Sixty years ago this Saturday, the Supreme Court found state laws imposing segregation unconstitutional.
Progress has been made, but the nation has been slipping, according to a new report analyzing government data from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project. And the states where segregation is most prevalent today are not the ones where it reached its boiling point in the 1950s and 1960s.
Black students are most segregated in the Northeast
The Northeast was the only region where, on average, the share of black students in almost completely minority schools has risen since 1968, according to the report titled “Brown at 60: Great Progress, a Long Retreat and an Uncertain Future.” More than half — 51.4 percent — of black students in those states in 2011 were in schools whose student populations were 90 percent to 100 percent minorities. In every other region of the country — the Midwest, West, South and “border” states — black students today are less likely to be in heavily minority schools.
New York is one of the most segregated states for black students. It has the highest rate of black students in high-minority schools and the lowest rate of black exposure to white students. Illinois is second on both measures. Maryland is third when it comes to the share of black students in high-minority schools and fourth-lowest when it comes to black exposure to white students. California, Michigan, New Jersey and Texas also rank highly among the indicators suggesting high rates of segregation among blacks.
West Virginia is the most integrated state across the board. The share of black students in majority-white schools is incredibly high — 92.6 percent. No black students attend schools where the minority population is above 90 percent and exposure of black students to white students is the highest in the nation. Iowa and Kentucky battle it out for the number two spot among the three measures. Kansas, Minnesota and Nebraska also rank among the most integrated states for blacks.
The nation is backsliding
The South had a long way to go. Even nine years after the Brown decision, 99 percent of blacks in the South were still in all-black schools. Segregation was effectively still in place. But in 1968, the Supreme Court ruled that states where segregation was worst had to desegregate completely and quickly. By 1970, Southern schools were the nation’s most integrated.
Judicial and demographic changes have taken hold in the intervening years, of course, and other trends work against efforts to better integrate schools. Residential segregation is higher among school-aged children than the broader population, for example.
Critics also argue that a string of Supreme Court decisions in recent decades has unwound protections against segregation. A recent Stanford study found that a series of rulings in the 1990s removing judicial oversight from school districts has allowed schools to re-segregate.
“While the schools in these districts aren’t becoming as segregated as they were before Brown, they are becoming much more segregated than they were 20 years ago,” the paper’s lead author, Prof. Sean Reardon, said in a statement at the time.
And the nation’s demographic makeup has changed. The white share of the population has shed more than 10 percentage points since the 1960s and today stands at roughly 78 percent, according to census data. Blacks now account for 13 percent of the population, a gain of a few points since the 1960s. Hispanics are on the rise, too: Their share of the total population today is more than three times what it was in the 1970s.
Whatever the driving force, the national trend toward integration has not fared well in recent decades. The share of blacks in majority-white schools peaked in the late 1980s and is now back to 23 percent, where it was in 1968.
For students of each race — especially whites — most classmates look like them
Today, a typical white student is likely to attend a school where about three in four students is also white. That means that an average white student looking around a typical 30-person classroom in her school will see 22 other white students, four Latinos, two blacks, an Asian and one more who would qualify under an “other” racial category.
A typical black student today would see 15 blacks, eight whites, five Latinos, one Asian and one student of another racial category.
A typical Latino student in a 30-person class would likely have 17 Latino classmates, eight white ones, three black and one Asian and one other.
An Asian student is likely to have 12 white classmates, seven Asian ones, seven Latino ones, three black ones and an “other.”
Whites are most isolated — that is, they are more likely to see peers of a similar race around them. Latinos are next, followed by blacks and Asians.
Segregation and poverty are closely linked
The experience of segregation is about more than just exposure to people of different backgrounds.
For black and Latino students, poverty is tightly linked with segregation (when measured as being in a school with a 91 percent or greater minority population). For more than 8 in 10 black and Latino students in such highly segregated schools, more than 70 percent of their peers are poor.
But black and Latino students attending the least segregated schools — those with less than 10 percent minority populations — have a very different experience. Fewer than 1 in 10 of those black and Latino students is surrounded by such high rates poverty.