New studies show increased levels of segregation in U.S. public schools that are so substantial that, the authors conclude, the country’s success as a multiracial society is at risk.
The Civil Rights Project at UCLA just released three reports — “E Pluribus . . . Separation: Deepening Double Segregation for More Students,” plus two regional studies — that analyzed data from the
National Center for Education Statistics and found that segregation is growing based on both race and poverty.
Fifteen percent of black students and 14 percent of Latino students attend “apartheid schools” across the nation in which whites make up zero to 1 percent of the enrollment, the researchers found.
The studies found that in 1970, nearly four out of every five students across the nation were white, but by 2009, just over half were white — and in the South and West, students of color now constitute a majority of public school enrollment.
The research shows that segregation is substantially increasing for Latino students across the country but most significantly in the West, and that for black students, segregation also remains very high and is most severely growing in the South.
States that have the most segregated public schools for blacks are New York, Illinois, and Michigan; among states with significant black enrollments, blacks are least likely to attend intensely segregated schools in Washington, Nebraska and Kansas.
Why does it matter? Segregation in public schools has been linked to a number of problems that affect the achievement of minorities. Schools with a big majority of students who live in poverty have higher dropout rates, fewer experienced teachers and far less resources than schools with majorities of middle- and upper-class students. The studies note that expert teachers and advanced courses more common in predominantly white and/or wealthy schools help create educational advantages over minority segregated settings.
Among the findings, taken from the “E Pluribus” report:
• The typical black or Latino today attends school with almost double the share of low-income students in their schools than the typical white or Asian student.
• Eight of the 20 states reporting the highest numbers of students attending schools under apartheid conditions are in the South or border states, a significant retrenchment on civil rights progress.
• Latino enrollment has soared from one-twentieth of U.S. students in 1970 to nearly one-fourth (22.8 percent). Latino students have become the dominant minority group in the western half of the country.
• In the early 1990s, the average Latino and black student attended a school where roughly a third of students were low-income (as measured by free and reduced-price lunch eligibility), but now attend schools where low-income students account for nearly two-thirds of their classmates.
• White students account for just 52 percent of U.S. first-graders, forecasting future change.
• The most extreme levels of black-white school dissimilarity exist in the Chicago, New York, Detroit, Boston, St. Louis and Pittsburgh metropolitan areas.
• The nation’s largest metropolitan areas report severe school racial concentration. Half of the black students in the Chicago metro area, and one third of black students in New York, attend apartheid schools.
• Latino students experience high levels of extreme segregation in the Los Angeles metro area, where roughly 30 percent attend a school in which whites make up 1 percent or less of the enrollment.
• The dissimilarity index, a measure of the degree to which students of any two groups are distributed randomly among schools within a larger geographical area, shows that much of the shifts outside the South are driven primarily by changing demographics, particularly the relative decline in the percent of white students and growth of the percent of Latino students. During the desegregation era in the South, desegregation plans more than offset the impact of changing demographics. Now there are no such plans in most communities.
• There is a very strong relationship between the percent of Latino students in a school and the percent of low-income students. On a scale in which 1.0 would be a perfect relationship, the correlation is a high 0.71. The same figure is lower, but still high, for black students (0.53). Many minority-segregated schools serve both black and Latino students. The correlation between the combined percentages of these underserved two groups and the percent of poor children is a dismaying 0.85.
• In spite of the dramatic suburbanization of nonwhite families, 80 percent of Latino students and 74 percent of black students attend majority nonwhite schools (50 percent to 100 percent minority), and 43 percent of Latinos and 38 percent of blacks attend intensely segregated schools (those with only 0 to 10 percent of white students) across the nation.
• Latino students in nearly every region have experienced steadily rising levels of concentration in intensely segregated minority settings. In the West, the share of Latino students in such settings has increased fourfold, from 12 percent in 1968 to 43 percent in 2009.
• Though whites make up just over half of the nation’s enrollment, the typical white student attends a school where three-quarters of their peers are white.
The authors of the reports say that there are ways to fight the problem of segregation, including creating awareness among the public, advocacy that includes the monitoring of land use and zoning decisions, and legal enforcement, including action by the Justice Department and the Office for Civil Rights to punish violations of anti-segregation laws and policies
“These trends threaten the nation’s success as a multiracial society,” Professor Gary Orfield, the co-director of the Civil Rights Project, was quoted as saying in a release on the studies.
“We are disappointed to have heard nothing in the campaign about this issue from neither President Obama, who is the product of excellent integrated schools and colleges, nor from Governor Romney, whose father gave up his job in the Nixon Cabinet because of his fight for fair housing, which directly impacts school make-up,” Orfield said.
The Civil Rights Project was founded in 1996 by Orfield, a former Harvard University professor, and Christopher Edley Jr., and is now co-directed by Orfield and Patricia Gándara, professors at UCLA. Its mission is to do research in social science and law on the issues of civil rights and equal opportunity for racial and ethnic groups in the United States.
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