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Looking back to move forward: UMSL professor researching St. Louis’ voluntary deseg program

Jerome Morris is the Endowed E. Desmond Lee Professor of Urban Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He's standing next to his bookshelf in his office on Feb. 6, 2017.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Jerome Morris is the Endowed E. Desmond Lee Professor of Urban Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

With St. Louis’ voluntary desegregation program on its final extension, University of Missouri-St. Louis education professor Jerome Morris has been asked to recommend the best way for the region to continue fulfilling the promises of Brown vs. Board of Education.

To fulfill that task, Morris is first researching how well the program has done in the past.

He’s focusing on what he calls the second, often overlooked, promise of the landmark Supreme Court case: quality education for black children.

“I want it to be front and center: Are these children benefiting academically from their presence in these predominantly white spaces? That's important to me,” Morris said. “Are they benefiting equitably?”  

Morris and his research assistants will be interviewing past and present students, parents and educators over the course of the next year to get first-hand accounts of what their experience has been like at St. Louis County schools participating in the voluntary desegregation program, formally known as theVoluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation — VICC, and at magnet and neighborhood schools in the city.

Morris will use the interviews as benchmarks, along with data such as standardized tests and the annual reports on VICC required by the local desegregation settlement agreement, to determine how well the program delivered quality education for black children.

Professor Morris is talking about his research Thursday evening. If you go: Richmond Heights Community Center, 8001 Dale Ave.; 6:30 p.m. coffee; 7:00 p.m. presentation

From there, Morris plans to make recommendations on how the program might evolve after it begins phasing out in 2023.

His recommendations are slated to be released in June of 2018. Recently, he talked to St. Louis Public Radio’s Camille Phillips about:

  • Whether it’s possible to have racial equity in education without integration.
  • Whether it’s a good idea to switch from a race-based requirement to a socio-economic requirement for the inter-district exchange program, given the need to recognize racial inequities.
  • How he can include the strengths of black community-driven schools in his recommendations.

Morris said he knows there will be a lot of politics involved in deciding whether or not to implement his recommendations, but he’s keeping that awareness away from his research.
“I'm not interested in making St. Louis look good just so that it can look like a progressive city,” Morris said. “I'm here to call it the way it is and to say, 'Okay, are black children really benefiting?'”

Morris will be talking about his research on the impact of desegregation on black children in St. Louis Thursday evening at a free event sponsored by Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice.

The University of Missouri Board of Curators holds the license to St. Louis Public Radio.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.