by Bradley Scott, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • January 1995

Dr. Bradley ScottIn the September 1990 issue of the IDRA Newsletter my article, “In Pursuit of Equity: An Idea Whose Time Has Come,” described the equity monitoring activity of some districts in the Desegregation Assistance Center-South Central Collaborative (DAC-SCC) service area. The article also discussed the three generations of desegregation identified by the 10 regional desegregation assistance centers in their publication, Resegregation of Public Schools: The Third Generation (1989). That discussion served as the basis of the reason districts were monitoring equity and not just equality. The report describes the three generations of desegregation as the following.

The First Generation of Desegregation (1954 – 1964): This first generation had racial physical desegregation as its goal. Major concerns included the eradication of dual school systems through the development of student assignment plans which were to produce racially-balanced unitary school systems. Two other concerns involved the elimination of racial isolation in schools and the eradication of race bias and stereotypes in curricular materials.

The Second Generation of Desegregation (1964 – 1983): In 1964, a historical landmark piece of legislation gave civil rights and school desegregation a shot in the arm. The Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination in federally-funded programs due to race, color and national origin. The act ushered in a new era of desegregation where the goal grew to include equal access and equal treatment in schools and programs within those schools.

This generation lasted for approximately 20 years and was also characterized by several pieces of legislation which prohibited discrimination against children and opened access to them to schools and programs within those schools regardless of race, sex, national origin, religion, economic status or handicapping condition.

Educational equality for all children became the focus of this period. That is, all students would receive the same treatment and access regardless of differences.

It became clear that while educational equality, including equal access and treatment, was a necessary condition, it was not sufficient to produce the desired outcomes of effectively desegregated schools. Several reports, including “A Nation At Risk,” described the nature, condition and state of public education (NCEE, 1983). The nation learned that public education was not adequately meeting the needs of all students including students who were identified by race, sex, national origin, economic status or handicapping condition. Thus, a new generation of desegregation and civil rights emerged.

The Third Generation of Desegregation (1983 – Present): This generation of desegregation and civil rights has as its goal the elimination of resegregation in schools and classrooms, the elimination of achievement disparities among identifiably different students and the production of comparable outcomes in school performance. Major concerns include the creation and implementation of culturally relevant curriculum, varied teaching styles and strategies to match different student learning styles, and heightened teacher expectations for high achievement for all students regardless of differences.

Educational equity is the focus of this generation. The goal is to produce comparable educational outcomes between and among students who enter schools with different learning needs. Educational equity seeks to provide differentiated educational responses to students who are different in important ways so that these comparable outcomes may be achieved. From an educational perspective, all learners cannot be treated the same because their different learning, social, cultural, emotional, psychological and physical needs naturally give rise to varying interventions for them to achieve comparability.

Emerging Trends and Issues

Since I wrote that article, it is apparent to me that the issues regarding desegregation and civil rights have moved to another level. The issues DAC-SCC is compelled to address as it delivers training and technical assistance to public schools suggest that certain trends must be included in the discussion.

I see some emerging trends in school desegregation and civil rights which at the same time are similar to but different from the trends which gave rise to the third generation. This list of  trends is not complete, but it does suggest that the discussion which has taken place needs to be broader, more comprehensive and certainly more inclusive of a wider group of considerations than were suggested by the third generation discussion. These emerging trends are described in random order below.

De facto desegregation.

Changing demographics and housing and living patterns continue to produce resegregated schools and classrooms. These patterns of desegregation are not the result of legal or de jure segregation or the vestiges of such segregation, but they are the result of the realities of economics, systemic discrimination to some extent and the “choices” people make as to where they live.

Increasing number of children in public schools whose first language or home language is not English.

Communities and school systems, in many instances, are facing the challenges of providing equitable educational access, experiences and interventions to learners who do not speak English as a first language. These communities and school systems find themselves ill-equipped to meet these challenges.

Placement of students in grades, courses and programs.

Historically students have been tracked and placed into ability groups for the purpose of educating them. While these practices have been administratively convenient, their soundness in teaching are highly suspect. School systems are now facing the challenge of detracking courses, classes and programs and providing educational experiences in heterogeneously-grouped settings.

Implementation of specific gender-conscious strategies and programs.

Although gender issues have been publicly recognized as a valid matter of equity since the introduction of the Educational Amendments of 1972, moving awareness to practical school-based activity has been generally arduous and poorly focused. The legitimate presence of girls and the critical role they play and will play in all facets of society must clearly be validated by what communities and schools do and to what they commit themselves on a regular basis to meet the challenges of the next century. Any discussion that does not address and provide for gender-based considerations will be short-sighted, piecemeal and incomplete.

Training that empowers students to  operate with social competence in a world of difference.

