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Schools More Separate

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Almost half a century after the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that Southern school segregation was unconstitutional and "inherently unequal," new statistics from the 1998-99 school year show that racial and ethnic segregation continued to intensify throughout the 1990s. This resegregation is happening despite the nation's growing diversity, in particular the rapid expansion in the Latino student population, and is contributing to a growing gap in quality between the schools being attended by white students and those serving a large proportion of minority students. Although public schools in the South remain more integrated than they were prior to the civil rights revolution, they are resegregating at accelerating rates. In the decade between 1988 and 1998, most of the progress made toward increasing integration in the region during the previous two decades was lost.

The steady resegregation of schools in the South is noteworthy because, between 1964 and 1970, this region witnessed the nation's greatest increase in racial integration. Prior to 1964, the intense segregation of schools in the South effected the nation's largest number of black students. However, as a result of the remarkable transformation that took place in its schools for almost a quarter century--between 1964 and 1988-the South boasted the highest level of integration of its schools in the nation, and the most substantial contact between black and white students. Even today, despite the rapid pace in which schools are resegregating, the South remains the only region of the country where whites typically attend schools with significant numbers of blacks.

National school segregation trends parallel these patterns. More than 70% of the nation's black students now attend predominantly minority schools. Yet, the most dramatic and largely ignored trends affect Latino students. While intense segregation for blacks is still 28 points below its 1969 level, it has actually grown 13.5 points for Latinos. In 1968, only a little more than 20% of Latino students were enrolled in intensely segregated schools. In 1998, more than one-third of Latino students attend intensely segregated schools.

According to the data, white students remain the most segregated from all other races in their schools. Whites on average attend schools where less than 20% of the students are from all of the other racial and ethnic groups combined. On average, blacks and Latinos attend schools with 53% to 55% students of their own group. Latinos attend schools with far higher average black populations than whites do, and blacks attend schools with much higher average Latino enrollments. American Indian students attend schools in which about a third (31%) of the students are from Indian backgrounds.

The report also charts the rapid growth of minority populations in the nation's suburbs, which have traditionally been described as overwhelmingly white. Yet, despite the growing diversity of these areas, suburban schools remain segregated, particularly in the large metropolitan areas. The high level of suburban segregation reported for African American and Latino students in this report suggests that suburban communities must address a major set of challenges to achieve greater integration and equality in its schools.

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National and Regional Trends


The U.S. is now in the midst of its largest immigration ever in terms of numbers (not percentages) of newcomers, with the overwhelming majority of new immigrants being Hispanic and Asian. In the three decades between 1968 and 1998, the number of black and Latino students in the nation's public schools increased by 5.8 million; while the number of white students declined by 5.6 million. The number of Latino students grew by an extraordinary 245%, from just 2 million in 1968 to 6.9 million thirty years later. In l968 there were more than three times as many blacks as Latinos in our schools, but in 1998 there were seven Latino students for every eight blacks, and soon there will be more Latino than black students. Our schools will be our first major institutions to experience non-white majorities.

The Asian growth is even more rapid than the Latino expansion but started from a much lower base. Asian students are concentrated in the West where they make up 8% of the students, and in Hawaii, where they account for 72% of total enrollment. American Indian students are also concentrated in the West and in Alaska, where they account for 2.5% of all students.

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South and West:

Maps showing minority enrollment across the U.S. indicate that the South and West have far higher concentrations of non-white students than the rest of the nation, where minority enrollment tends to be heavily concentrated in the big cities and some of the older suburbs. Although no major region had a majority-minority student enrollment by the 1998-99 school year, the West-encompassing a vast region including the Pacific coast states and the Rocky Mountain States as well as the desert Southwest--had only 52% white students. The South-identified as the states from Virginia to Texas that made up the old Confederacy--had only 55% white students. Both of these regions are likely to have white minorities in their schools within the next few years.

The West is the only region where blacks are now the third largest of the minority populations, with just 7% of total enrollment. In the West, there are four Latino students for every African American. The Asian population is larger than the black enrollment and growing much faster.

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The Northeast and Midwest:

The other major regions of the country, stretching from Maine to Maryland, and from Oklahoma to the Dakotas to the East Coast, have from two-thirds to three fourths white students. These are experiencing less dramatic change, in part because they are growing more slowly and receiving fewer of the new minority immigrants.

