Equity & Diversity

Schools Grew More Segregated In 1990s, Report Says

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 08, 2001 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Despite the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court nearly a half-century ago that school segregation was unconstitutional, the nation’s schools became increasingly more separated by race in the 1990s, according to a report by the Harvard Civil Rights Project.

While schools in the South still have more integration of African-Americans and whites than before the desegregation movement, they lost ground on that front over the past decade, the report released last month says. And it highlights a newer phenomenon that has emerged with the increased Hispanic presence in the United States: Segregation of Latinos from non-Hispanic whites in schools is even greater than it is for blacks.

“Segregation is actually increasing,” Gary Orfield, a co-director of Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project and the lead researcher for the study, said at a July news conference. “Ignoring that reality leads to adoption of education policies that punish people who haven’t had equal educational opportunities. ... It’s a direct threat to the future of a multiracial society.”

For More Information

The report, “Schools More Segregated: Consequences of a Decade of Resegregation,” is available from the Harvard Civil Rights Project. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The study found that 70 percent of black K-12 students attended predominantly minority schools in the 1998-99 school year, compared with 66 percent in 1991-92 and 63 percent in 1980-81. Latinos were even more likely to attend predominantly minority schools, with 76 percent attending such schools in 1998-99, up from 73 percent in 1991-92.

Mr. Orfield writes in his study that U.S. schools are becoming “resegregated” in part because the federal courts have ended strong desegregation plans that were adopted after the 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the landmark case that concluded racially segregated schools were “inherently unequal.” He also attributes segregation in schools to how people sort themselves in deciding where to live. Isolation of minorities in inner cities has occurred because of “white flight” to the suburbs, he said.

Educational experts generally praised Mr. Orfield for persisting in tracking the level of racial segregation in schools during the 1990s and agreed that the increase in racial and ethnic separation is a disturbing trend. But some scholars disagree with him on the causes of such segregation.

Misguided Policies?

“We are in complete agreement that there is something wrong with a society in which people of one color live in one place, and people of another color live in another place,” said Christine H. Rossell, a professor of political science at Boston University who studies school segregation.

But she added that she believes some school systems have become resegregated because of the very desegregation plans that Mr. Orfield favors. In some school systems, she said, such plans led initially to integration, but they also prompted “white flight” as some whites refused to enroll their children in school systems with mandatory busing.

In addition, Ms. Rossell said, Mr. Orfield doesn’t place enough emphasis on the fact that American schools are “becoming less white” and showing renewed segregation in part because the proportion of white students is shrinking overall, owing to a low white birthrate compared with those of other racial groups.

Mr. Orfield’s report, “Schools More Separate: Consequences of a Decade of Resegregation,” concludes that white children are the most isolated of any racial group, which he said at the press conference could lead to problems with their interacting with people of other races as adults.

Mr. Orfield said he was particularly concerned about what statistics show about the isolation of African-American and Hispanic students in schools. The average black student attends a school in which 55 percent of the students are of his own race; the average Hispanic student attends a school in which Latinos make up 53 percent of the enrollment.

The problem with having predominantly minority schools, Mr. Orfield maintains, is that those schools are virtually always inferior in quality “in every dimension” to those with predominantly white student populations.

‘History of Neglect’

Education analysts with minority advocacy groups said they shared Mr. Orfield’s concern about racial isolation.

“We do view segregation as a problem,” said Raul Gonzalez, an education policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza, a Washington- based Hispanic-advocacy group. “There has been a history at the state and local level of neglect of schools that are attended by minority students, and that’s why there has been school finance litigation in nearly every state.”

John H. Jackson, the national director of education for the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People, said his organization considers increasing segregation to be a trend in “the wrong direction.”

But the nation should first improve the quality of predominantly minority schools through such means as reducing class sizes and providing highly qualified teachers to urban school districts, he said.

The solutions listed in Mr. Orfield’s report, however, point more directly toward addressing segregation first. He advocates, for example, the expansion of the federal magnet school program, which supports the establishment of such schools in districts, but attaches certain desegregation requirements.

He supports the development of what are called two-way bilingual schools, where students whose first language is English and students whose first language is Spanish attend the same classes with the goal of becoming competent in both languages.

Mr. Orfield also calls for the exploration of school and housing policies that could prevent the resegregation that he says is occurring in inner suburbs, as well as policies making it easier for students to transfer between districts.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the August 08, 2001 edition of Education Week as Schools Grew More Segregated In 1990s, Report Says

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure Webinar
A New Era In Connected Learning: Security, Accessibility and Affordability for a Future-Ready Classroom
Learn about Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE. Enable students to unlock learning and develop new skills.
Content provided by Microsoft Surface
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity A School Openly Discusses Race in a State That Bans It
At Millwood High School, discussions on race are everywhere, and students say the lessons are essential.
7 min read
Students pass through the halls in between classes at Millwood High School on April 20, 2022 in Oklahoma City.
Students change classes at Millwood High School this spring in Oklahoma City.
Brett Deering for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion The Buffalo Massacre Is Exactly Why We Need to Talk About Racism With White Students
Too many white people are receiving their information about race from racist media rather than their schools, writes David Nurenberg.
David Nurenberg
4 min read
On May 15, people march to the scene of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
On May 15, people march to the scene of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
Matt Rourke/AP
Equity & Diversity Native American Children Endured Brutal Treatment in U.S. Boarding Schools, Federal Report Shows
Deaths, physical and psychological punishments, and manual labor occurred at the more than 400 federal boarding schools.
5 min read
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks at the Cherokee Immersion School on Dec. 3, 2021, in Tahlequah, Okla. The Interior Department is on the verge of releasing a report on its investigation into the federal government's past oversight of Native American boarding schools. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said Wednesday, March 16, 2022, the report will come out next month.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland speaks at the Cherokee Immersion School in December, in Tahlequah, Okla. Her agency's report documents harmful conditions, deaths, and physical punishment for Native American students forced to attend federal boarding schools.
Michael Woods/AP
Equity & Diversity Early Transgender Identity Tends to Endure, Study Suggests
Children who begin identifying as transgender at a young age tend to retain that identity at least for several years, a study suggests.
2 min read
Conceptual picture of transgender flag overlaying shadows and silhouettes of anonymous people on a road.
iStock/Getty Images Plus