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Friday, March 1, 2019

SD News Roundup: Suburban School Segregation

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher at Penn State's Center for Education and Civil Rights. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here

I want to start with an aspect of school segregation history that is important but may not be well known. Starting in the 1970-71 school year, Longview, TX was under a court desegregation order that included busing more than 600 Black students to formerly all-white schools. During the summer before busing was to begin, two white men entered the maintenance yard where the district parked its buses for the summer. They had two dozen bombs, which they arranged under successive rows of buses before detonating all of them simultaneously. According to this article from the NYT archive, 36 buses were damaged in all, with several considered “total losses.” Although suspects were not immediately evident, the two men were eventually found and convicted to 11 years each in prison. One of them had earlier set off dynamite at the home of a Black woman who lived in a white neighborhood. 
This story is retold in a stunning new series called Dis-Integration from the Texas Tribune, which looks at contemporary school segregation in four Texas towns: Longview, Edgewood, Richardson and San Antonio. One major theme: While we’d love to believe that this kind of senseless racism is stuck in the past, it is not so much gone as it has just changed shape. 
These are places where political apathy and a near-complete absence of oversight, guidance or public accountability threatens to allow schools to slide further into resegregation. As always, I recommend a full read- the stories are each relatively short and extremely engaging. Here’s a quick summary that, in the interest of space, focuses mainly on Longview.
Starting in 1970, Longview, along with virtually the entire state of Texas, was under a court desegregation order, following a ruling from a federal judge. Longview was only recently released from its order, leaving just two districts in the state that remain under a desegregation order. Immediately after the order was lifted, the school board voted unanimously to implement a voluntary school integration plan that keeps some of the goals of the long-standing order. Longview is changing rapidly, however, and the the series points out that leaders are faced with new threats to their commitment to educational equity. Notably, the district is struggling with “providing an equal education to an exploding population of Hispanic students — many of them immigrants or first-generation citizens, and many of them Spanish speakers.” 
In this short segment on NPR’s 1A, there’s more detail on demographic changes in Longview and other challenges to preventing further resegregation. Given these challenges, the school board’s commitment to integration rests on a shaky foundation. Of course, integration efforts no longer have the backing of a court order and DeVos/the federal DOE just recently revoked guidance for voluntary integration efforts, like those in Longview. In an election cycle, the composition of the school board could change, and the priorities of the district could change with it. Also, even with a supportive school board, the series notes, “Longview is still a small town where many hesitate to talk directly about race. And people are divided on how they recount the racially fraught history or whether they acknowledge that same racism still exists today.” Preventing further resegregation, then, depends on political success of equity-oriented school board candidates and the willingness, in the larger community, to confront difficult historical truths. 
There are important lessons, as well, from the other cities featured in the series-
  • In Edgewood, students of color have long been neglected by local and state leaders; any progress has come “when the courts forced the state’s hand” to addressing segregation and funding inequity. And, even minimal progress was won only after a complicated series of lawsuits and court rulings. Texas is now considering revisions to its funding formula to address inequity. As one advocate argues, the odds are stacked against proponents of funding equity: “You have to convince people that it’s in their best interest to educate children who don’t look like them.”
  • In Richardson, only one person of color has ever served on the school board of a district that is 60% Black and Latinx. That person recently filed suit against the city, claiming that a board composed exclusively of at-large seats denies fair representation to people of color. The article has a lot of fascinating detail about the struggle for this simple and commonsense form of representation. (See here and here for studies about how/why Black and Latinx school board members matter for students of color.) Ultimately, the district settled the lawsuit by switching to a hybrid school board: 2 at-large seats and 5 individual district seats (with at least 2 of those 5 coming from districts with a majority of people of color).
