The Failure of Busing


This was something that I wrote for a class when going for my Education masters. It was on the topic of schools segregation.

After Brown V. Board of Education made one form of segregation-schools banning African American students from admission-illegal within the United States, there were still significant problems with diversity in schools. Many schools were desegregated, but not integrated, while zoned schools in majority-minority areas had few white students. A significant source of this was the aftermath of decades of racist policies like redlining, which led to African Americans living in different geographic areas than white people. Another cause was white flight, when white Americans moved to the suburbs, or sent their children to private schools.

An example of this was in Detroit after the 1967 riots. In 1971, Judge Stephen J. Roth determined that the schools were illegally segregated, but there was a problem in finding a solution. As Tanner Colby wrote for Slate…

Because so many whites had already fled the city, there weren’t enough white kids left to integrate Detroit’s schools. Roth ruled that the only way to create a meaningful racial balance in Detroit’s public schools was to include all of the surrounding suburban school districts in the proposed remedy; he mandated that the state of Michigan create a busing plan that would take thousands of black kids out into fortress suburbia and haul thousands of white kids back downtown.

This did not go over well with parents. The major sticking point was the decision to send white students to primarily black schools. Even if those schools offer a fine academic education, these would not offer “greater access to the social networks and cultural norms that govern the allocation of wealth and power” that parents had made sacrifices in order to access. Mandating genuine integration is also difficult, as that requires getting individual students to change their behavior. African-American parents also didn’t care for the replacement of one “onerous, top-down system that told them where their children could and could not go to school” for another. A 1972 Gallup poll on busing saw 77 percent opposition from white Americans, and 47 percent opposition from African-Americans.

In a response to Tanner’s article, Jamelle Bouie was more sympathetic to the bureaucrats and judges who supported busing. Considering the political environment at the time, he asked if  a majority of white Americans supported practices like redlining, why should policy makers “just wait to fix the problem of housing” rather than using every tool at their disposal? He quoted history professor Brian Dauigherty’s observation that “busing had been used for decades to promote segregation.”

In the aftermath of the controversy, the Supreme Court made it easier for suburban enclaves to “be as economically, socially, and geographically isolated from the city as it wanted to be.” (Tanner) In addition to white flight, many African-American families with the means to do so also left the cities for the suburbs, leaving “an ever-diminishing pool of lower income black kids and white kids being shuffled around the map in order for America to pretend it was solving a problem.” In Kansas City in the 1980s, there was a different kind of solution. Magnet schools were constructed with a cost twice the state average per student to draw white students, neglecting to consider that a disproportionate number of white students were already in decent schools in the suburbs. Arne Duncan, the outgoing secretary of education was asked in a recent interview what the federal government had done to promote integration, and he said the main thing was providing greater funding for magnet schools, so it remains one of the current approaches.

The problems still persist. A high percentage of African American (and also Hispanic) students are in segregated schools, and there is a significant achievement gap. Various solutions have been proposed, including bringing back a military draft as a method of integrating young adults, and replacing zoned schools with a voucher system, allowing parents more choices. Some districts have lotteries allowing some students access to top-tier schools, although this means that luck is an important part of official policy. There are also some system where minority students have to enter a lottery to be accepted into a school, while white and Asian students don’t (because the school gets higher funds if a quarter students are members of racial majorities.)

Gentrification is a complex issue that touches on this in many ways, changing the shape of neighborhoods. Many of the people who already live in the area are beneficiaries of new revenue sources, and it often comes with an increase in the quality of services. On the other hand, there can also be problems when some people are forced out. Communities are splintered, and the former residents no longer have the social support systems they relied on for decades when neighbors and family members move to new and different areas.

What do you guys think? Presumably we can’t ban private schools and homeschooling. Are there any ways in which the environment has changed, so that efforts that failed in the past might succeed? Should schools offer more in the way of networking? Should the primary focus be on providing a better education to all students? Is there another solution?

Works Cited:

Benedikt, Allison, and Dan Kois. ‘ Mom and Dad Are Fighting: The Another Obama Administration Official Edition’. Panoply. N.p., 2015. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Bouie, Jamelle. “When America Said “No” to the War on Segregation.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 4 Feb. 2014. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

Colby, Tanner. “How the Liberal Embrace of Busing Hurt the Cause of Integration.” Slate. 3 Feb. 2014. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.


About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at
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