D. The Self-Fulfilling Prophecies of Becoming a "Bad" School: Challenge White Privilege and There Goes the School . . .

Finally, one more finding related to the way in which the promise of Brown remained unfulfilled in the context of a highly unequal and stratified society is that the reputations of the six high schools we studied tended to rise and fall with the demographic changes of their student bodies. Echoing the rationales for closing black schools in the 1960s and early 1970s, we found that the public's perception of racially mixed schools tended to deteriorate as the racial makeup of those schools became predominately nonwhite and the enrollment of upper-middle-class students declined. This phenomenon was particularly marked for the two schools in our study that had shifted from majority white to majority nonwhite in the late 1970s: Muir High School and Dwight Morrow High School. Two additional schools from our study, West Charlotte High School and Shaker Heights High School, have faced the same issues more recently because they have become majority nonwhite schools in the last ten years. Austin High School, meanwhile, has managed to maintain its majority white student population, though barely. Topeka High School has been the most racially stable.

In this section, we will highlight the experiences of Muir and Dwight Morrow because the white flight from these schools peaked during the era we studied. We think the lessons learned from the experiences of these two schools have a general relevance because, according to our interviews, West Charlotte had similar experiences in the more recent past, and both Shaker Heights and Austin High School appear to be facing some of these issues today.

1. Increasing Racial Diversity, Declining Reputations

Both Muir and Dwight Morrow high schools had maintained reputations as "good" and even "elite" schools as recently as the early 1970s, before they began to lose their wealthiest white students. For instance, both of these schools were more than fifty percent white in the late 1960s, but they were rapidly losing their white populations by the late 1970s. As the African-American and Latino populations began to increase in the two schools, people in the local communities began to question their quality. Former educators and graduates of these schools talked about these changing public perceptions and said that their schools had been unfairly maligned by both the public and the media. Both educators and graduates firmly believed that the declining reputation of their schools had little to do with the quality of programs offered, since those had not changed, especially for students in the upper-level classes. For instance, Dwight Morrow High School shifted from a predominately white student population in the late 1960s to a predominately African-American student population by the late 1970s, and as wealthy white parents from both the city of Englewood and Englewood Cliffs began to pull their high school students out of Dwight Morrow, there was a real sense that the quality of the school was in decline, even before the teaching staff, course offerings, or Ivy League acceptances had changed. A former Dwight Morrow teacher observed, "[a]s the population in the school changed, that's when the reputation began to change. As there was a change in the population then they said, 'Oh the quality of education is not as good."' A Dwight Morrow guidance counselor, when asked why this change in perception had occurred, noted:

I think a lot of it is just racism, I really do, because even--I mean I was in Teaneck High School in 1959 and Teaneck and Englewood and Hackensack had the only Black kids in the whole area, and you'd always hear something about Teaneck, Hackensack or Englewood. Now this is at a time when the schools were academically superior schools, so it wasn't like you could point [to]. . . the academic part. And I just think it snowballed until you had the white flight and there was always this perception.

John Muir High School in Pasadena suffered similar public perception problems as its African-American and Latino student populations increased. Muir had once been the crown jewel high school of the Pasadena school district, serving the children of wealthy white West Pasadena and La Canada families. After La Canada seceded from the district and built its own high school, Muir lost a large number of white students, and at that point its reputation began to decline. Many educators believed that this reputation was further hindered by the school's geographic location in the heart of what was becoming a heavily black area of Pasadena. As one former teacher explained:

Muir was known in the community as that school on that side of town. Strictly racial. . . At one point if you drew a line down the middle of this town. . . it was pretty much Black and White on either side. And in those days there weren't a lot of Latinos. . .So [Muir] was pretty much, you know, a ghetto school, if you will,--this was the mindset. There are people in this community that still think that way.

According to another teacher who taught at Muir in the late 1970s, there were a lot of rumors being passed around Pasadena about what a dangerous school Muir was. He recalled that people were saying, "[T]his is a very dangerous place and people get knifed there all the time, they have shootings, they have this--that wasn't true. If that was true I would have transferred to another school. I mean, I'm not suicidal. . . And these stories just passed through the community."

The rumors and perceptions of these schools were far removed from the educators' and students' daily experiences. While many teachers and students blame racism for the misperception, our respondents were also quick to point out that the local media fed these misperceptions by consistently covering minor racial incidents at these schools. The media also ignored the positive things happening there, as well as the problems in the more predominantly white schools.

