Although residential racial segregation is on the decline, according to a new report by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, segregation in schools is increasing.
The most dramatic rise in segregation in schools has been in the Western part of the United States and has disproportionally effected the Latino population. The data shows that a typical Latino student attends a school that is only about one-third white, and where two-thirds of the student body comes from low-income families.
The report calls this kind of separation of races and income “double segregation,” where typical African-American and Latino students attend schools that are mostly made up of kids of families living in poverty. The situation for black students is the worst in New York, Illinois and Michigan. New York, where the influx of immigrants changed the racial and ethnic makeup substantially, is also one of the states – along with California and Texas – that is the most segregated for Latino students.
School resegregation for black students is increasing most dramatically in the South, where, after a period of intense resistance, strong action was taken to integrate black and white students. Black students across the country experienced gains in school desegregation from the l960s to the late l980s, a time in which racial achievement gaps also narrowed sharply. These trends began to reverse after a 1991 Supreme Court decision made it easier for school districts and courts to dismantle desegregation plans. Most major plans have been eliminated for years now, despite increasingly powerful evidence on the importance of desegregated schools.
Gary Orfield, John Kucsera, and Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, the authors of the CRP report, take to task the Obama Administration for not doing better than his predecessor on the issue of school integration. Any expanded efforts into civil rights enforcement by the Justice Department under President Obama have been countermanded by the administration’s enthusiasm for charter schools — which, according to the report, are some of the most segregated educational institutions in the country for black students.
Nor has segregation played much of a role in the ongoing presidential campaign, where candidates haven’t gone on record about the issue at all.
The consensus of nearly sixty years of social science research on the harms of school segregation is clear: separate remains extremely unequal. Schools of concentrated poverty and segregated minority schools are strongly related to an array of factors that limit educational opportunities and outcomes. These include less experienced and less qualified teachers, high levels of teacher turnover, less successful peer groups and inadequate facilities and learning materials. There is also a mounting body of evidence indicating that desegregated schools are linked to important benefits for all children, including prejudice reduction, heightened civic engagement, more complex thinking and better learning outcomes in general.