By Matthew Bigg
Wednesday, August 29, 2007 8:42 PM
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Public schools in the United States are becoming more racially segregated and the trend is likely to accelerate because of a Supreme Court decision in June, according to report published Wednesday.
The rise in segregation threatens the quality of education received by non-white students, who now make up 43 percent of the total U.S. student body, said the report by the Civil Rights Project of the University of California in Los Angeles.
Many segregated schools struggle to attract highly qualified teachers and administrators, do not prepare students well for college and fail to graduate more than half their students.
In its June ruling the Supreme Court forbade most existing voluntary local efforts to integrate schools in a decision favored by the Bush administration despite warnings from academics that it would compound educational inequality.
"It is about as dramatic a reversal in the stance of the federal courts as one could imagine," said Gary Orfield, a UCLA professor and a co-author of the report.
"The federal courts are clearly pushing us backward segregation with the encouragement of the Justice Department of President George W. Bush," he said in an interview.
The United States risks becoming a nation in which a new majority of non-white young people will attend "separate and inferior" schools, the report said.
"Resegregation ... is continuing to grow in all parts of the country for both African Americans and Latinos and is accelerating the most rapidly in the only region that had been highly desegregated -- the South," it said.
The trend damages the prospects for non-white students and will likely have a negative effect on the U.S. economy, according to the report by one of the leading U.S. research centers on issues of civil rights and racial inequality.
Part of the reason for the resegregation is the rapidly expanding number of black and Latino children and a corresponding fall in the number of white children, it said.
Contrary to popular belief, the surge in the number of minority children in public schools was not mainly caused by a flight of white students into private schools.
Instead, it said, the post-"baby boom" generation of white Americans are having smaller family sizes.
"During the desegregation period there was a major decline in the education gap between blacks and whites and an increase in college entry by blacks .... That gap has stopped closing," Orfield said.
TRIPLE SEGREGATION FOR LATINOS
The record of successive administration reforms such as the Goals 2000 project of former President Bill Clinton and Bush's "No Child Left Behind" in 2001 "justifies deep skepticism," the report said.
Those changes focused pressure and resources on making the achievement of minority children in segregated schools equal to children in schools that were fully integrated.
School desegregation is a sensitive issue in the United States because of resistance to it from white leaders in the decade after a 1954 Supreme Court decision saying segregated public schools were unconstitutional.
One of the chief complaints of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s was that black-only public schools were inevitably starved of resources by local government with the result that black children received inferior education.
Latinos are the fastest growing minority in U.S. schools and for them segregation is often more profound than it was when the phenomenon was first measured 40 years ago, according to the report, "Historic Reversals, Accelerating Resegregation and the need for new Integration Strategies."
"Too often Latino students face triple segregation by race, class and language," it said.