California’s schools are among the most segregated in the nation—and they are becoming even more divided, with Latino and African-American students clustered together and isolated from whites, according to a study released this week by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.
This trend—driven by economic, policy and demographic changes within the state—compounds the disadvantages of Latino and black students. And white students miss an important lesson about life in a diverse society, the researchers conclude.
“Segregation is growing in degree and complexity as the nation becomes increasingly multiracial,” said Gary Orfield, lead author of the report and director of the project. “We have to get away from thinking of segregation as something that came out of the Old South—and think about how it’s happening in the new California.”
The findings hold true even in diverse Silicon Valley. In the San Jose Unified School District, the average black student in 1991 went to a school with 40 percent white students and 40 percent Latino students. By 2003, that changed to 28 percent white students and 50 percent Latinos.
They found that in 2003, the average Latino student in the state attended a school with 19 percent white students, down from about 50 percent in 1970. The average black student in California attended a school with 22 percent white students in 2003, down from 26 percent in 1970.
Asian-Americans are the most integrated racial group. Even when they are in predominantly minority schools, they are seldom in schools overwhelmingly Asian, and are unlikely to have the kind of “linguistic segregation” that affects Latino students, the study found.
This is not because of a flight to private schools, as seen after the civil rights era, Orfield said. The reasons for today’s segregation: Minorities tended to move to the cities, while whites moved to the suburbs. Also, Latinos and blacks tend to have more children. “These groups are inheriting the city,” he said.
In the 1960s, more than four of every five U.S. students were white; in 2003, 58 percent were white—and the numbers drop each year.