Or do you just think you do?
Reading about the recent John Derbyshire flap started a train of thought for me that led to memories of the Boston school busing crisis of the 70s. I started to research the subject, but the first articles I read puzzled me and made me doubt my memory. They were short, and all about the black children bused in from Roxbury High to Southie and how terribly they were treated.
And that was absolutely true, of course; I recalled reading about that originally. But I also thought I remembered that the busing was reciprocal, and that it was this reverse busing that raised the ire of the South Boston community even more, because their kids were bused out of their own neighborhoods to schools in the black ghetto. The low-income white kids of South Boston were the sacrificial lambs to the idea of desegregation; children of the white rich didn’t have to go anywhere.
I started to think maybe my memory was faulty, but Wiki, of all things, came to my rescue by describing what others had not. Here’s the relevant passage, and the situation was even worse than I had remembered. To me, the only word to describe the particulars of this plan is “crazy” [emphasis mine]:
In one part of the plan, Garrity [the judge who had ordered it] decided that the entire junior class from the mostly poor white South Boston High School would be bused to Roxbury High School, a black high school in a ghetto. Half the sophomores from each school would attend the other, and seniors could decide what school to attend. David Frum asserts that South Boston and Roxbury were “generally regarded as the two worst schools in Boston, and it was never clear what educational purpose was to be served by jumbling them.”…The first day of the plan, only 100 of 1,300 students came to school at South Boston. Only 13 of the 550 South Boston juniors ordered to attend Roxbury showed up.
Think about it: how many parents of students at Wellesley High, for example, would have gladly sent their children to Roxbury High? Or even to South Boston High, for that matter? And how many black parents who lived in the suburbs would have willingly sent their kids to Roxbury High, either? Hypocrisy, they name is those who implemented this program:
Opponents personally attacked Garrity, claiming that because he lived in a white suburb, his own children were not affected by his ruling. The author of the busing plan, Robert Dentler, lived in the suburb of Lexington, which was unaffected by the ruling. It has been noted that the children of Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis attended school in Brookline, which was also unaffected, not being part of Boston. Garrity’s hometown of Wellesley welcomed a small number of black students under the METCO program that sought to assist in desegregating the Boston schools by offering places in suburban school districts to black students. However, most METCO students were from middle-class black families, and METCO was not available to poor white students from Boston. Another important difference in the suburbs was that white students there were not bused away from their neighborhoods, and towns were not under court order to enroll in the state-run program but did so voluntarily.
The Boston busing years were not only fraught with crises and violence and hysteria—as a little sidelight, they also ended up pretty much destroying the Boston public school system:
By the time the experiment with busing ended in 1988, the Boston school district had shrunk from 100,000 students to 57,000, only 15% of whom were white. Today the Boston Public Schools are 76% black and Hispanic, and 14% White. According to the 2000 census, Boston’s white (non-Hispanic) population is 54.48%, whereas Boston’s black and Hispanic populations together total 39.77%… In South Boston, a neighborhood found by U.S. News and World Report (October 1994) to have had the highest concentration of white poverty in the country, dropout rates soared, its poorer census tracts’ dropout rates superseding rates based on race and ethnicity citywide. South Boston, along with other poor and working class white census tracts of Charlestown and parts of Dorchester, saw an increase in control by organized crime and young deaths due to murder, overdose, and criminal involvement.
Nice going, everybody.
Especially Judge Garrity, who ordered the whole thing in what sounds like an irresponsible manner:
…[T]he plan’s ugliest element was the cross-town busing of children attending South Boston and Roxbury high schools, exchanging students from Boston’s most insular Irish Catholic neighborhood with students from the heart of the black ghetto.
The Master Plan, however, was only one of several options available to Garrity. For example, Boston school superintendent Frederick Gillis proposed an “open enrollment plan” that would have allowed families to send their children to any school in the city. This option would have been much more palatable to the public and far less costly than forced busing. But Garrity showed little interest. He gave the city only 11 weeks to prepare for the biggest social experiment in its history. Worse, six days after the court order, he unabashedly admitted he had not even read the Master Plan prior to ordering its implementation.
What’s that “the law is a ass” quote again?
From its commanders to its foot soldiers, the anti-busing movement was dominated by women. They were mostly stay-at-home moms who wanted to regain control over their children’s lives. These women had long taken for granted that their children could attend the schools in their community, that they had choices concerning their children’s education…
Although the women’s movement was on the rise, the feminist establishment had no interest in the working-class woman’s struggle against forced busing. They were indifferent to the wailing mothers who where throwing themselves down in front of delivery trucks owned by the Boston Globe (the pro-busing newspaper) or fleeing from the dogs that police used to enforce curfews…
“Sometimes when I look out this window,” White reportedly said to an aide during one hellish day at the office, “I see Belfast out there.” Police had to escort and unload buses at several Boston high schools every morning and afternoon while snipers stood guard on the surrounding rooftops. Metal detectors were installed and troopers patrolled the cafeterias, hallways, and stairwells, and still racial brawls broke out daily. Garrity also ordered equal numbers of black and white police officers to guard the schools, provoking racial hostility even within the police force. “It’ll be lucky if the Boston police don’t kill each other before the day is out,” said one state trooper at the time. For three years, as many as 300 state police officers a day patrolled South Boston High. One teacher compared the school to a prison: “We can’t leave school, we can’t come early or on the weekends to do preparatory work. We are like prisoners. Everyday when I get up, it’s like getting up to go to prison.”
