Since 1969, Schar School Public Policy Professor Emeritus David Armor has worked on more than 50 cases concerning school desegregation. In the past, he has shown that busing brings few academic advantages, and his latest work concerning the growing "controlled choice" movement has come to similar conclusions.
While many think the issue has receded into the past, Armor contends “busing is still an issue in some larger [school] districts that have implemented economic integration plans,” including counties in North Carolina and Kentucky, he told PolitiFact this fall. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, opponents have gone to court over desegregation issues.
Armor’s ideas have not changed over time. As an assistant professor at Harvard in 1972, Armor published “The Evidence on Busing,” which was a provocative essay to publish during a time when desegregation was at the forefront of the conversation.
“The Supreme Court ordered busing not because of achievement or benefits, but because it was a remedy to unconstitutional policies in the South that caused segregation,” said Armor. “My essay found that busing was not having positive effects in increasing academic achievement.”
In 1978, a judge ordered a merger between predominately African American Wilmington County, Del., and the suburban school district of New Castle County; the merger involved busing between the two districts. Armor served on a panel with then-Delaware Senator Joe Biden. “He liked my views, because he was in favor of desegregation but not this massive forced busing policy between Wilmington and suburban school districts,” he said. (It was former presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ attack on Biden’s past view of busing that sparked the new controversy.)
In modern times, “controlled choice” has become a new form of busing, Armor said.
“Controlled choice is a method of assigning students to schools when school boards want to promote diversity, either racial or economic,” he writes in a new paper published by the Cato Institute.
In the paper, Armor analyzes controlled choice programs in six large Southern school districts in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Florida.
“When the Supreme Court dropped the requirement of racial balance, there was a movement to replace it with economic balance,” said Armor. “Controlled choice was packaged as a choice program, but the fact is that it was a choice to some students but mandatory reassignment for others. That turned out to be just about as controversial as the original mandatory busing plans.”
He notes that a mandatory school desegregation program was recently adopted by Howard County, Md., and has drawn strong protests and demonstrations by parents who want to keep their neighborhood schools. It seems the issue never entirely goes away.