December 4, 2006

NEA Joins Major Labor and Civil Rights Groups to Support Local School Districts

Supreme Court Hears Arguments
in School Desegregation Cases

NEA joins major labor and civil rights
groups to support local school districts

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today on whether school districts should be able to use tailored policies to ensure equitable, diverse enrollment and desegregate local schools. The National Education Association and leading labor and civil rights organizations have supported the policies of the two school districts in question, saying the modest measures are one part of fulfilling the promise of Brown v. Board of Education .

“These districts saw schools re-segregating and knew that separation in education can never be equal,” said Reg Weaver, NEA president. “They made the decision to use modest, narrowly tailored policies to protect the right of every child to a quality public education. They’ve had the support of their local communities, and their plans have been successful. These school districts are models for how to achieve more equitable and diverse schools.”

The cases involve constitutional challenges to voluntary, race-conscious student assignment plans adopted by the Seattle School District and the Jefferson County Board of Education in Kentucky. They will likely be decided by June of 2007 in what will be the most significant Supreme Court decision in years on the role of race in education.

A host of other organizations, including the AFL-CIO, People for the American Way, American Federation of Teachers and 43 NEA state affiliates, signed on to NEA’s amicus brief in support of the schools.

The Seattle policy allows students to attend the schools of their choice and uses race as one of several tiebreakers for popular schools if it helps bring the schools closer to the district’s average racial composition. A similar program at issue in the Kentucky case aims to keep the Black student population between 15 and 50 percent of the total population at most schools. About 35 percent of the 97,000 students in the district are Black. In 2004, the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University called Kentucky schools among the most integrated in the nation.

In its brief, NEA urges the court to uphold the value of diversity in education, which a substantial body of research has shown actually improves the quality of education for all students. “Interactions among students of different races—with different vantage points, skills, and values—are of great consequence not only to the students’ development as citizens in a multiracial, democratic society, but also to their intellectual development,” the brief says. “The impact of encountering and dealing with racial diversity as part of their education is positively linked to growth in cognitive and academic skills of both racial minority and white students. These educational benefits are realized not only while children are in school, but in their subsequent lives as well.”

In the Supreme Court’s 2003 decisions in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger , two cases involving challenges to the University of Michigan’s student admission plans, Justice O’Connor made similar points. She said diversity better prepares students to be successful and the benefits of diversity are “not theoretical, but real.”

“There’s no quick fix legal or legislative measure to ensure diversity, close the achievement gaps between students and wipe out a long history of discrimination in education,” Weaver said. “These policies are one part of a solution that must also include adequate and equitable funding, qualified teachers and professional respect to get the job done.”

A copy of NEA's complete amicus brief is available online (PDF, 209KB, 45 pages ).

The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

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