Effects of residential segregation: American schools racially divided across districts

A new sociological study finds more of the racial and ethnic variation in American education takes place across school districts:

Nearly 60 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that ordered school districts to desegregate, schools seem to be trending back toward their segregated pasts. In the 1968-69 school year, when the U.S. Department of Education started to enforce Brown, about 77 percent of black students and 55 percent of Latino students attended public schools that were more than half-minority. By the 2009-2010 school year, the picture wasn’t much better for black students, and it was far worse for Latinos: 74 percent of black students and 80 percent of Latino students went to schools that were more than half-minority. More than 40 percent of black and Latino students attended schools that were 90 percent to 100 percent minority…

Whites are nearly a minority in the U.S. population under the age of five, and Census projections predict that by 2043, whites will no longer be the majority of the U.S. population overall. “There’s going to be fewer whites in minority schools because there are fewer whites in the population,” said Fiel.

Another part of the problem is with desegregation policies themselves. At the time of the Brown decision, schools in the same district were vastly unequal to one another, so efforts went toward integrating schools within each district. That made sense to combat segregation as it existed at the time.

Today, though…”The biggest barrier to reducing racial isolation…is racial imbalance between school districts in the same metropolitan area/nonmetropolitan county,” Fiel wrote in his American Sociological Review article.

In other words, where people can live, typically determined by wealth and income which are related to education and race and ethnicity, helps determines the differential outcomes of school districts. If residential segregation is common – and it is in many metropolitan areas in the United States – then we shouldn’t be surprised that other outcomes are unequal.

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