  • I won’t say much about San Antonio, because a lot has been written about that district’s integration effort, including its own series in the 74 and an accompanying critique of that series on this very blog. While the 74 uncritically celebrates SAISD, I found the Tribune’s coverage to feel much more “real” and complicated. It focuses on an inherent challenge of integration via choice: district leaders have to choose some schools to focus improvement efforts, leaving other schools behind. The story digs into the conflict between school district administrators and the parents/students of the schools that aren’t chosen. Especially if you’ve read the pieces in the 74 or this Ed Week article about San Antonio, I highly recommend checking out the Tribune article. For its part, the SAISD superintendent responded to the Tribune coverage recently, noting that “giving families options helps SAISD compete with charter schools.”
If you want to dive in further, the reporters – Aliyya Swaby and Alex Ura – talk about the background/motivation for the series in this short video. You can also hear from them in this short (5 mins) and more in-depth (48 mins) discussions on public radio. 
Although an interesting and useful complement to previous coverage, the San Antonio part of Dis-Integration is a bit of an outlier for me. What I found most compelling was the look at school segregation in places that aren’t typically a part of this conversation, specifically: the suburbs (broadly defined) and places like small “satellite cities” that are experiencing rapid population change.
In their 2012 book on the Resegregation of Suburban SchoolsErica Frankenberg and Gary Orfield note that “the United States today is a suburban nation that thinks of race as an urban issue” (p. 2). They observe that “the focus of racial and economic change is now clearly in suburban areas” (p. 1), as seen in the demographic changes that have swept over places like Longview and Richardson. That book looked at the characteristics of suburban schools in the largest 25 metro areas from 1999-2007. Among many changes, they found, that the percentage of students in 90-100% minoritized schools rose from 2.5% in 1999 to 13.7% in 2007 in satellite cities that surround the countries largest 25 cities. 
Despite the magnitude of these changes, we know little about how suburban places and their school districts have responded. Their book was an attempt to address that question through case studies of several suburban towns. Here’s its major conclusion:
  • “Suburban school districts are feeling unsupported and unable to formulate a coherent response to the metropolitan demographic change of which their district is one relatively small part” (p. 1). And,
  • “There are no federal or state policies constructively addressing these issues, leaving every suburb on its own” (p. 2).
In the Civil Rights Era, major federal and state policy change at least tried to move towards integration. Of course, much power came from historic court decisions and related court oversight. Now, as resegregation spreads further out to small cities and the suburbs, many of the same issues remain, yet court oversight has been decimated and policy guidance is hard to find. And there’s more. While cities are often home to civil rights groups that work to develop political infrastructure and public will for racial justice, these groups are less common in the suburbs. Though it’s a topic for its own post, the housing market and weak/non-existent enforcement of the Fair Housing Act present further obstacles to integration in the suburbs. 
At the same time, suburbs are growing and changing rapidly. According to a recent study of demographic change conducted by the Pew Research Center, the population in suburbs and satellite cities grew from 150 million people in 2000 to 175 million in 2016. Suburbs account for well more than the population in cities (98 million) and rural areas (46 million) combined. During the time covered by Pew, suburban areas grew at a faster pace than the urban or rural counterparts. They also became less white (8% decline) and poverty in the suburbs increased by 51%. 
This being the case, the importance of the suburbs in the school integration movement should not be overlooked. The Tribune series is an important effort to draw attention to these places and to highlight the complexity of their current political and social context. It’s hard to read these stories and not feel frustrated at the lack of movement on major problems or to not fear the fragility of the efforts that are trying to make some progress. It’s also hard to imagine success in school integration without more consideration of the types of communities (e.g., suburbs and small cities) that are home to the majority of US students. 
Yet despite the magnitude of the suburbs as a demographic category, when you read stories like those in the Tribune, you get such a strong sense of isolation (or, at least, I did). In these places, advocates for educational equity, deal with a complicated and shifting legal terrain, extremely limited funding, and ghosts of open historical violence, among other challenges. They are often in the political minority in their communities, and their success depends on somehow facing the future of school segregation with virtually none of the political supports or infrastructure that existed in the past. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

