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New National Study Finds Increasing School Segregation

After greatly increasing desegregation of public schools a generation ago, the United States public education system is now steadily consolidating a trend toward racial resegregation that began in the late 1980s, according to a new study by The Civil Rights Project and researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Ironically, this trend is occurring as the nation becomes increasingly racially and ethnically diverse. Since 1968, the student enrollment of Hispanics has increased by 218% and the enrollment of African Americans has grown by more than a fifth, while white enrollment has decreased by a sixth.

The study, Resegregation in American Schools, analyzes the latest data from the National Center of Education Statistics' Common Core of Education Statistics, and examines changes in racial composition in American schools, national patterns of segregation, the relationship between segregation by race and schools experiencing concentrated poverty, the difference in segregation in different regions and types of school districts, and the extent and segregation of multiracial schools. The report concludes with a discussion of policies that could help reverse the trends toward intensifying segregation. It was conducted by Gary Orfield, Professor of Education and Social Policy and Co-Director of The Civil Rights Project, and John Yun, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Key findings of the study include:

  • Rapidly Increasing Segregation in the South
    The region of the country that is resegregating at the fastest rate is the South, which has achieved the highest levels of racially integrated schools in the country for 25 years. The percentage of black students in majority white schools in the South fell from a peak of 43.5% in 1988 to 34.7% in 1996.
  • Increasing Segregation in States with Substantial Black Enrollment
    Virtually all states with substantial black enrollments increased integration during the 1970's, but showed a rise in segregation between 1980 and 1996. The largest increases in segregation occurred in Rhode Island (20%), Wisconsin (13%), Florida (12%), Oklahoma (12%), Maryland (9%), Delaware (9%), and Massachusetts (9%).
  • Severest Segregation Occurring in Latino Communities
    Latinos, who are fast becoming the largest minority group in the country, attend the most severely segregated schools. Latino segregation has been increasing ever since data was first collected in the 1960s but the issue has not received much attention since the great increase occurred after the civil rights era. Data from 1996-1997 shows that 74.8% of Latinos attend schools with over 50% minority student population, an increase from 64.3% in 1968-1969; 35.4% of Latinos attend schools with over 90% minority student population, an increase from 23.1% from 1968 to 1969. The Northeast continues to be the most segregated region for Latinos, with 78.2% of Latinos attending schools with over 50% minority student population, and 46% attending schools with over 90% minority population. The West, where Latinos are the dominant minority group, has a substantial increase in segregation and now has 77% of Latino children in predominantly minority schools.
  • Substantial Link Between Segregation by Race and Poverty
    Segregation by race is very strongly related to segregation by class and income. Racially segregated schools--for all groups except whites--are almost always schools with high concentrations of poverty. Almost nine-tenths of segregated African American and Latino schools experience concentrated poverty. Students in segregated minority schools were 11 times more likely to be in schools with concentrated poverty than their peers in predominantly white schools. Black and Latino students on average attend schools with more than twice as many poor classmates as white students. Data from 1996-1997 shows that in schools attended by the average black and Latino students, 42.7% and 46% of the students are poor, respectively. In schools attended by the average white student, 18.7% of the students are poor. Poverty levels are strongly related to school test score averages and many kinds of educational inequality.
  • Growing Segregation Among Blacks and Latinos in Suburban Schools
    While large numbers of Latinos and blacks are moving into the suburbs, they remain heavily isolated in segregated schools within these communities, particularly in metropolitan areas. Data from 1996-1997 shows that blacks and Latinos living in these areas attend schools that have an average nonwhite enrollment of between 60% and 64%.
  • Isolation of Whites
    Whites remain most isolated from all other racial groups and are the only racial group that attend schools where the overwhelming majority of students are from their own race. Data from 1996-1997 shows that on average, white students attend schools with classmates who are 81% white.

About The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University

The Civil Rights Project at Harvard is an interdisciplinary initiative engaged in assessing the prospects for justice and equal opportunity under the law for racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. The Project collaborates with civil rights advocacy groups and scholars from universities across the country. The Harvard Project on School Desegregation, which issued previous reports on school desegregation levels, is now part of The Civil Rights Project.

For More Information

Contact Gary Orfield at 617-496-4824 or Christine Sanni at 617-496-5873