Study Shows a Rise In the Segregation of Hispanic Students

By Peter Schmidt — January 15, 1992 6 min read

WASHINGTON--Hispanic students by most measures have become more segregated than blacks in American schools, according to a study released last week by the National School Boards Association.

For African-Americans, the study found, the degree of school segregation has remained fairly stable since the early 1970’s.

The report, an analysis of federal and state data commissioned by the N.S.B.A.'s Council of Urban Boards of Education, warns that current trends point toward more isolation of both black and Hispanic students in the future if problems of segregation in suburbs as well as inner cities are not addressed.

“We now have Hispanic ghettos and barrios where virtually all of the students in the classroom are Hispanic,” Gary Orfield, one of the study’s authors, said in releasing the findings at a press conference here. He called Hispanic segregation “a major national problem.”

Although little is known about the impact of segregation on Hispanic children, researchers do know that “isolated Hispanic schools are doing very badly,” said Mr. Orfield, a professor of education and social policy at Harvard University.

The report, entitled “Status of School Desegregation: The Next Generation,” also found that: . Contrary to the expectations of many educators and civil-rights activists, the policies of the Reagan Administration appear to have had little negative impact on the integration of blacks and whites in schools. The policies may, however, have significantly worsened the segregation of Hispanics. . Only school-desegregation programs involving both cities and their suburbs have been successful in deterring “white flight.” . Asians appear to be well integrated into mostly white schools, although there is some evidence of increasing Asian segregation in Western states.

‘Patterns of Isolation’

The study, released in draft form, was based on the 1990 census and 20 years of data collected by the Education Department’s office for civil rights, the most recent of which were 1988 data from 40,000 schools.

Conducted by Mr. Orfield and Franklin Monfort, an honorary fellow at the University of Wisconsin Center for Demography, the study is the third on school desegregation undertaken by the N.S.B.A. in the past decade, and one of the first on the subject to examine such issues as segregation in large suburbs.

The federal government has not carried out a full survey on the racial composition of American schools since 1976. The inadequacy of federal data gathered since then has prevented an accurate examination of some states and several major districts, especially those located in suburbs, the new report says.

In examining Hispanic enrollment trends, the N.s.B.A. study found that the segregation of Hispanics has increased steadily as their share of the student population has grown over the past two decades, from less than 5 percent to more than 10 percent.

The average Hispanic student living in the Western region of the country saw his school go from less than half minority in 1970 to two-thirds minority by 1988.

“Hispanics in California and Texas are more segregated than blacks in Alabama or Mississippi in terms of educational experiences,” Mr. Orfield said.

Nationally, Hispanic students have become more isolated than blacks by most measures. During the 1988-89 school year, for example, while about 63 percent of blacks attended schools that were less than half white, almost three-quarters of Hispanic students attended schools that were primarily minority.

“Patterns of virtually total isolation are emerging for a growing number of Hispanics, but this is not because Hispanics prefer segregation,” the report says, citing a national survey by The Boston Globe that found four out of five Hispanics favor desegregation even if busing is required.

Residential Segregation

The report says that “the demographic trends are probably the dominant force in the increasing segregation” of Hispanic students. It notes that the Hispanic population’s high immigration rates, relative youthfulness, and high fertility rates would cause them to be in contact with proportionately fewer whites even in a totally integrated U.S. society.

Even so, it points out, Hispanic segregation has taken place much faster than demographic trends should have warranted, largely due to residential segregation in areas where most Hispanics have settled.

Political resistance to busing and other programs designed mostly to integrate white and black students also appears to have had the effect of preventing government agencies from trying to integrate the nation’s soaring Hispanic population, the report says.

Although the Hispanic population is largely Catholic, the authors note, it has remained overwhelmingly concentrated in public schools, even in big cities where earlier immigrant waves filled parochial schools and large percentages of white students still attend them.

Regional Trends

In the Northeast, where Puerto Ricans are the largest Hispanic group, almost 80 percent of Hispanic pupils in 1988 were in predominantly minority schools, the study found; 44 percent attended schools that were more than 90 percent minority.

In the South, 80 percent of Hispanic students attended mostly minority schools in 1988, a 5 percent rise from two years before.

The Mexican-Americans concentrated in the West and Midwest also experienced steady increases in segregation over the past two decades.

Texas and California, which accounted for 57 percent of the nation’s Hispanic students during the 1988-89 school year, have both seen significant legal and political challenges to desegregation programs over the past two decades, the report notes.

Rate for Blacks More Stable

By comparison, the report says, the degree of school segregation confronted by African-Americans has remained fairly stable since 1972, despite Reagan Administration policies that were widely criticized as being intended to dismantle desegregation requirements in the South.

Federal policies during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s transformed schools in the South from being the most segregated to the least segregated in the nation. But the 1974 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Milliken v. Bradley, the reports says, effectively halted most further school-desegregation efforts, particularly in the North and the West, by protecting mostly white suburbs from inclusion in urban desegregation programs.

As of the 1988-89 school year, public schools with enrollments that were more than 90 percent minority educated 48 percent of black children in the Northeast, 42 percent in the Midwest, and 24 percent in the South, the report says.

No big-city district has been successful over the past two decades in stopping the movement of white residents to suburban districts with few minority students, the authors say, and cities with voluntary desegregation programs, or none at all, appear to have lost white residents as quickly as those with involuntary busing.

Only Indianapolis, Broward County, Fla., and other districts with mandatory desegregation programs involving both cities and suburbs appear to have deterred “white flight,” according to the study.

More Diverse Suburbs

While the minority population of the suburbs has increased rapidly in the past two decades, few attempts have been made to prevent resegregation in the suburbs, the report says.

By 1990, it says, resegregation had emerged as a bigger problem in many suburbs, especially older ones, than in the cities they surround.

The report calls for the establishment of school and housing policies to prevent suburban segregation, as well as new federal, state, and local efforts to promote school integration.

As minorities become the majority in many districts, the report suggests, educators may also need to adopt a new definition of desegregation that includes integration between two or more minority groups.

A version of this article appeared in the January 15, 1992 edition of Education Week as Study Shows a Rise In the Segregation of Hispanic Students