School Desegregation News Roundup: Trump Administration School Safety Report

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher at Penn State's Center for Education and Civil Rights. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here

In case you missed it, this administration continued its effort to rollback of civil rights protections for K-12 students in its reversal of Obama-era guidance on school discipline. Specifically, the “school safety” commission convened after the Parkland shooting issued a report calling for a repeal of the Obama Administration’s 2014 guidance on school discipline. The report – signed by Betsy DeVos, Kirstjen Nielson and Matthew Whitaker – was released earlier this week (full text here). A few days later, the administration officially revised the Obama-era school discipline guidelines to align with the recommendations in the school safety report. 
Before talking about the guidance, I want to go to this map from ProPublica’s Miseducation website. I have just a screenshot here, but if you follow the link you can get to the interactive version. Under “measure” you can select “discipline” and then you can see a nationwide map of school districts where Black students are more likely to be suspended than White students. If you have a few minutes, try to find one district where this is “less likely.” (The numbers will pop up when you hover over each district.) I’ve spent a decent amount of time with this, and I still haven’t found a single district, in the entire country. As I’ve written previously, research points clearly to the harmful and racially disproportionate effects of unconscious bias and exclusionary discipline, and this has real consequences for students, their families and all of us.

School districts where Black students are more likely to be suspended than White students (via Miseduation/ProPublica)
Nonetheless, the new administration guidance “[gets] rid of Obama administration guidance aimed at making sure students of color and students with disabilities aren’t disciplined more harshly than their peers,” as written in this Ed Week summary. A few quick points:
  • As described in the New York Times, “The 2014 Obama policy advised schools on how to dole out discipline in a nondiscriminatory manner and examine education data to look for racial disparities that could flag a federal civil rights violation.”
  • Here are a few lines from the Obama guidance:
    • Disparities in discipline rates could not be explained solely “by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color.”
    • “In short, racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem”
  • That’s been replaced with:
    • “Research indicates that disparities that fall along racial lines may be due to societal factors other than race”
    • The Obama administration “gave schools a perverse incentive to make discipline rates proportional to enrollment figures, regardless of the appropriateness of discipline for any specific instance of misconduct.” In short, schools may have been right to discipline Black students more harshly than White students. This is what white supremacy looks like in policy.
Because this blog focuses on race and civil rights, I haven’t discussed the report’s recommendations on gun violence in schools. But that part is also quite upsetting. Here are just a few key points from an additional Ed Week summary:
  • The report strongly encourages states to place more armed personnel in school.
  • Along those lines, it recommends that districts make it easier for military veterans and retired law enforcement officials “to become certified teachers,” so that they can carry guns and use them if necessary.
  • It does NOT recommend age restrictions on firearms purchases.  
The New York Times also has a great story about how the report plays down the role of guns in its decision to instead focus on discipline. And there’s a very strange connection between the two topics. Specifically, the report justifies its proposed repeal of the Obama guidance by essentially saying that its approach to discipline was too soft. Again, this entire report was commissioned in response to Parkland. The implication is that the Obama guidance had something to do with the Parkland shooting and/or repealing it will somehow prevent more school shootings. 
Before committing the Parkland massacre, Nikolas Cruz was referred to an alternative discipline program for nonviolent offenses, called the PROMISE program. The report argues that “some alternative discipline policies encouraged by the [Obama] Guidance contributed to incidents of school violence,” as part of its justification for repealing the prior guidance. However, pointed out across several articles:
  • Cruz had been “expelled from school, banned from campus, and had been referred to law enforcement numerous times.” So he’d also been the subject of the harsher forms of discipline favored by the current administration.
  • The PROMISE program was established in 2013, before the Obama discipline guidance had been released.
  • It’s not clear if Cruz even attended the program.
  • And, from Ed Week: “A state panel created to investigate the shooting said in July that the PROMISE program had “no bearing on the outcome” and did not affect the gunman’s ability to purchase firearms, as some had speculated.”
In other words, any connection between Parkland and school discipline reform is completely invented.
For those who wanted to dive into this in more detail, I wanted to briefly highlight a couple key issues. The articles linked here are great resources for those who want to learn more. In particular, I use an article from Dan Losen, Director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the UCLA Civil Rights Project, to respond to the following common criticisms of the Obama guidance:    
  • Disparate Impact and Quotas – A key element of the Obama guidance was the notion of “disparate impact,” or that schools could be in violation of civil rights law if discipline efforts have disparate impact regardless whether there was any discriminatory intent. Critics of the Obama guidance have claimed that this led school administrators to implement quotas for exclusionary discipline – e.g., making sure that exclusionary discipline was racially balanced. From Dan Losen’s article:
    • “No districts have been found to have adopted disciplinary racial quotas in response to the guidance.” If districts on a large scale had been using quotas, then one would expect suspension rates to decline. Instead, “national school-discipline data from 2013-14 show a slight decline in suspension rates when compared to 2011-12, but the rates today are far higher than they were in the 1970s and 1980s.” In addition, for the “quota” argument to have merit, critics would have to demonstrate that the recent and slight decline has made schools less safe (again – this is the central argument of the recent school safety report). Instead, Dan Losen notes that “there is no evidence that a slight decline of a percentage point or two has caused safety problems.”
  • Government overreach – The Obama guidance was developed as a response to the national trends seen above in the ProPublica map, and therefore encouraged districts to pursue certain types of discipline (e.g., restorative approaches) over other types (especially exclusionary discipline). For this reason, critics cite the Obama guidance as federal government overreach, in dictating how to discipline students from the highest levels of government. Again, Dan Losen’s article is a reminder that:
    • “The core question for disparate impact is whether the policy is justifiable in light of its harmful impact.” The Obama guidance isn’t telling schools that they can’t suspend students; instead, it is encouraging schools to make sure that exclusionary discipline is justifiable. There’s even a flow chart in the Obama guidance to help schools/districts figure out if a suspension decision is “educationally sound and justifiable,” which is especially relevant for cases like tardiness or other non-violent offenses. As Dan Losen notes, the decision to suspend should be balanced against “its harmful impact,” or, in other words – the overwhelming research that links exclusionary discipline to negative future outcomes. For example, he notes that one study followed students for 12 years and found that “students who were suspended were less likely to have graduated from high school or college and more likely to have been arrested or on probation.”
Of course, there’s a lot more to say about each topic. While it’s important to debate these aspects of the new report and guidelines, I don’t want to get lost in the details. I do worry that picking a part individual arguments gives the report more legitimacy than it deserves. In the end, for me, it’s the bigger picture that matters the most here. And, that bigger picture is particularly troubling, even for this administration. Specifically: I don’t want to lose track of the fact that the new guidance uses a national tragedy to justify removing civil rights protections for Black and Latinx students. Or that it leans heavily on harmful stereotypes about Black and Latinx students by strongly implying that racially disproportionate discipline is necessary to keep schools safe. As described this statement from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:
“It is unconscionable to use the very real horror of the shooting at Parkland to advance a preexisting agenda that encourages the criminalization of children and undermines their civil rights.”
Vanita Gupta, President of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

