Stepping over the Color Line

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African-American Students in White Suburban Schools

Amy Stuart Wells and Robert L. Crain

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This important book takes the discussion of racial inequality in America beyond simplistic arguments of white racism and black victimization to a more complex conversation about the separate but unequal situation in many schools today. Amy Stuart Wells and Robert Crain investigate the St. Louis, Missouri, school desegregation plan, a unique agreement that since 1983 has given black inner-city students the right to choose to attend predominantly white suburban schools. After five years of research and hundreds of interviews with policymakers, administrators, teachers, students, and parents, Wells and Crain conclude that when school desegregation is examined from these many perspectives, more strengths than weaknesses emerge. They call for a reexamination of now-popular school choice policies across the country so that these policies may help to bring about more racial and social-class integration.

Stepping over the Color Line intertwines data on student achievement and racial isolation with stories of the people who participated in the St. Louis program. The authors set these individuals within a broad historical and social context and demonstrate how important linkages between the past and present help explain why efforts to overcome racial inequality—in St. Louis and in the larger society—are so difficult.

"The authors do a superb job of explaining how this innovative program came about, placing it in a broad context that takes it beyond its immediate and local implications. The book is at times heartbreaking and at times uplifting."—Richard Zweigenhaft, co-author of Blacks in the White Establishment? A Study of Race and Class in America

Amy Stuart Wells is associate professor of educational policy, UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. Robert L. Crain is professor of the sociology of education, Teachers College, Columbia University.

"The authors do a superb job of explaining how this innovative program came about, placing it in a broad context that takes it beyond its immediate and local implications. The book is at times heartbreaking and at times uplifting."—Richard Zweigenhaft

"School desegregation is unfashionable these days, but no one has come close to proposing a better solution to the problems of racial separation, social isolation (of whites as well as blacks), and educational inequality that are endemic to American schools. Wells and Crain have the courage to insist that old-fashioned ideals are still of value, the integrity to show how those ideals get tarnished by reality, and the analytic skills to distinguish desegregative success from failure and to explain them both. This is a wise and helpful book in an arena desperately in need of both wisdom and help."—Jennifer L. Hochschild

"[A book] with a high quotient of objectivity that should engage those active, as professionals or protesters, in desegregation cases."—Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

"This description of the accomplishments of one school desegregation plan provides insights into much broader dialogue on the role of race in America."—Resources in Education

"Comprehensive and often insightful analysis."--Andre A. Jackson, Washington Post

ISBN: 9780300067606
Publication Date: May 29, 1997
392 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4