Representation, Structure, and Public Management in School Desegregation: An Examination of Student Outcomes



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As we near the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, questions still remain about its salience and our ability to provide equal educational opportunities to students of all races and ethnicities. Additionally, scholars and observers alike note the continual shift toward resegregation in American schools, but few have probed exactly why this occurs and the empirical implications of this shift. As such, this dissertation project explores the ?new? political domain of school desegregation policy to understand why some school districts are resegregating while others maintain their racial balance, and the substantive implications of this divide for minority students.

The goal of this research is two-fold. First, I investigate the determinants of desegregation policy, arguing that a set of institutional (representation), structural, and management factors best predict a district?s level of racial balance as an indicator of the active pursuit of desegregation. Second, I examine student outcomes and performance under both educational settings?racially balanced and imbalanced?to determine where students fare better and how much the racial context matters to student outcomes. I frame this question theoretically in the organizational theory research on external control, in which I argue that the policy environment, in this case, the racial context as denoted by the level of racial balance, influences the extent to which structure, representation, and management affect outcomes. I compare outcomes under the two policy environments, racially balanced and imbalanced districts, to see their effect on the noted factors and where students fare better.

The general results show that the broad assumption and desegregation literature finding that racially balanced schools are better for minority students is not supported. Minority students can also gain the same if not better outcomes in racially imbalanced districts. I also find that while the tested predictors play an important role, the policy environment significantly contributes to their role and outcomes. For policy makers and practitioners this means that one way to gain the equality that the Brown decision sought is to shift the focus on improving board and teacher representation or management strategies and practices. The dissertation challenges assumptions of political decisions and outcomes that fail to consider the external policy environment.