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The Implications

The implications of these trends are significant, because research consistently shows that segregated schools are usually isolated by both race and poverty, and offer vastly unequal educational opportunities. Moreover, convincing evidence exists that desegregated schools both improve test scores and positively change the lives of students. A 1999 study of two elite law schools shows, for example, that almost all of the admitted black and Latino students who were admitted into those schools came from integrated educational backgrounds. Minority students with the same test scores tend to be much more successful in college if they attended interracial high schools. In fact, racial differences in achievement and graduation have begun to expand again in the 1990's, in concert with growing segregation of schools, after closing substantially between the 1960s and the mid-1980s.

In today's economy, the consequences of unequal education have become more severe because employment and income are more sharply linked to education than in the past. Post-secondary education is essential to significantly share in the benefits of economic growth, and the availability of well-paying manufacturing jobs with low educational requirements has declined greatly. High school graduates with no college or technical training have also experienced serious economic decline as educational requirements are increasing. High school dropouts find themselves in jobs that pay only half as much as a quarter century ago, in spite of the greater wealth in society. Those who drop out are also far more likely than graduates to end up in the ever-expanding prison population with staggering costs to the economy. Dropout rates are by far the highest in a few hundred segregated high-poverty high schools; about half of the high schools in the largest cities were graduating less than half of their students in the mid-1990s, and there were overwhelmingly segregated minority schools.

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American Attitudes toward Desegregated Schools

Surprisingly, poll data reveals that, by huge majorities, Americans of all races express a preference for integrated education and believe it is very important for their children to learn to understand and work with others of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Yet, there has been little or no positive political leadership on this issue for a generation, from any branch of government, and the courts have made a dramatic turn around in decisions about desegregated schools. They have moved from requiring desegregation in the late 1960's and early 1970's to, in many cases, pressing for the elimination of desegregation plans or even forbidding voluntary action that communities wish to undertake on their own. There has been little public discussion outside local communities about the return to segregation that has been occurring on throughout the 1990s. Citizens in some communities, such as Charlotte, NC, have elected school boards committed to integration only to have their will blocked by a federal court forbidding any conscious effort to achieve or maintain desegregation. Just this month a federal District Court terminated a desegregation order in one of the nation's largest districts, Dade County, Florida.

Why then are schools returning to segregation in the face of mounting evidence that Americans support diversity in their schools and that desegregated schools are more beneficial to all students? We believe that the answer lies in a combination of several factors: 1) a dramatic reversal in policy by the U.S. Supreme Court and a number of lower courts; 2) the overall failure to develop a policy a quarter century ago that could deal with the realities of metropolitan communities, and 3) the large demographic transformation the country now faces. It is a crisis of law, policy, and demography.

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Policy Recommendations

The census data shows that, increasingly, there will be entire metropolitan areas and states with either no majority group or where the majority group will be Latino or African American. This will be a new phenomenon in American educational history. In terms of policy, we can proceed in one of two directions: 1) we make a far more concerted, aggressive and pro-active effort to create pluralistic, integrated schools, or 2) we risk increasing serious racial and ethnic polarization, probably reinforced by educational inequalities, and the possibility of excluding the majority of students from any reasonable access to educational mobility.

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The report recommends that we pursue the first option, through the following steps:

  1. expansion of the federal magnet school program and the imposition of similar desegregation requirements for federally supported charter schools;
  2. active support by private foundations and community groups of efforts to continue local desegregation plans and programs, through research, advocacy and litigation;
  3. creation of expertise on desegregation and race relations training in state departments of education;
  4. documentation through school district surveys of the value (in legal terms, the compelling value of interracial schooling experience in their own cities;
  5. creation of many two-way integrated bilingual schools in which students of each language group interact, learn, and help each other acquire fluency in a second language;
  6. provision of funding for better counseling and transportation for interdistrict transfer policies;
  7. promotion and funding of teacher exchanges between city and suburban school districts, and training of teachers in techniques for successful interracial classrooms;
  8. exploration of school and housing policies to avoid massive resegregation of large sections of the inner suburbs;
  9. sponsorship through federal and state funds and universities of integrated metropolitan-wide magnet schools;
  10. launching of serious new scholarship focusing on the most effective approaches to effective education and race relations in schools with three or more racial groups present in significant numbers and two or more languages strongly represented;
  11. careful documentation of the impact on students in districts that restore segregated neighborhood schools.


Schools More Separate: Consequences of a Decade of Resegregation

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Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . factcouraud. (2007, May 22). Schools More Separate. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License