It it further troubles me that the administration likely knew what they were doing and tried to bury it by releasing the new guidance on the Friday before Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2018

School Desegregation News Roundup, Part 2: Big diversity lawsuits at Harvard and Hartford

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher at Penn State's Center for Education and Civil Rights. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here

Last week, we posted a news roundup that focused on an anti-affirmative action case at Harvard that could have major consequences. This post is about its K-12 companion case – an anti-school integration lawsuit in Hartford that could also have major consequences. If you missed that first post, here’s the main takeaway:
In the Harvard trial, there’s an understandable concern in that Asian American students are disproportionately rated lower in “personal characteristics.” But, SFFA is using this important, yet relatively small, issue to do something very big: end race-conscious admission across all publicly funded universities in the US. Again, you’ll see a similar theme in Hartford. 
So, to Hartford, where the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) has mobilized a group of Black and Latinx parents to file suit against the state because their children were not admitted to highly sought after schools in the city’s magnet program. As described in part 1, PLF has been a long-time opponent of school integration, fueling the 2007 Parents Involved case (more about this below). Like the Harvard case, this one represents a relatively new legal strategy in which opponents of race-conscious policy – like PLF and Ed Blum – mobilize non-white plaintiffs in cases that ultimately work against school diversity. 
LaShawn Robinson at the Connecticut capital building
(via the Associated Press)
  • Jurisdiction: This part can be confusing. PLF filed suit in a federal court, which puts it in the pipeline towards SCOTUS. However, the key school integration case that applies to CT schools (Sheff v. O’Neill) is a state level case. The Sheff case, decided in 1996, required Hartford to address racial isolation in city schools, leading to the very magnet program that is at stake in Robinson. So, supporters of Sheff are arguing that the Robinson case should be dismissed. There are two key parts of their argument:
    • The state of Connecticut, the defendant in Robinson, never wanted to integrate schools; so, it’s not going to put together a vigorous self-defense in a federal case.
    • There’s a state court hearing scheduled for Feb 2019 to talk about fixes to the Sheff ruling. Integration supporters claim that this is the best way to address the problems raised by Robinson plaintiffs, not a federal trial. A federal judge is currently deciding the jurisdiction for the case, and that decision is expected soon.
  • Plaintiffs: A group of seven parents who are filing on behalf of themselves and their children. LaShawn Robinson is the named plaintiff (pictured above). This article has interesting background about her and about the case in general. And, this blog post – a passionate defense of the case – was written by a friend of one of the plaintiffs.
  • Key claims-
    • Plaintiffs: As defined in Sheff, an “integrated school” in the magnet system has between 25% and 75% students that are not Black or Latinx (called “reduced-isolation students”). Students are assigned to schools based on a lottery, and plaintiffs are parents of Black and Latinx students who did not get their schools of choice in the lottery. As described in this very helpful article:
      • “The plaintiffs argue that the 25% “reduced-isolation student” benchmark is actually an enforceable quota, that the lottery is weighted to account for a student’s race, and that Hartford-area magnet schools are literally reserving 25% of the seats in their school exclusively for students who are not black or Hispanic, thereby creating an impermissible racial classification.” Like the Harvard case, plaintiffs are arguing there’s a kind of backdoor quota.
    • Defendants: This is a really important point – the lottery used to assign students to schools does not include race. As pointed out here, “there was no place on the 2017-2018 lottery application form for an applicant to list their race.” This is the key argument from defendants. Instead of race, the lottery is based on things like home address, school preferences, and where their siblings go to school. After the lottery, if school enrollments fall outside the 25%-75% band mentioned above, schools are at risk of losing some state funding.  
