Equity & Diversity

Latino Students Are Nation’s Most Segregated, Report Finds

By Lesli A. Maxwell — May 20, 2014 2 min read
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Latinos, the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, are now the most segregated students in public schools, a trend that is especially prominent in large suburban communities that have undergone dramatic demographic change, a new report from civil rights researchers concludes.

And while gains made through federal court orders to desegregate black and white students have lost major ground in many regions over the past couple of decades as those orders were lifted, public schools in the South remain the most desegregated for African-American students. Public schools in the Northeast are now the most segregated for African-American students.

Those findings—from a new analysis by the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at the University of California, Los Angeles—were released last week to mark the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that ordered an end to separate schooling for black and white children.

The report also emphasizes that segregation in public schools now strongly reflects not only racial and ethnic separation but isolation by family income.

“Over half of the schools that have more than 90 percent black or Latino students are also schools where half or more of students are living at or below the poverty line,” Erica Frankenberg, a co-author of the study and an assistant professor of education policy at Pennsylvania State University, said in a call with reporters.

The Civil Rights Project also published separate reports connected to the Brown anniversary on the state of desegregation in California and North Carolina. Those reports describe California schools as the most segregated in the nation for Latinos, and that North Carolina, once considered a leader in school desegregation efforts, has seen a major uptick in the number of racially isolated schools in the state for African-American students.

Gary Orfield, a co-director of the Civil Rights Project and a co-author of the new reports, said the rise in segregated schools since the peak of desegregation efforts for black and white students in the 1980s has coincided with the surge in the Latino population. At the same time,housing and residential segregation remains at the “root of the problem” for achieving greater racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity in schools, he said.

More Focus Needed

In California, Latino students in 2011 attended schools with a smaller share of white students than any other state, the report says. The typical Latino student in California attended a school where 16 percent of his or her classmates were white. State demographers are projecting 2014 to be the year when Latinos surpass whites to become California’s largest racial and ethnic group.

Mr. Orfield said that most of the federal court orders and other related efforts to ensure black and white racial balance in public schools never applied to Latino students.

“There’s been no real serious effort to desegregate Latinos,” he said in the press call. “The great transformation of our society has not been addressed effectively, and Latinos are more cut off from [educational opportunities] than blacks are.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 21, 2014 edition of Education Week as Latinos Most Segregated Students in Public Schools

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