2. The Media and Public Perceptions of Racially Diverse Schools

In Englewood, most of the educators and Class of 1980 graduates that we interviewed spoke of the negative reporting by the local news outlets, particularly the local newspapers. As a white graduate noted:

I think it was more this notion that the media was making [Dwight Morrow] out to be a bad school, that it was a problem school, that it was a dangerous school, and I just felt that it was being portrayed inaccurately. While, I didn't deny that there were problems and there were squabbles here and there, I think they were minor and I think if it happened between two white people in an all-white school no one would have made a big deal about it. But because it happened between a black and a white person. . . people read a lot more into it. . . I think things were being portrayed inaccurately and the media was kind of fueling things, it wasn't giving the school a chance to really kind of show how good it was and that people really did get along.

A long-time African-American teacher at Dwight Morrow also found the news coverage inaccurate, which reported that girls were raped and guys carried knives at the school:

In the thirty years that I've been here I've never seen a guy carrying a knife or a gun. I mean, there have been idle threats, people have gotten beat up--that happens in any school--but to say that it was a place that was violent, it's not true at all.

A white teacher at Englewood noted that the local newspapers not only highlighted negative incidents in the community's schools, but downplayed anything positive that went on there:

I remember one year our math club won the state championship, and it was a paragraph on like page 28 of the [the local paper]. But on the front page. . . was, "Student At Dwight Morrow Brings Knife to School." And no one ever even acknowledged that this math club had won the state championship.

Similar frustration with the media was expressed by the educators and graduates of John Muir High School. They complained particularly about coverage from the local newspaper, which they believed favored the high school in the white area of town, Pasadena High School ("PHS"), over Muir. A black 1980 graduate of Muir, like many of his classmates, observed that Muir always got a "really bad rap" in the local paper. He argued that while his school received a lot of negative publicity, most people did not hear about anything bad that happened at PHS. A white graduate echoed these sentiments, noting that "Any-any-any negative publicity that they could scrape up from Muir, they would! And did!" Meanwhile the graduate's wife, also a Muir graduate, said, "[i]f there was a fight at PHS, it was a small mention. . .You know, in the back of the paper. If it was a fight at Muir, it was front-page."

As an African-American former teacher noted, "I think Muir has always gotten a bad rap" because of where it is located or because it was more black and Latino than other schools. She told us that the reports of violence and other disturbances were wrong:

I was never afraid to work here. . . There were some experiences that maybe weren't so hot, like breaking up fights and making sure things did not happen, but those are normal things connected with education, but as far as it being the roughest and toughest, I don't think we had any more incidents than the other high school, it was just that Muir was always highlighted.

This teacher told us about a group of Muir teachers who went so far as to have meetings with the local newspaper staff to try to convince them to stop their negative reporting. The teachers were not successful.

3. Self-Fulfilling Prophecies Amid the Absence of White Privilege

Today, more than twenty years after the period we studied, our interview data suggest that perhaps both Dwight Morrow and John Muir have become more like the schools that newspapers were reporting them to be in the 1970s: troubled by gangs and concentrated poverty. Total enrollment in both schools is down, there are virtually no white students left, and the range of course offerings has dwindled, leading to a more watered down curriculum. Average test scores are also down, leaving both high schools ranked very low on their state assessments.

Perhaps these two high schools, along with predominantly black West Charlotte High School, stand as a testament to the old adage that "green follows white." One of the primary motivations behind pushing for desegregation was that schools with large percentages of white and wealthy students are more likely to have resources, the best teachers, and a more challenging curriculum. Either through parental donations or political clout, such schools usually secure sufficient resources to make their schools the very best. Once those white and affluent families left, over time, predominantly black and Latino schools too often came to resemble the poor reputations that preceded their decline.

The greatest irony we learn from studies such as ours is that from the perspective of African-American and Latino parents, students, and educators, it is hard to live with white privilege and hard to live without it. In other words, because white privilege pervades so many aspects of our society, schools with large numbers of white and affluent students are likely to be the most prestigious. When these schools also have significant numbers of black and Latino students in them, they are likely to be fairly segregated by classrooms, with white students comprising the majority of the students in the upper-level classes. At the same time, once the white students leave and upper-level classes become more integrated, the reputation and eventually the quality of the schools decline because the resources and status decrease.

Interestingly, the three schools from our study that have lost the majority of their white populations were the three schools most likely to challenge, albeit rather meekly, the automatic privilege of whites and the status quo within their schools. For instance, of the six schools that we studied, Muir and Dwight Morrow had moved further along the path towards instituting multicultural curriculum than the other four schools, and it was in Englewood and Charlotte that African-American parents and activists challenged the tracking system.

In the end, such challenges appear to be pyrrhic victories, as these three schools have lost not only their white students but also the prestige and status in their communities that they once enjoyed.