Among the discrete knowledge, skills and competencies which learners must acquire are those which will allow them operate successfully in a world which is diverse. A natural part of what schools must do is to assist learners to comprehend matters of difference based upon race, gender, national origin, economics, and physical and mental capacities, to translate that understanding into appropriate ways of thinking, believing and behaving, and to be motivated as responsible citizens to work for constitutionally-based social justice and equity.

Realization of educational excellence and high achievement outcomes for all  students regardless of difference.

Communities and school systems must press to ensure that, for all students, the educational experience they encounter is challenging and produces in those learners an appropriate set of skills and competencies which enable them to be successful in the world of work and to be responsible citizens. Communities and school systems must come to understand that if all identifiable segments of the student population of a given district are not achieving high academic and other school outcomes, excellence has not been realized. A district is excellent when, by what it does, all students achieve comparable, high standards regardless of their identifying characteristics. Anything short of that reality is “business as usual” regardless of the new labels it may be given.

Appropriate assessment and placement of students in classes and programs based upon knowledge and performance rather than cultural, social or class  characteristics.

For too long, inappropriate testing and assessment practices have allowed many children who are different to be misdiagnosed and misplaced in programs and classes in schools. The persistent over-representation of students who are culturally, linguistically and socially different in special education programs and their under-representation in gifted and talented programs is one such example. Clearly more authentic, valid and reliable assessment procedures, strategies and instruments must not only be developed, but they must also be used to more properly place all students for the purpose of targeted and specific instruction.

Inclusion of minority students and girls in math, science and technology courses and programs.

The traditional patterns of the non-inclusion or under-representation of these populations in such curricular offerings, or their limited and low-level involvement in such programs, is a persistent and intolerable reality which communities and schools must address. It is now apparent that those individuals with this knowledge will be better positioned to access the world of tomorrow.

The perplexing view of the general  community about matters of desegregation, civil rights and the community’s responsibilities under law.

As unfortunate as it is, many people have grown weary of the struggle for equal educational opportunity, civil rights and nondiscrimination. The feeling often is that it has been going on for 40 years, that civil rights concerns now punish those who historically were accused of being the punishers, and that dealing in these matters simply produces people who want something for nothing, handouts, and excuses for their own laziness or inability. People on all sides of the issue have grown tired, cynical, angry and, in some instances violently, reactive. The challenge is to maintain, recapture and build a community of consciousness around the notions that desegregation, civil rights and nondiscrimination – beyond the obvious moral and ethical considerations – are economically and socially the most beneficial and appropriate responses this nation can make given the realities of growing national diversity.

Racism, sexism and classicism in the 1990s is similar to, but different from, the past.

While it is alarming to know that racial hostility and violence, sexual harassment, and intolerance for people who are poor is rampant, even more unsettling are the covert, persistent, subtle and not so subtle forms of the racism, sexism and classicism which still plague public schools and continue to place minorities, girls and poor children in jeopardy on all measures of academic outcomes. Coupled with this is a growing “blame the victim” mentality and reaction to explain why minorities, girls and poor people are not doing better and why they will not do better. Cutting through to the heart of these pernicious issues is truly a major challenge.

High number of first generation desegregation issues which currently exist.

Considering that many school systems implemented their original desegregation efforts 15 to 20 years ago, it is not surprising that the desegregation plans under which they operate do not adequately address their current realities. Overcoming racial, gender and class isolation in schools, classrooms and programs within those schools are concerns that districts had to address in the first generation of desegregation. Implementing non-racist, sexist and classist curriculum and operating schools with attention to their pluralistic realities are issues which all communities must revisit.

Move toward schools of choice and schooling of choice.

The August 1994 issue of the IDRA Newsletter presented many of the concerns which are the new challenges for desegregation, civil rights and equity (IDRA, 1994). To be sure, any discussions of choice in public education need to be tempered with control. Where desegregation is concerned, a discussion of school choice without control is short-sighted. Uncontrolled choice will produce segregated schools and that violates every principle of desegregation.

New efforts to involve communities and parents in the operations of schools through site-based management and shared decision-making.

It is clear that parents and communities have a place in the discussion about how to make schools work for all children. They also have a responsibility to help to create such schools. Bringing them to the table and giving them access, given their ranges of differences, is what school people must rethink. Parents and communities must be solicited and consulted for their ideas, opinions, concerns and input on how best to make schools work for their children. Gone are the days of simply telling parents what to do. This new day sees parents and communities as partners in the appropriate, equitable education of all children, regardless of differences.

New dimensions of school desegregation, civil rights and school finance issues.

