Resegregation of U.S. Schools Deepening

Amanda Paulson, Christian Science Monitor, January 25, 2008

At one time, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina was a model of court-ordered integration.

Today, nearly a decade after a court struck down its racial-balancing busing program, the school district is moving in the opposite direction. More than half of its elementary schools are either more than 90 percent black or 90 percent white.

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It’s a trend that is occurring around the country and is even more pronounced than expected in the wake of court cases dismantling both mandated and voluntary integration programs, a new report says. The most segregated schools, according to the report, which documents desegregation trends, are in big cities of the Northeast and Midwest. The South and West—and rural areas and small towns generally—offer minority students a bit more diversity.

Suburbs of large cities, meanwhile, are becoming the new frontier: areas to which many minorities are moving.

These places still have a chance to remain diverse communities but are showing signs of replicating the segregation patterns of the cities themselves.

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About one-sixth of black students and one-ninth of Latino students attend what Mr. Orfield calls “apartheid schools,” at least 99 percent minority. In big cities, black and Latino students are nearly twice as likely to attend such schools. Some two-thirds of black and Latino students in big cities attend schools with less than 10 percent white students; in rural areas, about one-seventh of black and Latino students do. Although the South was the region that originally integrated the most successfully, it’s beginning to resegregate, as in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district.

While resegregation has been taking place for some time, Orfield says the latest numbers are worrisome both for the degree to which they show the trend is occurring and in light of the US Supreme Court’s most recent decision on the issue last June, which struck down several voluntary integration programs and made it more difficult for districts that want to work at desegregating schools to do so.

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Not everyone feels that way. Some groups applauded the Supreme Court’s decision last summer as another step toward taking race out of school admission policies and allowing parents to send their kids to the schools most convenient for them. If schools start reflecting neighborhood makeup—which often means nearly all-white or all-minority—that doesn’t have to matter, they say.

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Mr. Clegg questions some of the resegregation research, noting that the percentage of white students in schools is often going down simply because they’re a decreasing portion of the population. He also quibbles with the notion that an all-black, all-Hispanic, or all-white school is necessarily a bad thing.

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That sounds great in theory, say some experts, but the fact is that segregated schools tend to be highly correlated with such things as school performance and the ability to attract teachers.

“Once you separate kids spacially from more privileged kids, they tend to not get the same things,” says Amy Stuart Wells, an education professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York. “And we need to start thinking about how a school that’s racially isolated can be preparing students for this global society we live in.”

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Suburbs, though, offer potential. The Civil Rights Project report noted that big-city suburbs educate 7.9 million white students along with 2.1 million blacks and 2.9 million Latinos. “This is the new frontier for thinking about how to make diverse schools work,” says Professor Wells.

But so far, the data for suburbs are not encouraging, showing emerging segregation. Some integration advocates say this shows a need for more diversity training for teachers and students and for policies that encourage integrated housing, not just schools.

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