Debate puts ‘busing’ back in the news

Three years ago, I read Matt Delmont’s “Why Busing Failed” and wrote a post about it. It never occurred to me that the book’s theme would emerge as a theme in the 2020 presidential campaign.

Yet here we are. Since last Thursday’s Democratic candidate debate, when Kamala Harris called out Joe Biden for working with segregationists to oppose busing, the reality of America’s segregated schools has become part of the national conversation.

Reporters are revisiting the history of school desegregation efforts – especially in Berkeley, California, where Harris rode a bus as a young student. And pundits are weighing in with various hot takes, often to the effect that busing is unpopular and would be a losing issue for Democrats.

But as Delmont, a historian at Dartmouth, has made clear, the busing story isn’t straightforward. Court-ordered busing made great progress at desegregating public schools. But resistance by white parents in Northern cities captured the media lens, and politicians jumped on board.

Today, the conventional wisdom is that we tried busing and it didn’t work. It’s not that simple.

“In public-policy debates and popular memory … the perspectives of students have been overshadowed by those of antibusing parents and politicians,” Delmont writes this week in the Atlantic. “As a result, the successes of school desegregation have been drowned out by a chorus of voices insisting busing was an inconvenient, unfair, and failed experiment.”

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Candidate claims own path, but will it matter?

Jennifer McCormick, the Republican candidate for Indiana superintendent of public instruction, seemed to walk back her support of school vouchers at a candidate debate this week. She also came out forcefully for better pay and more autonomy for teachers.

But that may be too little, too late to win her much support from educators, often a key constituency for anyone who wants to be elected the state’s chief school officer.

McCormick is challenging Democratic Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who won the loyalty of many teachers by slaying the education-reform dragon Tony Bennett in the 2012 election and later by standing up to Gov. Mike Pence and his appointed State Board of Education.

At the debate, which took place in Fort Wayne and can be watched on the State Impact Indiana website, McCormick attacked Ritz for sloppy management of the Indiana Department of Education and poor communication with school districts. Ritz defended her record and pointed to her Vision 2020 plan for universal pre-K, less testing and improved high school graduation rates.

Ritz’s supporters have cast McCormick as “Tony Bennett 2.0,” a kinder, gentler version of the former superintendent, whom teachers loved to hate. McCormick, the superintendent of Yorktown Community Schools, insists she’s just a professional educator who decided to run out of frustration.

“It is time we put students before politics, which has not happened for the last eight years,” she said.

That’s a smart statement, because going back eight years takes in Bennett’s tenure as well as Ritz’s. But the idea that you can remove politics from an elected office in this era of Continue reading