What do you see? The supreme court decision in PICS and the resegregation of two southern school districts


Background/Context: In June 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to prohibit student assignment on the basis of race. In Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (hereafter referred to as PICS), the court deemed race-based strategies used to voluntarily desegregate school districts to be unconstitutional. Although lhe ruling certainly has important practical implications for the desegregation of U. S. schools, the PICS decision is also significant for what it reflects about the climate surrounding school segregation. Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: One purpose of this article is to examine the larger landscape of contemporary views in which the PICS decision is situated. As such, the focus is less on the specific impact on student assignment policies and more on the broader picture of desegregation and education. A second purpose of this article is to illustrate the important role that critical race theory (CRT) can play in viewing these issues. Specifically, the author uses CRT to analyze the historical and contemporary conditions of two adjacent school districts and to connect the conditions in these districts to the PICS ruling. Insofar as neither district, at least on the surface, was directly impacted by the PICS decision in a practical sense, these cases provide a different means through which to understand the potential significance of PICS. Research Design: This article is an analytic essay that draws on both historical accounts and contemporary descriptive data from the two school districts. Conclusions/Recommendations: The data reviewed in this article highlight the ongoing resegregation of the two districts. I argue that this resegregation is tied to collective definitions of segregation that are supported by color-blindness and the valuing of private choice. These collective definitions are also clearly reflected in PICS and represent the connection between the Supreme Court decision and the conditions in two districts that ostensibly are not impacted by the ruling. Insofar as these collective definitions shape the way that we view school segregation, we will not be able to address the ongoing inequity tied to segregation until we change what we see. Copyright © by Teachers College, Columbia University.

Publication Title

Teachers College Record

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