Equity & Diversity

Segregation of Latino Students From White Peers Increased Over a Generation, Study Finds

By Christina A. Samuels — July 30, 2019 2 min read
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In 1998, the average Latino elementary school student attended a school where 40 percent of her classmates were white.

But by 2015, the average young Latino student was attending a school with a student body of only 30 percent white students, demonstrating an increased level of ethnic segregation, according to a new analysis of student data. One factor is the growing share of Latino students among the elementary-school population, the study notes.

The isolation of Latinos is particularly high in large urban districts, said Bruce Fuller, a sociologist from the University of California Berkeley and a co-author of the study. In 1998, 7 percent of the average Latino child’s classmates were white in big-city districts, and by 2010 that had dropped to 5 percent.

At the same time, Fuller said, the study showed the diversity among Latino children, who today make up more than a quarter of the 35.5 million children in public elementary school. For example, Latino children whose mothers were born in the United States also attended less racially and ethnically segregated schools than Latino children whose mothers were foreign-born.

And the study showed that poor and middle income children are more likely to attend school together, irrespective of race. The average elementary student from a low-income family in 2015 attended a school where about 50 percent of peers were middle income. In 1998, that average poor child attended a school where only 40 percent of peers were middle income.

The findings, a collaboration between researchers from Berkeley; the University of Maryland; and the University of California Irvine were published Tuesday in the journal Educational Researcher.

This study did not compare integration of Latino students with integration of black students over the same time frame. However, other researchers, using different analytical tools, have looked at that question and found that white students and Latino students attend the most segregated schools. The Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that white students, on average, attend a school in which 69 percent of the students are white, and Latino students attend a school in which 55 percent of the students are Latino. Black students attend schools that average 47 percent black enrollment, and Asian students attend schools that average 24 percent Asian enrollment.

Decades of research have shown that when low-income children attend school with middle-income students, the children from low-income families have higher test scores, are more likely to attend college, and less likely to drop out. With that in mind, Fuller said, school leaders could do more to balance race and ethnicity within schools, using tools such as magnet schools, dual-language immersion programs, and redrawing school boundaries with socioeconomic diversity in mind.

“There are some devices that I think are being deployed with some success tend to counteract segegration,” Fuller said.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.