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Americans Want Integrated Schools, But Oppose School Busing

Americans Want Integrated Schools, But Oppose School Busing

Americans prefer increased funding for schools in minority neighborhoods

by Mark Gillespie


PRINCETON, NJ -- School busing -- a staple of classroom integration programs since the 1960's -- is coming under increased criticism in the federal courts. Earlier this month, a U.S. District Court judge in Charlotte, North Carolina ordered an end to court-mandated busing programs in that city's schools starting next fall. On Tuesday, a hearing has been scheduled in Boston on a lawsuit filed by white parents seeking to end that city's court-ordered busing program.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in July suggests that Americans think busing served a positive historical purpose in improving the education of blacks, but in line with the recent dismantling of busing programs, most now reject busing in favor of improving neighborhood schools.

Two-thirds of Americans, 68%, agree that integration programs in general have helped improve the quality of education for black students. In addition, nearly six out of ten Americans believe more should be done to integrate the nation's classrooms. However, the vast majority would prefer to accomplish school integration through methods other than busing.

The belief that integration efforts have been successful is especially high among those Americans between the ages of 18-29 (80%), largely because members of that age group are likely to have attended integrated schools in their youth. However, the same level of support generally runs across all demographic lines. Historically, the overall percentage in the current poll remains at the high levels recorded in 1994, when 65% believed integration programs had improved the quality of education for black students. By way of comparison, in 1971, the percentage was just 43%, while in 1988, it rose to 55%. Americans are largely split over whether white students have benefited from integration programs. Just 50% of Americans believe they have, but when the numbers are broken out along racial lines, 64% of blacks believe the quality of education has improved for white students. This compares to just 48% of whites who share the same opinion. Again, though, there is a stronger level of support among younger Americans, with 69% of those aged 18-29 believing that there has been a benefit to white students.

Public Believes More Could Be Done
When asked whether more -- or less -- should be done to integrate school systems nationwide, 59% believe more should be done. As might be expected, 90% of blacks agree that more is needed -- compared to 54% of whites. Support is also higher among middle- and lower-income Americans, with 78% of those earning less than $20,000 annually believing that more should be done to integrate schools. Again, the current findings show a consistently high level of support during this decade, compared to polls taken in 1971, when just 30% of Americans shared that view.

There remains, however, a contradiction in what Americans want in terms of school integration and increased opportunities for minority students -- and what they are actually willing to do in order to accomplish it. When asked what should be done to improve the quality of education for minority students, the vast majority of Americans oppose busing programs. Eighty-two percent of those polled say letting students go to their neighborhood schools would be better than achieving racial balance through busing. Support for this position is highest among whites (87%), while blacks are split on the question -- 48% would prefer to keep students in neighborhood schools, while 44% support busing of students to achieve racial balance. Even 72% of those in the 18-29 age group -- who generally agree that integration programs have helped -- tend to believe that letting students attend their neighborhood schools is better than busing.

If busing is not the answer for many Americans, what is? Again, while the majority of Americans acknowledge that past integration efforts have been largely successful in improving the quality of education, when given a choice, six out of ten opt for increased funding and resources for minority schools, while only 26% prefer that integration efforts be increased.

Survey Methods
The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,031 adults, 18 years and older, conducted July 16-18, 1999. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

How do you feel about school integration? Do you feel it has improved the quality of education received by black students?

  Yes No No opinion
99 Jul 16-18 68% 26% 6%
94 Apr 22-24 65 28 7
1988 55 29 16

Next, do you feel that school integration has improved the quality of education received by white students?

  Yes No No opinion
99 Jul 16-18 50% 42% 8%
94 Apr 22-24 42 50 8
1988 35 47 18

Do you believe that more should be done -- or that less should be done -- to integrate schools throughout the nation?

  More Less NO CHANGE (vol.) No opinion
99 Jul 16-18 59% 28% 7% 6%
94 Apr 22-24 56 30 9 5
1988 37 23 31 9

Which do you think is the better way to help minority students -- [ROTATE 1-2/2-1] 1) Step up efforts to integrate white students with minority students in the public schools (or), 2) Increase funding and other resources for minority schools (or)?

  Step up integration efforts Increase minority school funding BOTH EQUALLY (vol.) NEITHER/ NONE/ OTHER (vol.) No opinion
99 Jul 16-18 26% 60% 5% 6% 3%
94 Apr 22-24 32 48 4 10 6

In your view, which of the following is better -- [ROTATE 1-2/2-1] 1) Letting students go to the local school in their community, even if it means that most of the students would be the same race (or), 2) Transferring students to other schools to create more integration, even if it means that some students would have to travel out of their communities to go to school?

  Letting students attend local schools Transferring students for integration No opinion
99 Jul 16-18 82% 15% 3%
94 Apr 22-24 85 12 3

(vol.) volunteered response

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