Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009
The George H.W. Bush Years: From Desegregation to Racial Imbalance
While the focus on standards and school finance was developing, learning standards and changes were making an impact on school desegregation, special education, and the education of students whose native language is other than English. As state courts exhibited more support for school-finance redistribution claims, federal courts were backing away from school desegregation orders, allowing many urban districts to return to "neighborhood school" or "freedom-of-choice" plans, which tend to result in racially imbalanced enrollments. After the U.S. Supreme Court's 1974 decision in Milliken v. Bradley limited desegregation efforts to the boundaries of a municipality, urban schools filled with greater and greater concentrations of minorities, and busing orders had less and less effect on the overall racial composition of any given school (simply because there were fewer white students to enroll in the cities' predominantly minority schools). By the 1990s, federal courts had begun to respond to this situation by releasing schools from what the judges considered "ineffectual" busing plans.
As Jack Jennings noted, "The dissolution of federal court orders requiring the busing of schoolchildren to achieve integration will in all likelihood lead to further racial isolation." The end of race-based school assignments and the expansion of school choice plans further indicated that racial integration no longer lay at the center of judgments of "educational equality" or "educational adequacy" in the public schools. Increasingly, policymakers turned their attention to improving the quality of education by improving instructional programs within racially imbalanced schools-an emphasis resembling the approach that had guided the early implementation of the ESEA in the mid-1960s. This emphasis on improving instructional programs applied not only to inner-city schools with majority black enrollments but also to urban schools with majority Hispanic enrollments. As Jennings noted, "Children of Hispanic origin are also becoming increasingly concentrated in schools with children who share their ethnic background, and Hispanic children are fast becoming the largest minority group in American schools."