Why Are Schools Re-Segregating in America?

Chris Hondros/Getty
Chris Hondros/Getty
Sure, it’s mostly the courts, but charter schools and testing regimes have reinforced the segregation that’s returned to U.S. school systems.
Sixty years ago tomorrow in Brown v. Board of Education, the United States Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public education is unconstitutional, writing that “in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.”Yet all these years later, our schools remain deeply segregated along lines of race as well as class—with charter schools and high-stakes testing making matters worse.

Schools today are as racially segregated (PDF) as they were in the 1960s. Recently, ProPublica wrote a deep and haunting exposition on the re-segregation of schools in the South, including Tuscaloosa. Post-Brown, schools in the South became the most integrated in the nation. It took a while—until the 1970s, really—but it happened.

Today? In the South and nationwide, most black and brown children attend schools where 90 percent or more of the students look like them. “In Tuscaloosa today, nearly 1 in 3 black students attends a school that looks as if Brown v. Board of Education never happened.”

Across the United States, per-student spending (PDF) in public schools with 90 percent or more white students is 18 percent higher—$733 more per student on average—than spending for public schools with 90 percent or more students of color. That can’t be attributed to different geographical tax bases alone; 40 percent of the variation (PDF) in per-pupil spending occurs within school districts. A third of the schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students don’t offer chemistry. A quarter don’t offer Algebra II. Black and Latino students account for 40 percent of enrollment at schools with gifted programs but make up only 26 percent of the students in such programs.

Meanwhile, we know that disadvantaged students of color end up being over-represented in the prison-industrial complex. Black students in America’s public schools are expelled at three times the rate of white students. This discrepancy starts at a frighteningly young age; black children make up 18 percent of pre-schoolers but almost half of all out-of-school suspensions. One in five girls of color with disabilities has received an out-of-school suspension. These statistics are much higher than for white peers even for the same misbehaviors.

Racial segregation in schools has increased largely because federal courts have allowed cities and states to abandon mandatory busing and other desegregation efforts imposed in the 1960s. And in 2007, a sharply divided Supreme Courtruled that public schools could no longer pursue integration strategies based explicitly on race. Yet the legal sanctioning of segregation also paved the way for white families to justify self-selecting out of what were fast becoming inferior schools in communities of color, an inferiority further fed by white flight.

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Source: The Daily Beast | Sally Kohn

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