In some 400 orders, Garrity meddled in every aspect of the Boston Public Schools. He placed South Boston High into federal receivership and fired its popular principal. He decreed rigid racial quotas in faculty and administrative hiring. When one elementary school was converted to a middle school, Garrity issued an order requiring the urinals to be raised…
The upshot was a public school system nearly impossible to integrate because it became all black, pretty much (the article from which the following excerpts were taken was written in 1998 and is a policy review by Stanford’s Hoover Institution):
During Garrity’s tenure as de facto school superintendent, public-school enrollment dropped from 93,000 to 57,000 and the proportion of white students shrank from 65 percent of total enrollment to 28 percent. Seventy-eight school buildings closed their doors, including Roxbury High. Now whites make up 17 percent of public-school students; most of them attend one of the three selective “exam schools” like the Boston Latin School. Boston has been forced to lower its official threshold for the acceptable racial balance of each school from a minimum of 50 percent white in 1965 to a minimum of 9 percent white today…
Busing was imposed on citizens in the name of racial equality, but few public policies have harmed Boston’s black community more. Roxbury resident Loretta Roach is the chairwoman of the Citywide Educational Coalition, a group that supports public education. Roach bemoans the extent to which busing impedes black parental involvement in the “often faraway schools their children are bused to every morning.” Community support for public schools has also “evaporated since schools are no longer part of their communities. Busing destroyed the neighborhood passion for those schools that previously existed.” Gwendolyn Collins-Stevens, a Roxbury mother of six, agrees. “Busing took away the community feeling we had for our neighborhood schools,” she says, “the feeling of ‘It’s our school and we love it.’ ”
“When schools were segregated, they were rich in other ways,” says Angela Paige Cook, founder of Paige Academy, a private school in Roxbury. Cook recalls the old network of neighborhood schools as the spring that made the black community tick. “Before busing, parents, teachers, and students often lived in the same community, attended the same churches, and shopped in the same stores. There were more positive role models for the kids in those days. When you destroy a community infrastructure, you no longer have those role models.”…
In 1982, more than 200 frustrated black parents formed the Black Parent Committee to petition Garrity to substitute a school-choice plan for busing. As newspapers reported at the time, these concerned parents complained about the injustice of “asking children to get up at 6 a.m. to ride a bus to a hostile environment where they are not going to get a good education.” Plaintiff Richard Yarde insisted that most blacks “never thought busing was the way to resolve inequality in the schools.” Like their white counterparts across town, black parents resented government usurpation of their “natural authority.” A 1982 Boston Globe poll found that 79 percent of black parents with children in the public schools favored an open-enrollment plan over forced busing. In fact, 42 percent of those polled said they did not even favor busing in 1974.
The Boston chapter of the NAACP, however, moved quickly to scuttle the Black Parent Committee’s attempt to dismantle forced busing.
School choice was finally implemented in Boston, however, in 1989. Here’s an interview with Hardin Coleman, dean of the School of Education at Boston University, who heads an advisory committee to the Boston mayor, tasked with the job of recommending ways to improve the school choice system. Coleman is a black man, and here are his views of where the situation is now. He sounds like a very reasonable guy to me:
Q: How big a role does choice play in the quality of schools?
A: What studies are finding is that it doesn’t matter what kind of school it is—for example, if it’s a magnet school or whether parents have choice. It comes down to the quality of the teachers. The more high-quality teachers you have in a school, the better it will perform, regardless of the type of students. Poverty in general predicts educational outcome phenomenally, but if you look at a school with a high poverty rate that is performing well, the difference is in the quality of the teachers.
By 2014, the district will be spending $100 million on transportation before it buys a book or hires a teacher. You have to wonder what the district as a whole gains with that. If you put that money into improving the schools by recruiting and retaining good teachers, then students could go to a good school near their home. That would in turn reduce transportation costs. Which is the best investment? Having a quality school or choice and transportation. I might be tipping my hand a little on what I believe.
Q: Is race an issue in this conversation?
A: Yes and no. My father [William T. Coleman (Hon.’10)] [who was a lawyer involved in Brown v. Board of Education] believes the only way to improve educational outcomes is to have desegregated schools. I disagree with him, and we have argued about this for years. I think the most important factor is competent teachers in the classroom. The data support me. But that question is inconsequential here because Boston busing is no longer integrating students. The population is only 15 percent Anglo. You are moving culturally diverse kids around to schools with other culturally diverse kids. So there’s no busing pattern that would create integration unless you opened it up to the suburbs, such as Brookline, Newton, Winchester. Then you’d get racial and economic balance. But you can’t do that. So busing in Boston serves no purpose when it comes to integration.
But in the big picture, the darker you are, the poorer you are, and if you are male, you are more likely to fail in American schools than if you are white, wealthy, and female. And that data is national. The question becomes, what do we do to reduce the risk factors for our poor black males. Improving schools would be one answer.
In Coleman’s answer and in his own life and arguments with his father, and in the dilemma of Boston’s schools, you can see the trajectory of views on the problem over time. At first it was thought that integration would do the trick. Then it wasn’t just de jure integration, it had to be de facto. But the method used by the court system to accomplish this served the needs of almost no one, and dealt a huge blow to both communities involved and the public school system in the city as a whole. Now Boston is still engaged in picking up the pieces.