School Integration Was Not Always a Good Thing for Black Educational Attainment, Study Finds

A new study by economists at Washington and Lee University, the New School, and Duke University finds that Black adults who attended racially balanced high schools in the mid-20th century completed significantly less schooling than those who attended either predominantly Black or predominantly White schools.

The authors analyzed data from the National Survey of Black Americans, a nationally representative survey of Black Americans age 18 or older who attended school in the period from the 1930s through the early 1970s.

Black students attending racially balanced high schools — schools that were about equally divided between Black and White students — completed a half year less of school, on average, than Black students in predominantly Black high schools. Moreover, Black students attending racially balanced high schools earned three-quarters of a year less education than Black students at predominantly White high schools.

In racially balanced schools, competition over resources is highest, and discrimination is thus most likely to arise and intensify, the authors write. In these roughly half-White, half-Black schools, “Black students are perceived as more of a competitive threat to White students for preferred resources,” such as attention from teachers, placement in desirable classes, and positions of status in co-curricular activities, the authors write.

“Standard wisdom has it that school desegregation paves the way to racial nirvana in the United States,” says William Darity, director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity and a professor of public policy, African and African American Studies and economics At Duke Univerity and a co-author of the study. “Our study suggests that the effects have been more muted than typically claimed in other studies and in the popular media. Of course, school desegregation is desirable to produce a better America, but we must be far more cautious about the benefits we ascribe to it.”

The full study, “Does the Negro Need Separate Schools? A Retrospective Analysis of the Racial Composition of Schools and Black Adult Academic and Economic Success,” was published on the website of RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences. It may be accessed here.

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  1. In my view, Sandy Darity is a walking contradiction of the highest order with his “outsider view” research. Darity can very easily pontificate about the ills of integration when All of his Higher Education is from Historically White Colleges and Universities (HWCUs) along with residing in a White enclave in Durham, NC. I wouldn’t be surprised if Darity’s own children probably attend(ed) All White schools from K-12. Darity is part of a long line of so-called Black academics who eagerly posit their entire career on conducting research on “Black issues” all the while living far away from the Black community. Talk about hypocrisy.

  2. Sandy concedes that measures of educational attainment are better for most black students who attend predominantly white schools than for most black students who attend predominantly black schools.

    Common sense would suggest that these benefits come mainly from access to better teachers, equipment, and textbooks, rather than from sharing classrooms with white peers. But this issue is unresolved.

    Even if the benefits in outcomes seem to disappear for black students attending racially balanced schools, that may be because the weaker black students are suffering, even though the brightest black students are better off. We may be dealing with unfortunate trade-offs in such situations.

    We should be skeptical about any proposal to “upgrade” predominantly black schools as an alternative to racial integration. Most of such institutions simply cannot be relied on to establish and sustain a culture of improvement.

  3. Ewart Archer I don’t think that Sandy is necessarily postulating “upgrades” to predominately Black schools as a blanket alternative to the racial integration of schools, but I think this aspect of his research is definitely worth discussing.

    Michael your comments come off as ad hominem to say the least. In the future, please do better by bringing a good counter-argument and some data to make your point.

    • Hey Mike,

      I think you need to broaden you analysis and recognize that Qualitative Facts do qualify as data. Where in the world did you attend school? Also, you fail to recognize that I was stating facts and not making any sort of personal attack against Darity. I would also presume that since you’re defending Darity there’s a high probability that you have similar social tendencies (e.g., “talking about Black issues all the while nestled in a White enclave). Last, so-called Black academics like you and Darity are one of the main contributors to lack of collective Black progress in the USA.

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