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Desegregation and Black Dropout Rates. By Jonathan Guryan. History of Desegregation. Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) Brown v. Board of Education (1954) stated segregated schools were “inherently unequal” Over next 30 years, schools implemented desegregation plans. Problem.

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Desegregation and Black Dropout Rates

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Desegregation and black dropout rates

Desegregation and Black Dropout Rates

By Jonathan Guryan

History of desegregation

History of Desegregation

  • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

  • Brown v. Board of Education (1954) stated segregated schools were “inherently unequal”

  • Over next 30 years, schools implemented desegregation plans



What was the contribution of court-ordered desegregation to this decline in dropout rates?



Previous work

Previous Work

  • James S. Coleman (1966) concluded that disadvantaged black school children learn better in well integrated classrooms

    • Main study behind busing

    • Criticisms of statistical methodology

  • Robert Crain and Jack Strauss (1985) randomly offered chance to be bused to suburban school

    • More likely to work in white-collar, professional jobs 17 years later

  • Michael A. Boozer et al (1992) found that black students who go to high school with a higher fraction of black students complete less schooling and earn lower wages

    • Guryan aims to refine Boozer’s study

Desegregation process

Desegregation Process

  • The 2nd Brown decision gave enforcement responsibilities to federal district courts on a case-by-case basis

    • Timing of integration varied at the school-district level

  • The 1964 Civil Rights Act allowed US Department of Justice to join suit in non-compliant school districts and prohibited aid for segregated schools

  • Green v. New Kent County (1968) forced schools to take positive actions to integrate schools instead of simply removing race-based attendance restrictions

Inter and intra regional variation of desegregation

Inter - and Intra - Regional Variation of Desegregation

  • Of 22 districts that desegregated in 1960’s, 7 were outside of the south

  • Similarly, of the 77 districts that desegregated in the 1970’s, 35 were outside of the south

  • Variation in timing of desegregation plans, not explained by regional differences

Effectiveness of desegregation plans

Effectiveness of Desegregation Plans

  • Effect of desegregation plans on racial composition of school districts

    • Did desegregation plans lead to more racial integration?

    • Did integration happen immediately or over the course of several years?

    • Did racial integration last for the ten years that are relevant for the analysis

White flight

“White Flight”

  • Coleman (1975) suggested desegregation increased white migration out of cities

  • Later research found that white migration was not enough to fully offset desegregation plans

    • Welch and Light (1987) - desegregation from 60’s to 70’s decreased dissimilarity index by 20%

    • Rossell and Armor (1996) - net effect of 10% to 20% increase in fraction of white students at black students’ schools

    • Reber (2002) - immediate integration effects followed by gradual segregation; 2/3 of effects remain after 10 years

Measures of racial integration

Measures of Racial Integration

  • Black exposure index - measures fraction of white students at typical black student’s school

  • Dissimilarity index - measures school-level integration (conditional on racial composition of the district)



Role of legal precedent

Role of Legal Precedent

  • Did civil rights groups focus on districts where desegregation would provide greatest benefit?

    • Is timing of desegregation a function of time-varying determinants of student achievement?

  • Legal precedent played major role in where civil rights groups focused

    • Brought suit where they had the highest probability of success

  • Therefore, to determine the effects of desegregation on dropout rates, must focus on controlling for characteristics that made legal victory more likely there (as opposed to providing most benefit)



Ways desegregation can affect black dropout rates

Ways Desegregation Can Affect Black Dropout Rates

  • Reassignment of students affects the peers with which students attend school

  • Desegregation may move black students to better schools

  • Other effects of desegregation plans on black educational outcomes

    Data is not available to separately identify these individual

    effects. Therefore, the paper must look at the net effect of


Other difficulties

Other difficulties

  • There is difficulty differentiating between school integration and the factors that led to desegregation

  • Data sets are inadequate to estimate year-to-year changes in dropout rates

    • Too small

    • Dropout rates by race are not recorded

Desegregation and black dropout rates


  • Use Welch and Light (1987) data for segregated and desegregated school districts

  • Use census data from 1970 and 1980 to match individuals to school districts

    • Form consolidated county groups

      • Lie outside school district boundaries

      • Are larger than school districts

  • Compare changes in black and white dropout rates in districts that desegregated in the 1970’s with districts that desegregated earlier or later (1960’s or 1980’s)

Difference in differences


  • D = an indicator that equals 1 if high school aged person is not enrolled in school

  • i = indexes individuals

  • d = indexes decade of desegregation plan (1960’s, 70’s, 80’s)

  • t = indexes time

Fixed effect model

Fixed Effect Model

  • X = vector of individual and district characteristics

  • π = vector of coefficients that vary with t

  • Tdt = equal 1 for observations in 1980 in districts that desegregated in the 1970’s

  • T, X, ,  are independent of error term

Fixed effect model assumptions

Fixed Effect Model Assumptions

  • Assumption that the decade of desegregation isn’t correlated with…

    • Trends in the dropout rate

    • Error term is drawn from same distribution over time

  • Data from City and County Data Book

  • Similar between 1960 and 1970



Basic results

Basic Results

Basic results for blacks and whites

Basic Results for Blacks and Whites

How characteristics of desegregation plans effect student outcomes

How characteristics of desegregation plans effect student outcomes

Length of exposure

Length of Exposure







  • Census data only has information about migration into districts

    • Welch and Light (1987) and Rossell and Armor (1996) show that desegregation plans led to increased speed of white migration out of districts

    • Reber (2002) suggests white migration eliminated 1/3 of integration in 10 years

  • Guryan argues this is not a problem in this study because consolidated county groups incorporate suburban areas

  • No evidence that desegregation changed population of black students

Timing of desegregation

Timing of Desegregation

  • Difference-in-difference estimates rely on assumption that without desegregation, black dropout rates would not have differed over the decade of integration

  • Evidence that this is true

    • Time-varying covariates that drive dropout rate variation do not effect estimates substantially

    • Trends in white dropout rates are the same for 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s desegregators

    • Entire decline in black dropout rates occurs in districts that integrated

Timing of desegregation1

Timing of Desegregation

Iv estimates

IV Estimates



  • Results suggest desegregation plans led to a 2 to 3% decline in the black dropout rate and had little or no effect on the white dropout rate

    • Robust to controls for permanent district characteristics

  • Largest declines in districts that experienced largest declines in racial segregation



  • Did migration have some effect?

  • Is it possible that 80’s desegregating schools could have greatest potential for improving black outcomes?

    • This would explain changes seen in dropout rate estimates and invalidate study

  • Why did desegregation effect black student outcomes?

    • Exposure to white students could have been related to more money, etc.

  • Is dropout rate the most appropriate measurement to evaluate the effect of desegregation?

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