IN THE FALL or 1979, Central High School opened to serve all public-high-school students in the district - no matter their race, no matter whether they lived in the city's public-housing projects or in one of the mansions along the meandering* Black Warrior River. The mega-school, a creative solution to a complex problem, resulted from many hours of argument and nego iation in McFadden's* chambers. It was spread across two campuses—ninth- and tenth-graders at the former black high school, now called Central West; 11th- and 12th-graders at the old white high school, called Central East. (The judge's order also created three single-grade middle schools.)
All traces of the segregated system, from the mascots* to the school colors of the two former schools, were discarded. All of Tuscaloosa's public-high-school students would now unite under the red-and-white banner of the Falcons. As one of the biggest schools in the state, Central would offer classes in subjects ranging from Latin to forensics.
Over the years, Central racked up* debate-team championships. Its math team dominated at state competitions. The cheerleaders tumbled their way to nationals, and the Falcons football team trounced* local competitors so badly, some refused to play against it. Central students were regularly named National Merit Scholars. In 2001, the state found Central's projected dropout rate to be less than half Alabama's average.
"Central and its resources could reach any child," said Robert Coates, a former principal of the school.
The school was hardly perfect. Black students were disproportionately funneled into vocational classes, and white students into honors classes*. Some parents complained that competitive opportunities were limited to just the very best students and athletes because the school, at 2,300 students, was so large. And the white flight that had begun when the courts first ordered the district to desegregate continued, slowly, after the formation of the mega-school. But despite these challenges, large numbers of black students studied the same robust curriculum as white students, and students of both races mixed peacefully and thrived.
Desegregation had been wrenching* and complicated, but in Tuscaloosa and across the country, it achieved undeniable results. During the 1970s and '80s, the achievement gap between black and white 13-year-olds was cut roughly in half nationwide.
Some scholars argue that desegregation had a negligible effect on overall academic achievement. But the overwhelming body of research shows that once black children were given access to advanced courses, well-trained teachers, and all the other resources that tend to follow white, middle-income children, they began to catch up.
A 2014 study conducted by Rucker Johnson, a public-policy professor at the University of California at Berkeley, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found desegregation's impact on racial equality to be deep, wide, and long-lasting. Johnson examined data on a representative sample of 8,258 American adults born between 1945 and 1968, whom he followed through 2011. He found that black Americans who attended schools integrated by court order were more likely to graduate, go on to college, and earn a degree than black Americans who attended segregated schools. They made more money: five years of integrated schooling increased the earnings of black adults by 15 percent. They were significantly less likely to spend time in jail. They were healthier.
Notably, Rucker also found that black progress did not come at the expense of white Americans — white students in integrated schools did just as well academically as those in segregated schools. Other studies have found that attending integrated schools made white students more likely to later live in integrated neighborhoods and send their own children to racially diverse schools.
Source: The Atlantic magazine, May 2014
* to meander - schlängeln, mäandern
* McFadden - judge McFadden presided over the case that resulted in the creation in a single, integrated high school for all of Tuscaloosa's (Alabama) students , in 1979. The school would be split apart 21 years later.
* mascots - Maskottchen
* to rack up - (Siege) einfahren
* to trounce - vernichtend schlagen
* honors classes - Kurse mit erhöhtem Anforderungsniveau
* wrenching - qualvoll
1. How did segregated schools in Tuscaloosa, Ala, become integrated?
2. In spite of integration, black students were sometimes discriminated against. How?
3. What did Rucker Johnson's study of 2014 show?
4. By consulting the internet, has school integration made further progress or has it suffered from backlashes?