  • At issue: So, the Harvard trial largely centers on the use of the “personal characteristics” score, and the Hartford trial centers on what, exactly, is in the lottery and on how the lottery is used. As described here, plaintiffs “allege that the lottery is re-run until the right percentages of student race are achieved and that the Sheff benchmarks for identifying an integrated school are actually unyielding racial quotas which leave classroom seats empty unless they can be filled by reduced-isolation students.”
  • Left out: Another key part of the defendants’ argument – Connecticut has refused to fully fund the magnet schools program in recent years. As you may remember, CT faced another major court case recently – after a state judge required a complete overhaul to the state’s school funding system, the state supreme court overruled the lower court, leaving the status quo in place. As described by that lower court judge, funding in CT is inequitable and “irrational.” Of course, this affects Hartford’s magnet schools. Defendants argue that this (along with other fixes) should be the focus of any changes to Sheff.
  • At stake: There are two big issues here- race as a compelling interest in K-12 school enrollment and charter school expansion.
    • This case could end up being a sort of relitigation of the 2007 Parents Involved decision. Although it’s widely believed that Parents Involved actually ended race-conscious K-12 enrollment, this is a misread of the case. Justice Kennedy actually agreed with the liberal justices that “diversity . . . is a compelling educational goal a school district may pursue,” and that includes “avoiding racial isolation.” But, he then sides with the conservative justices in striking down the Louisville and Seattle plans, not because of the fact that they used racial classifications, but because of how they used race (not narrow enough, in his opinion). This article has a great breakdown/analysis of the case. As a result, states and districts actually have a lot more legal grounds for voluntary race-conscious integration than is widely believed. PLF was behind Parents Involved, and they just narrowly missed their goal. Robinson is their second chance.
    • PLF is also a big supporter of charter schools, including those managed by for-profit groups. However, charter growth has been slower in Hartford, compared to other CT cities, largely because of the magnet schools program. By clearing the desegregation order from Sheff, PLC paves the way for charter operators that use “colorblind” approaches to school enrollment. Not coincidentally, “nearly all of the publicly-funded, privately-managed charter schools in Connecticut are racially segregated.”
  • Key articles:
  • I relied heavily on this article in the summary above, and I highly encourage a full read. This article is also extremely useful. These are two of the most thoughtful and detailed articles that I’ve found so far on this case.
    • This blog post also contains a useful breakdown of the case, while going into more detail about PLF’s potential interest in charter expansion.
    • Lastly, this op-ed was co-written by Elizabeth Sheff herself. Now long removed from her case, she notes the academic benefits of school integration before reflecting that:
“The progress achieved through Sheff consists of far more than just high graduation rates and improved test scores. When students have a chance to learn alongside kids who come from different racial and economic backgrounds, it broadens their perspectives, making them more comfortable with a variety of people and cultures. In our democracy — where different racial groups are not always provided opportunities to interact with one another — an integrated school is a crucial experience that every child should have access to.”
Yeah – it’s a big deal. And, it’s unfortunate (to say the least) that groups like Students for Fair Admissions (the Harvard case) and PLF are exploiting fixable problems and legitimate concerns of non-white students/families as excuses for completely undermining systems put in place to balance the opportunities offered to Black and Latinx students against the enormous social/political opportunities that have been enjoyed by white families (especially wealthy white families) since forever. I’ll track each case and post updates.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Redlining in the Twin Cities in 1934: 1960's and Today

IMO has released a story map series that covers the history of housing discrimination and civil rights in the Twin Cities.  Historical persons and places are depicted on the 1934 Home Owners’ Loan Corporation map, which based its categories on race and was used to justify disinvesting in segregated minority communities. Over eighty years later, the patterns on this historic government-sanctioned ‘redlining’ map closely resemble today’s concentrations of communities of color in the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, reflecting current inequality in terms of transportation, affordable housing and mortgage lending.

