Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Has Desegregation Had an Overall Negative Effect?

No. That's not what the book argues. It's more like this: segregation was a cancer on American society, and desegregation was like a powerful drug that combatted the cancer. Powerful drugs can have side effects that need to be addressed, but that doesn't mean that it was better to have cancer.

Two recent blog posts (by Matthew Yglesias and Jamelle Bouie at Tapped) make the mistake of assuming that my book argues that desegregation was an overall negative. They then point to statistics from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showing that the black-white test score gap has moderately decreased since 1978. They then conclude that "the resources made available by desegregation have done a lot to improve educational outcomes among African Americans" (Bouie) and that "desegregation probably has had some ironic effects, but the main effects of African-Americans’ greater economic, social, and cultural equality have been about what you would expect" (Yglesias).

Yes, but this is missing the point. I expressly point out in the book that desegregation had lots of benefits — the fact that it arguably had one ironic side effect doesn’t imply that it had an overall negative effect. Moreover, Roland Fryer’s empirical work suggested that the “acting white” effect (that is, the popularity penalty suffered by blacks with high grades, which he found mostly in well-integrated schools) “explain[s] 11.3% of the black-white test score gap.” In other words, absent this effect, the benefits of desegregation could have been greater, and black kids would be doing even better today.



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