School desegregation has been associated with better long-term outcomes for black students. Less is known about the long-term impact on white students who attended desegregated schools. An unknown: Did compulsory desegregation programs shape the political ideology of white college students as adults?
JÃ¶rg Spenkuch, Associate Professor of Managerial Economics and Decision Science at the Kellogg School, is interested in this question and how it could help shed light on larger ones: What drives our trends policies, and to what extent are they determined by the experiences we have when we are young?
To explore these ideas, Spenkuch teamed up with Ethan Kaplan, University of Maryland, and Cody Tuttle, postdoctoral researcher at Princeton. In new research, they are investigating whether white students who were court ordered to attend predominantly black schools in the 1970s in Louisville, Ky., Appear to have been shaped politically by experience.
Researchers believe this is the first paper to examine whether compulsory desegregation programs leave an imprint on the political views of white students 40 years after the fact.
And it seems that, indeed, they do. The researchers found that white men assigned to attend predominantly black schools in Louisville were more likely to be registered as Democrats and support liberal causes four decades later than their white peers who were not.
âFor policymakers who are currently considering removing school desegregation programs that are still in place or implementing new ones, what is important to understand is: what is the net effect of these programs? Spenkuch said.
An order of desegregation in Louisville
When in December 1974, a federal court ordered the desegregation of the public schools in Lousiville, it was a surprise and a heated controversy. The city and county of Jefferson in which it is located, each operated separate, unequal, and highly segregated school districts. In Louisville itself, about 80 percent of white students attended schools that were at least 90 percent white, and 76 percent of black students attended schools that were at least 90 percent black. The schools in Jefferson County were almost all white.
A court of appeal ruling in July 1975 ruled that full desegregation was to be enacted in Louisville and Jefferson County at the start of the next school year, which was less than two months away.
The ruling judge worked with experts from the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights and with staff from both school districts to quickly develop a viable transportation plan. The resulting plan called for children to be bused based on the first letter of their last name, grade level, and race.
Tuttle, who himself is from Louisville, has previously examined the economic impact of the same Louisville desegregation program on black and white students. In this article, he found that black students who were bused to predominantly white schools appeared to see economic benefits later in life, while at the same time there was no change in income. white students who attended predominantly black schools.
At the time, however, this plan sparked a violent white backlash; one of the first days of the school year, the Chicago Tribune reported, a crowd of 10,000 white students at a suburban high school set buses on fire and threw stones as black students attempted to board them.
Clearly, the court-ordered desegregation plan was greeted by many whites with an outburst of anger. But what have been some of the longer term effects on the attitudes of white college students?
Directories and registers of voter registration
To explore this, the researchers began by pulling the names from the 1974-1975 yearbooks of fifteen of the high schools that were part of the compulsory desegregation plan.
They hired Aristotle Inc., a company that maintains databases of registered voters and political donors, to obtain information on party registration, participation history and donations to various political groups.
The researchers’ sample included 8,900 white men, now in their late 50s and early 60s. Aristotle found at least one voter registration record that matched the name and presumed year of birth of about 70% of these men, which roughly matches voter registration rates nationwide.
Women were not included in the analysis because at that time it was likely that they had changed their last name upon marriage, making it impossible for the majority of them to link the names of the directory and voter registration records.
It is important to note that the 1974-1975 yearbook, from which the researchers drew their sample, documented the last school year before the announcement of the desegregation plan. Spenkuch says that a portion of the white students in those yearbooks who were then assigned to the bus likely left public schools in the area in order to stay in a predominantly white environment at a private school or another district.
The researchers did this for a reason, explains Spenkuch. At this point in their research, their goal was to capture the net impact the desegregation plan had on all white students, whether or not they had ever been taken on the bus.
âYou can think of sitting on the bus and going to a predominantly black school as the direct effect of the program – call it the exposure effect,â says Spenkuch. âBut there could also be an indirect effect, which means that your parents take you out of public school and you have a different set of experiences. If you are interested in the overall effect of the bus then we want to capture those two effects.
For this reason, the researchers say their findings likely explain a “lower bound” in terms of the direct impact of white college students actually getting on a bus, as required by the ordinance.
Busing’s sustainable footprint
For the white men the study focuses on, receiving an assignment to be transported to a predominantly black school increases the likelihood of being registered as a Democrat 40 years later by more than two percentage points and decreases the likelihood. to register as a Republican by roughly the same amount.
âI was surprised at the magnitude of the effect on party registration,â says Spenkuch. “It is certainly a significant effect.”
Additionally, the effect on party affiliation is more pronounced among white men who have been assigned to attend predominantly black schools for two years, rather than one. (The court-mandated plan arbitrarily assigned some students to one year and others to two years on the bus.)
The researchers also found that those selected to attend predominantly black schools are significantly less likely to have donated to organizations or political candidates who oppose same-sex marriage or abortion.
In other words, it appears that being given an assignment to be transported to predominantly black schools had the effect of making the white males in the sample less politically conservative than their counterparts who had not received any credentials. mission to be taken by bus.
A broader look at racial attitudes
Spenkuch and his co-authors intend to continue this investigation. In future phases of their research, they plan to identify who ultimately graduated from which high schools and, therefore, see who followed up on their bus assignment. This will allow them to isolate the impact on white students who actually attended desegregated schools.
While waiting for funding, they also hope to interview thousands of men in their sample to collect more granular data and, ideally, come out with more nuanced information.
For example, they would like to know if being caught on a bus affected students’ attitudes towards race or towards specific social policies.
The ultimate goal of the research is to determine whether Louisville’s school desegregation program has weakened racial prejudice and stereotypes among white college students.
The answer to this question is not obvious, explains Spenkuch: On the one hand, it is possible that learning alongside black students had this effect on many white students. On the other hand, it is plausible, especially given the scale of white protests, that a strong reaction to forced desegregation caused some white individuals or communities to retreat into separate bubbles where racial prejudices still remained. stronger.
âMy point is that part of our job as social scientists is to explore the pros and cons of these policies,â says Spenkuch. âThen it will be up to policy makers and the general public to decide how to weigh them. “