B. Together But So Far Apart: Uneven Knowledge of and Access to High-Track Classes

The privilege and political power of white parents and students not only influenced the way school desegregation plans were designed, it also strongly influenced who had knowledge of and access to certain classes within racially diverse schools. We recognize that there were many factors affecting the resegregation of students within desegregated schools, including the often unequal schooling that blacks and Latino students had been receiving prior to desegregation, as well as the higher poverty rates of their families, and even these students' hesitancy to demand access to predominately white classes. But we also have a great deal of evidence in our data to suggest that white students were given more information about and easier access to the upper-level classes.

From blatant tracking practices that labeled students as "gifted" or "non-gifted" as early as kindergarten and then channeled them through the grade levels in the "appropriate" classes, to more subtle forms of sorting students that used teacher recommendations to decide who got into the best classes, the schools and districts we studied managed to create incredible and consistent levels of segregation within each school. As with the more frequent busing of black students, the preferred access to upper-level classes given to whites was in part a strategy to appease white parents. The timeframe we are studying is important in this regard because it was the late 1970s when the Advanced Placement ("AP") program was just becoming prominent, especially in high schools serving students from upper-middle-class backgrounds.

At all six of the high schools we studied, students talked about seeing many of the same students in all of the upper-level classes. "Schools within schools" was a phrase that was used often to describe the special, predominantly white configuration of advanced classes and students within desegregated schools. A white, 1980 graduate of Shaker Heights High School noted that while it was not always the exact same twenty students in every upper-level class, "it would be very unusual to see somebody, like a new face in one class that you didn't see in any other class."

At Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood, New Jersey, which was only about 36% white by the time the Class of 1980 arrived, a high-track white student commented that the more "academically stringent" the class, the fewer black students there were enrolled. He noted that in his AP biology class, there were one or two black students, and in calculus there was only one, even though the school was almost 60% black. When asked if the racial makeup of the upper-level classes was something that students at Dwight Morrow talked about, this white graduate stated that "there was like two societies going on at the academic level."

The graduate also recalled that many African-American students in the lower-level classes lacked the information they needed to go on to college, including when or why to take the SATs. In contrast, white students were very well informed regarding what it took to get into college. The graduate commented: "There were people that knew that you're gonna do this stuff, and they just kind of marched along and did it, and there were other people who were totally out of it. Most people were just not included in it." A powerful theme emerging from Dwight Morrow was that the African-American graduates seemed to have much less understanding of the tracking system overall. At the same time, white students, whether they were in the most advanced classes or not, tended to be more aware of where they and their classes fit into the hierarchy.

The situation was similar at other schools in our study. For instance, a Latina graduate of Austin High School noted that looking back at her high school years, "I was never aware that there was maybe like an advanced, upper-level class for those that made As, and they were all predominantly white. I think they kind of put those students all together; they were making all As, and they were going to go with a certain instructor, and all be in the same room, together."

While this lack of information about the tracking hierarchy on the part of students of color and the lack of discussion regarding the resegregation by classroom of desegregated schools were powerful themes across the schools we studied, there were exceptions. For instance, a white graduate of Shaker Heights, who recalled that her advanced classes were about 95% white, remembered talking with one of the few African-American students in her AP Government class during her senior year. She said that she and the black student would walk home together every day, and occasionally they would talk about how there "were too many white males" in the AP classes:

I recall that there was a lot of discussion. . . about too many white males in government, and we've got to change that, and whether it's females or other races, we've got to change that. It was almost like we felt . . . we knew we were on the cusp of being the next generation of lawmakers or whatever we wanted to be, and we felt a great strength and anticipation at the ability to really be different and do something. . . I just really remember that, we were all just so excited.

Despite such optimism, it was clear from our data that in many instances students had been "tracked" into their gifted slots well before they got to high school. As an English teacher at Muir High School in Pasadena noted, the honors level classes were comprised of mostly white students primarily because such within-school segregation had existed in the middle school. Prior to the 1970s and court-ordered desegregation, the students of color had not had the opportunity to participate in the middle school honors program in large numbers. Thus, the teacher at Muir noted, "it followed that they would not be in the high school program for five years because you have to bring them up, you know, through the rest of the levels of honors, so they're prepared to do honors." But the teacher stated that after five or six years, while she did begin to see more African-Americans in the honors level classes, not many Latino students enrolled in them. She added that today, students are still "grouped and tracked" in the third grade into honors classes, a practice she referred to as "criminal" because by high school, good students are hesitant to take the honors classes if they have not previously been labeled as "honors" material.

A former English teacher from West Charlotte High School told us perhaps the most revealing story about tracking and race. When the now-retired teacher was in her first year at West Charlotte, the school was still all-black. This teacher and a small cohort of colleagues were among the first white teachers to be assigned to the historically black school. This teacher talked about the students in the all-black honors classes at West Charlotte as being very "bright," some of the best students and the best classes she ever taught. She said that at the time the school became desegregated the high-level black students were as good as the high-level white students who came into the school and took the black students' seats in those honors classes. The teacher said that she often wonders, "[w]hat would have happened to those [high-achieving black] students [without desegregation]? What did happen to them when the school became integrated and the high-level classes were predominately white?"

Across the racially diverse high schools in our study, at least two separate and unequal academic spheres existed. While many students of color felt that they did not have enough information about the different academic options, many of the white students who had been identified as gifted since they were in elementary school saw the upper-level classes as their manifest destiny.