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Socioeconomic Busing Won't Work Everywhere

`THIS might be the ideal place to try out socioeconomic busing,'' says Jim Trowbridge of his town, La Crosse, Wis.

With about 50,000 people and a largely white population, La Crosse is small enough and has enough economic diversity to make it possible to balance schools along class lines.

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The largest racial group in La Crosse is Asian, mostly Hmong refugees from Laos. They make up about 15 percent of the public-school enrollment. A tiny number of native Americans, blacks, and Hispanics bring the minority representation in public schools to about 18 percent.

Integrating schools economically seems less feasible in larger cities where concentrations of poverty are higher, says Gary Orfield, a desegregation expert and a professor at Harvard University. Many large cities do not have substantial numbers of middle-class families.

Racist attitudes about African-Americans also might make it harder to sell the idea in urban centers, says Douglas Massey, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago. ``You can afford to be very generous on class terms when there are no black people around. There are a number of metropolitan areas in the United States where there are small black populations that are desegregating rapidly. It's the cities with the big black populations where there is still resistance to integration.''

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