No discussion of desegregation and equity can be taken seriously if the issue of school finance is not a part of it. The concerns about costs of education and who should pay for it are not new. What may be new are questions having to do with how to create comparable high-quality, educational experiences for all children, even children in property-poor school districts. These are the tough issues, and their solutions will require creative and different thinking.

Evolving federal court activity in the area of desegregation and reaffirmation of the law to protect the civil rights of students in schools.

The renewed activity by the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education and the litigative activity of the U.S. Department of Justice and the federal courts have certainly challenged communities to be alert to issues of equal educational opportunities for children in schools. Throughout the 1980s and, certainly, the 1990s, court decisions having to do with race, gender and national origin have produced a need for schools to rethink and possibly create new ways in which to protect the civil rights of children.

Civil rights of immigrant students in public schools.

This issue is currently creating considerable discussion, debate and, in some settings, reaction to newly arrived populations in communities and the schools of those communities. The rights of these newly arrived or recently arrived citizens is what must be clarified and affirmed. This challenge is formidable, given the attitudes, perceptions and prejudices which many communities harbor regarding certain immigrants.


Given these emerging trends in school desegregation as they have been documented around the DAC-SCC region and throughout the nation, given the current political, social and economic realities which the nation faces, and given the pressing approach of the 21st century and the goals the nation has set for excellence in education through the Educate America Act and the Improving America’s Schools Act, there is a compelling need to define a new generation of school desegregation, civil rights, equal educational opportunity and equity which concurrently embraces as basic the historical, constitutional principles upon which these ideas were based and places them in a broader, updated and future-thinking context.

Desegregation, civil rights, equity and equal educational opportunity are not just concepts of the past. They are very much a part of our future as a nation. It is naive to think otherwise. These ideas, however, need a new foundation upon which to be grounded, and they need to be viewed in tandem with the realities of the 1990s and the 21st century. These ideas need new language with which to talk about them, and they need a new context. Certainly, a part of that new context and foundation has to be the nation as a pre-eminent leader in this global village.

An extension of the original model created by the 10 regional desegregation assistance centers should look like the description below.

The Fourth Generation of Desegregation (Future): The goal is to create new schools that work for diverse students, produce world-class students with world-class skills and to create new paradigms for civil rights and equity-based excellence.

The concerns include the following:

  1. Provide reorganized and restructured professional development for educators to meet the challenges of preparing students for the 21st century.
  2. Implement culturally sensitive curriculum which reflects equity, educates students for the realities of a diverse world and embraces social justice.
  3. Develop life-long learning competencies including literacy, critical thinking, metacognition, problem-solving and decision-making skills.
  4. Provide instruction to produce 21st century workers and citizens who have knowledge, skills and competencies in technology, information management, math and science, and diversity.
  5. Create school and community collaborations on social issues affecting school operations and outcomes including issues such as violence, drugs, changes in families, employment, poverty and empowerment.

This discussion is just beginning. It is certain to, and should, evolve. We need to talk about this new generation of desegregation and civil rights with each other where we can raise tough questions about how we create it, why we must create it, when must we begin, who must be involved, and how they should be involved. We need to grope and struggle through creating new paradigms and new language so that when we talk, we also raise new images and new possibilities, rather than simply disturbing the slumbering, weary images of the past; images that, although they should never be forgotten, cannot be, and are not, entirely appropriate to move us into the 21st century.

First Generation

Second Generation

Third Generation

Fourth Generation


Physical desegregation

Equal treatment and equal access within school achievement

Physical resegregation

Equal opportunities to learn

Equal outcomes-achievement, attitudes, and behaviors

Schools that work for diverse students

Teach world class skills

New paradigms for civil rights and equity based excellence


Physical assignment plans

Elmination of racial isolation

Elimination of bias and stereotypes

Access to courses and programs

Access to language development

Elimination of practices which lead to isolation or differential treatment based on race, sex, and national origin

Culturally-sensitive, bias-free curriculum and instruction

Use of varied instructional methods for different cultural and learning styles

Heightened teacher expectations

Development of positive self-concept

Elimination of achievement gaps

Restructured professional development

Use of culturally sensitive curriculum

Development of life-long learning competencies

Instruction in technology, information management, math and science, and diversity

Creation of school and community collaborations on social issues affecting schools


Intercultural Development Research (IDRA). IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: IDRA, August 1994), 21(7).

National Commission on Excellence in Education, The. A Nation At Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, A Report to the Nation and the Secretary of Education United States Department of Education (April 1983).

Network of Regional Desegregation Assistance Centers, The. Re-segregation of Public Schools: The Third Generation (June 1989).

Scott, Bradley. “In Pursuit of Equity: An Idea whose Time Has Come,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 1990), 17(8), p. 9-12.

Bradley Scott is a Senior Education Associate in IDRA’s Division of Professional Development. 

[©1995, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the January 1995 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]