When I attended Oakland public schools in the 1970s, my classmates were Asian, black, Latino and white. So I was simply shocked when a student, also from northern California, told me a few weeks ago that she had been the only Latina student in her public school in the late 1990s and early 2000s. All the other kids were white and had, she said, teased her mercilessly about her name.
Segregation is indeed alive and well in U.S. schools according to a recent analysis of US Department of Education data from the UCLA’s Civil Rights Project. For all that the U.S. is well on its way to being a multiracial society, white students are largely concentrated in schools with other whites while students who are black and Latino (the largest minority groups in the U.S.) are segregated from them.
From the 1960s to the 1980s, black students attended schools that were less and less segregated, but this trend started to reverse after a 1991 Supreme Court decision under which it became “easier for school districts and courts to dismantle desegregation plans,” says the Civil Rights Project. In fact, most major school desegregation plans have now been dismantled. Here are ten disturbing findings from the report:
1. Black and Latino students are twice as likely as white or Asian student to attend schools where the majority of children are from low-income families (measured by eligibility for free and reduced price lunches).
2. The average black and Latino students now attend schools where two-thirds of the children are from low-income families. In the early 1990s, such students went to schools where about one-third of the children were from low-income families.
3. 80 percent of Latino students and 74 percent of black students attend schools that are “majority nonwhite,” meaning that 50-100 percent of the students are minorities.
4. Fully 15 percent of black students and 14 percent of Latino ones attend “apartheid” schools where the white student population is 0-10 percent.
5. Eight out of the 20 states that have the highest number of such “apartheid” schools are in the South or near the border.
6. The typical white student (white students comprise just over half of U.S. students) attends a school that is three-quarters white.
7. In California, the average Latino student attended a school with 54.5 percent white peers in 1970. In 2009, only a far smaller 16.5 percent did.
8. Chicago, New York, Detroit, Boston, St. Louis and Pittsburgh are the metropolitan areas are where black-white student dissimilarities are the most pronounced.
9. Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has “taken no significant action to increase school integration or to help stabilize diverse schools as racial change occurs in urban and suburban housing markets and schools.”
10. If anything, the Obama administration has pushed for states to expand charter schools which, says the Civil Rights Project, are the “most segregated sector of schools for black students.”
The Civil Rights Project offers some concrete suggestions for turning back the tide on segregation. Local housing organizations need to keep a close watch on land use and zoning decisions and push for low-income housing developments to be built near “high quality, diverse schools.” The U.S. Justice Department and the Office for Civil Rights are called on to invoke Title VI in certain school districts to bring back federal anti-segregation policies. Federal, state and local governments need to actively create and enact policies that reduce racial isolation and create diverse schools.
I was — we should all be — highly troubled to read the words “segregation” and “apartheid” in the report. The data reveals that the U.S. has taken several steps backwards in creating truly diverse schools for today’s children and with what result for tomorrow?
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Photo from the National Archives and Record Administration via Wikimedia Commons