The effects of court-ordered school desegregation on the public school system of Boston, Massachusetts

Date of Completion

January 1996


Education, Administration|Education, History of




In 1974, Judge W. Arthur Garrity, federal court judge in Boston, Massachusetts, found the Boston Public School System guilty of intentionally maintaining a dual school system, a clear violation of the law. Judge Garrity ordered immediate "root and branch" desegregation as required by Supreme Court precedent. The process of desegregating the Boston public schools involved mandatory student reassignment, the desegregation of staff, and the establishment of equity of educational opportunity.^ Previous studies of the process and the effects of court ordered school desegregation in Boston have focused on the social and political unrest that followed the implementation of the court orders. The purpose of this present study was to discover whether there were other effects of school desegregation on the Boston public schools. Specifically, this study examined the areas of racial balance, school climate, and student achievement from 1974-1995.^ Through a series of in-depth interviews, on-site observations, and analysis of quantitative data, evidence was found to support the thesis that court ordered school desegregation has brought about significant positive changes in the racial balance, the equity of educational opportunity, and the school climate of the Boston public schools. It is hoped that these changes will eventually result in significant increases in student achievement.^ This study used both macroanalysis and microanalysis to uncover the longterm effects of the desegregation orders and the subsequent two decades of court supervision. Through these analyses, the researcher concluded that, although the first decade following the issuing of the desegregation orders was characterized by a certain amount of disequilibrium, the second decade of the desegregation process involved the evolution of the school system into a higher level of order, equity, and quality of educational opportunities.^ The results of this study suggest that court ordered school desegregation was a necessary catalyst that has mandated and maintained the continued evolution of the public schools. Evidence presented in this study also suggests the need to adopt a new paradigm of public education that will promote greater equity of educational opportunity and will result in a less stratified social order. ^