busing—or really, mandated desegregation—failed is a lie.According to Hannah-Jones, "both black and white students saw achievement gains" in CMS during the era of busing. As noted, she links to that 2012 Naep report—and that lengthy report doesn't include a single word about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
It transformed the South from apartheid to the place where black children are now the most likely to sit in classrooms with white children. It led to increased resources being spent on black and low-income children. There’s a story black people ruefully tell of the day they knew integration was coming to a black high school in Charlotte, N.C.: A crew of workers arrived to fix up the facilities because now white children would be attending. This is how two-way busing worked and why integration was necessary—white people would never allow their children to attend the types of inferior schools to which they relegated black children.
For years, North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, where the community decided to make busing work, were some of the most integrated in the country, and both black and white students saw achievement gains. The district was forced to return to neighborhood schools after a white family brought down the desegregation order, and Charlotte is now the most segregated district in North Carolina. We should question why in the narrative of busing we remember Boston but not Charlotte.
Such "phantom links" are hardly unknown in the New York Times.
Hannah-Jones goes on to say that CMS is now "the most segregated district in North Carolina," but she fails to report achievement patterns during this post-busing era. So it goes as the New York Times continues its war on the lies!
Tomorrow, we'll start to show you what has happened in CMS in this post-busing era. We can do so because CMS has been taking part on the Naep's Trial Urban District Assessment program since 2003, a fact Hannah-Jones skipped past.
The data we show you will complicate the simple story Hannah-Jones tells. That said, our modern journalism is largely built upon simplified structures of this type. It's built upon simple-minded, novelized stories—fiction all the way down.
Starting tomorrow, we'll look at actual data! For today, let's take a moment to contemplate the sweep of that era's mandated busing programs.
Hannah-Jones thinks this era's mandated busing was a good idea on the merits, and she may well be right. That said, good God, but those programs were sweeping! Consider this part of Hannah-Jones' impassioned report:
HANNAH-JONES: Media and politicians blamed busing for the white flight from many cities, even though cities with large black populations suffered extensive white flight whether they instituted busing or not. They said busing stoked racial tensions, as if race relations had been just fine when black people stayed in their place.The Milliken ruling did play a key role in limiting the era of mandated busing. It also helps us see why the politics of mandated busing in that era were so fraught.
And then in 1974 the Supreme Court, stacked with four Nixon appointees, dealt a lethal blow to Northern desegregation. In Milliken v. Bradley, it struck down a lower court’s order for a metropolitan desegregation plan that attempted to deal with white flight by forcing the all-white suburban school districts ringing Detroit to integrate with the nearly all-black city system. By ruling against a desegregation plan that jumped school district borders, the court sent a clear message to white Northerners that the easiest way to avoid integration was to move to a white town with white schools.
As Hannah-Jones notes, a lower court had ordered Detroit to forge a busing plan with some "all-white suburban school districts."
(Hannah-Jones says Detroit's system was "nearly all-black" at the time. According to at least one scholar, the school system was actually about two-thirds black at this point.)
The order from that lower court may have been a good idea on the merits. Detroit-area kids might have gained, in many ways, had the order gone into effect.
But good lord, that lower court order was sweeping! Here's the description offered by the legal site to which Hannah-Jones links:
OYEZ LEGAL SITE: A suit charging that the Detroit, Michigan public school system was racially segregated as a result of official policies was filed against Governor Milliken. After reviewing the case and concluding the system was segregated, a district court ordered the adoption of a desegregation plan that encompassed eighty-five outlying school districts. The lower court found that Detroit-only plans were inadequate. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the metropolitan plan. This case was decided together with Allen Park Public Schools v. Bradley and Grosse Pointe Public School System v. Bradley.Good lord! One pointy-headed federal judge had taken control of eighty-five (85!) outlying school systems, along with that of Detroit itself!
It may well be that this judge's idea was a good idea on the merits, but this is the very definition of "judicial overreach." Within the American political system, there is no way that any such regime can last, whatever the merits of its ideas, orders and commandments may be.
As it turned out, the Supreme Court didn't let that order stand. The site to which Hannah-Jones links explains it like this:
OYEZ LEGAL SITE: In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court held that "[w]ith no showing of significant violation by the 53 outlying school districts and no evidence of any interdistrict violation or effect," the district court's remedy was "wholly impermissible" and not justified by Brown v. Board of Education. The Court noted that desegregation, "in the sense of dismantling a dual school system," did not require "any particular racial balance in each 'school, grade or classroom.'" The Court also emphasized the importance of local control over the operation of schools.How did we get from eighty-five outlying districts to just fifty-three? We don't have the slightest idea, and Hannah-Jones' link doesn't explain.
Would children have gained if the lower court's order had gone into effect? It's possible that children would have gained a great deal! It's also possible that rioting and other acts of mayhem would have ensued region-wide.
Hannah-Jones thinks orders like that were a good idea on the merits. A younger Joe Biden seemed to see that the politics wasn't going to work.
In a recent post, Kevin Drum offered a capsule history of the way the politics of the era played out. We aren't saying his history is perfectly accurate, but Hannah-Jones blows past such points of concern altogether:
DRUM (7/1/19): Let me just make a few points. First, forced busing during the ’70s prompted one of the biggest political backlashes of the past half century. By the end of it, Ronald Reagan was president and Reaganomics dominated America for the next 40 years. This was bad for everyone who wasn’t already rich, and it was especially bad for ethnic minorities.According to Drum, the politics of this good idea worked out very poorly. Presumably, this is a lie.
Hannah-Jones thinks this era's mandated busing was a good idea on the merits. She may be perfectly right.
That said, we think that false and misleading statements by journalists are a bad idea on the merits. So too with silly, simplified, pleasing fairy tales.
Tomorrow, we'll start supplying the information you didn't receive in the Times. One great way to knock down a lie? Disappear basic facts!
Tomorrow: In the era of "resegregation"....