The series calls attention to the history of white hostility towards racial minorities in the Twin Cities. It highlights local civil rights activism, that later gained national prominence, and demonstrates how past and current policies perpetuate segregated living patterns in the Twin Cities. 

Link to story map below:

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

School Desegregation News Roundup, Part 1: Big diversity lawsuits at Harvard and Hartford

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher at Penn State's Center for Education and Civil Rights. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here

November was a busy month for school diversity and civil rights news. In the interest of space, I had to leave out stories on a failed (and bizarre) white secession attempt near Atlanta, new research/reporting on “a la carte” living (or, when neighborhoods become more diverse, but schools do not), and Cindy Hyde-Smith and segregation academies. (I haven’t been able to bring myself to write about that last issue, but Noliwe Rooks has a great piece about it in the NY Times.) Meanwhile, I wish I had more space to write about the proposed revision to sexual assault investigations from the DeVos DOE, but these articles have good overviews on implications for K-12 and higher education. This will be a topic for a future post. 
Instead, I want to focus on lawsuits that majorly threaten diversity at the K-12 and higher ed levels. Specifically:
  • Students for Fair Admission (SFFA) v. Harvard, a federal case that could potentially end race-conscious admission policies at the higher ed level; and
  • Robinson v. Wentzel, a federal case centered on Hartford, CT’s magnet school program that could potentially end race-conscious enrollment policies at the K-12 level.
As you can tell, there are important similarities here, especially that there are high stakes consequences for each trial. But there’s more:
  • Historically, affirmative action/integration opponents have used cases of white people denied admission to K-12 or high education to chip away at race-conscious policymaking. The Harvard and Hartford cases represent a new legal strategy: using non-white students/families as plaintiffs in cases that work against school diversity.
  • Both complaints were financed by high-profile anti-integration legal groups.
  • Both lawsuits were filed in federal court, putting them on track for a potential SCOTUS ruling, which would likely lead to the worst for affirmative action/integration supporters. As I explain in part 2, the pipeline for the Hartford case is a little more complicated.
Since I had a lot to say about each case, this post is split into two parts, with this one focusing on the Harvard case and a post tomorrow for Hartford. In each post, I use the new coverage to highlight a few key points, and I link to useful articles/resources for those who want to learn more about each case. On to the Harvard case!
Edward Blum (from The Atlantic)
  • Jurisdiction: Currently in a federal court – Hearings were held Oct 15-Nov 2, and the judge recently ordered a new round of hearings scheduled for Feb 13.
  • Plaintiffs: An anonymous group of Asian American students, represented by Edward Blum/SFFA
  • Key claims:
    • Plaintiffs: “SFFA argues that Harvard, and ultimately all colleges, should no longer consider race in its admissions process, and that Supreme Court rulings in support of affirmative action have ‘been built on mistakes of fact and law.’”
    • Defendants: “The university argues that its “holistic” admissions process is necessary to ensure a diverse student body and does not discriminate against Asian-American students.” Many students apply to Harvard with perfect GPAs and/or SAT scores; so, the university needs to use other criteria, which brings us to a core issue of the SFFA compliant.
  • At issue: In addition traditional measures, Harvard uses criteria like participation in extracurriculars, volunteer work, legacy status and a “personal characteristics” rating (among other criteria). As reported in this very helpful Vox.com story, “internal data shows Asian-American applicants are rated lower on personal metrics, despite outperforming white applicants in other areas.” As a result, SFFA argues that Harvard is effectively using the personal characteristics rating as a sort of backdoor way of enforcing a racial quota.
  • Left out: The same internal report from Harvard showed that “legacy” admissions offer an advantage to wealthy, white applications; however, this form of affirmative action is not part of the SFFA’s complaint and thus is not threatened by the case.
  • At stake: This case could ride the appeals process up to the Supreme Court, where the results (unlikely to be positive for integration advocates) would almost definitely apply to all publicly funded universities in the US, basically ending affirmative action as we know it. This article makes an interesting point – if SFFA loses the federal case, it will definitely appeal; but, if Harvard loses, it could decide not to appeal, thereby keeping it out of an inhospitable court.
  • Additional useful/interesting links:
In the Harvard trial, there’s an understandable concern in that Asian American students disproportionately receive lower ratings in the “personal characteristics” category. But SFFA is using this important, yet relatively limited, issue to do something with far-reaching implications: end race-conscious admission across all publicly funded universities in the US. Again, you’ll see a similar theme in Hartford.