Could school resegregation push white students to become Democrats as adults?
When the courts end compulsory school desegregation efforts and these schools subsequently split up, what happens to the political perspectives of the white students of those schools as they reach adulthood?
Research published earlier this year which focused on school districts in six southern states might provide some clues. He says in such situations, white students who entered high school right after their districts were fired from court-ordered desegregation plans were 3.8 percentage points more likely to align with the Democratic Party in adulthood in 2020 than their white peers who either graduated from those districts prior to these layoffs, or who were in districts that remained under these orders from 1990 to 2014.
Addressing school segregation and its effects on everything from education funding to student outcomes in life is a key issue for many political leaders and others in education; the number of districts subject to judicial desegregation orders has declined over the past decades, although it is difficult to obtain accurate and consistent information on these orders.
The study does not go into detail as to why different districts lifted court orders. School districts can show they achieved desegregation in order to have court orders lifted, although there is also evidence that lax enforcement and oversight of those orders has led to a decrease in their influence.
How teachers and district leaders talk about race in the classroom has become a polarizing national political issue These last months. And more broadly, even small changes in partisanship in the states included in the study, such as Florida and Georgia, can have immense political consequences.
In her working paper, which is under peer review, Taylor Mattia, a Ph.D. candidate in politics at New York University, wrote that her findings support a theory that increased exposure whites to other racial groups causes them to see a threat to their own identity and to respond negatively to these other groups. “In the context of educational settings, exposure alone can generate negative reactions,” wrote Mattia, who has also studied the effect of education spending on voter turnout and is an affiliate researcher with the Public Safety Lab of NYU.
Noting that the Democratic Party attracts more people of color than the Republican Party, Mattia also wrote in her article that: “These findings [are] potentially disturbing. They imply a higher likelihood of identification with the Democratic Party among whites due to the increased social distance between whites and students of color. “
However, a different theory maintains that contact and interaction with different racial groups reduces negative stereotypes and leads to greater affinity and cooperation between people of these groups. And it’s important to note that other recent research on this general topic has yielded significantly different results than Mattia’s.
For example, a study of white men bused to predominantly black schools in Louisville, Ky., In the 1970s found these men were more likely to be registered Democrats. four decades later.
And a study of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina found a correlation between an increase in the number of students of color enrolled in schools and a decrease in the later likelihood of students enrolling as Republicans, a correlation largely due to the partisan affiliation of white students. as adults.
While court-ordered desegregation efforts have often played an important role in debates about diversity and race in education, they are not the only efforts by policy makers and educators to improve things like socio-economic diversity of their schools. Some districts have undertaken various integration efforts voluntarily.
Recent poll data indicates that while parents of different racial and political backgrounds tend to say that they would prefer their children to attend racially and economically integrated schools, their decisions about their children’s schooling often do not match those preferences. declared..
A 2016 Federal Watchdog Report found that the share of racially and economically isolated schools was increasing, although claims that the report showed increased school segregation were disputed.
The links between the experiences of adolescents and their adult politics should be studied closely
In an interview about her study, “Clustered Schools, Racial Attitudes, and Long-Term Partisanship: Evidence of White Backlash,” Mattia noted that the research encompasses a much larger number of schools, districts and students than Louisville and Charlotte Studies. -Mecklenburg mentioned above.
Mattia said she was interested in the topic because many studies focus on the influence of parents on their children’s political outlook, but less on the impact of schools on things like partisan affiliation.
“If I know you’re a Democrat at 25, there’s a good chance you’ll become a Democrat at 50,” Mattia said in an interview. “We know that the experiences of adolescents are important in forming partisanship. “
For her research, Mattia focused on public high schools in the districts of Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, and sorted the districts according to whether the desegregation ordered by the tribunal was maintained or dismissed between 1990 and 2014; Mattia chose these states because of their relatively strong data on racial identity and partisan voter identification.
It is not fair to assume that digital diversity will translate into positive results.
Mattia also replicated previous research to show that judicial desegregation layoffs led to actual race-based resegregation in the high schools she studied. She then collected data on individual students from the schools presence on Classmates, a social networking site, and linked that data to information about their race and partisan affiliation.
She also found no significant connection between the rejection of court-ordered integration in a district and a subsequent migration of white parents to that district.
The connection between white students in relegated schools and their future affiliation as Democrats was strongest among those already attending predominantly white high schools when their district court-ordered desegregation was rejected. When Mattia investigated whether the rejection of court-ordered desegregation had an effect on the adult partisan affiliation of black and Latino students, she found none.
The idea that desegregation policies can provoke a threat of response is a real concern for schools and others, but it is also on a complicated spectrum of reactions and not “insurmountable” for such efforts, said Peter. Piazza, researcher at the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education. Evaluation, which studies school integration efforts.
If people focus too much on the potential negative responses from white students, Piazza said, “I’d be worried people would say, ‘Well, what’s the point of integration? “He also pointed to research showing the benefits that white students in various schools report. when it comes to issues such as engagement, security and civic participation.
In an Education Week story about schools named for segregationist politiciansWillie Bright, a black member of the South Carolina community served by Strom Thurmond High School, named after the longtime US Senator, said: “Just because they go through the same door as it is integrated. The school is as segregated as it has ever been.
Beyond school-level enrollment figures, issues such as racial disparities in participation in advanced courses have also received attention.
Ultimately, Mattia said, schools should strive to create opportunities for students of different races to forge friendships and (as she said in her discussion paper) other “close, meaningful and cooperative ”in the schools themselves.
“There is a lot of other research showing that, at least at the classroom level, there are actions that teachers and administrators and even elected school district officials can take to ensure that racial diversity leads. to more positive results, ”Mattia said in the interview. “It is not fair to assume that digital diversity will translate into positive results. “