12 Things to Know About School Segregation — and How Integration Helps Students
1/12 To what extent are American schools segregated?
Another study, from the UCLA Civil Rights Project, found that the average black or Hispanic student attends a school where about two-thirds of classmates are low-income. In contrast, the average white student attends a school where about 40 percent of students are low-income.
2/12 What is the history of school segregation?
Plessy: In 1891, the US Supreme Court handed down Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld Jim Crow laws mandating racial segregation, including in schools. The 7-1 decision stated, “We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff's argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”
Brown: In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education overturned Plessy, ruling that having separate schools for black and white students violates the 14th Amendment. “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” the court famously declared in its unanimous decision.
Resistance to integration: The push for integration — prompted in part by Brown and other court decisions — sparked massive resistance. Cities in Virginia closed schools altogether to avoid integrating. The National Guard was sent in to the University of Alabama as segregationist Gov. George Wallace literally stood in a schoolhouse door to block integration. Affluent white families left suburbs to avoid integrated schools, a phenomenon termed white flight. There was tremendous backlash in Northern cities, including New York in the 1950s and ‘60s and Boston in the 1970s and ‘80s. “Busing” would become a codeword to indicate opposition to integration. Richard Nixon governed as a vigorously anti-busing president. In 1974, in Milliken v. Bradley, the Supreme Court ruled that segregated school districts were not unconstitutional so long as separation of students by race was not explicitly mandated.
Courts turn against integration: Between 1990 and 2011, over half the 483 districts under desegregation orders saw court oversight lifted, and segregation in those districts increased. In a 2007 Supreme Court case, Parents Involved v. Seattle School District, school integration plans explicitly considering students’ race in Seattle and Louisville were struck down. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
3/12 Has school segregation gotten worse recently?
4/12 What impact does integration have on students?
One study found that going to a desegregated school “significantly increased both educational and occupational attainments, college quality and adult earnings, reduced the probability of incarceration, and improved adult health status” among black students.
Another study showed that attending more segregated schools led to lower test scores and graduation rates, as well as higher crime rates among students of color.
Research on socioeconomic integration has found that low-income students attending a low-poverty school made large test score gains (though no benefits came from attending a school with middling poverty).
The research is much more mixed regarding the academic impact of integration on white and more affluent students. Most studies have found no apparent effect, one way or the other, on measurable outcomes, such as test scores or high school dropout rates. However, one study found that for white students, test scores, graduation, and college enrollment rates decreased after they attended a school with more students of color.
This research has focused on the impacts of integration on certain measurable outcomes — test scores, graduation rates, adult income — and many argue that the benefits of diverse schools go beyond this and include, for example, increased tolerance and social cohesion. Studies have found that interactions with more diverse individuals can reduce prejudice and improve leadership skills.
An important caveat is that many, though not all, of these studies examine older integration programs, often from several decades ago. Newer research finds that segregation remains correlated with lower achievement and, in some cases, wider racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.
By Matt Barnum
5/12 Why does integration seem to improve student outcomes?
One study of desegregation efforts across the country showed spending on black students in integrated schools was much higher than on black students in segregated schools. “The results suggest that the mechanisms through which school desegregation led to beneficial socioeconomic outcomes in adulthood for blacks include improvement in access to school resources, which is reflected in reductions in class size and increases in per-pupil spending,” the study concludes. Research focused on Louisiana showed similar results, pointing out that the increase in funding was likely a key driver of gains in high school graduation rates rather than exposure to white students per se.
Another study focusing on Nashville showed that concentrated poverty rates harm schools’ achievement levels but can be counteracted through increased resources.
However, other research has found mixed support for this theory. Specifically, a study on the end of desegregation efforts in Charlotte-Mecklenburg showed that when the district allocated extra money to newly segregated schools, the negative impacts of segregation were partially — but not fully — offset.
More recent evidence has found that the concentration of poverty may be key. According to one recent study, “Racial segregation is strongly associated with racial achievement gaps, and the racial difference in the proportion of students’ schoolmates who are poor is the key dimension of segregation driving this association.” The research suggests that this may have a number of causes, including, “material resources, instructional focus and quality, parental social and economic capital, social norms, and peer effects.”
6/12 How common are integration efforts currently?
But it’s surprisingly difficult to track down the precise number of school districts under desegregation orders. One 2014 investigation found that active integration decrees existed in 300 districts, down from 750. But the same piece noted that “officials in scores of school districts do not know the status of their desegregation orders, have never read them, or erroneously believe that orders have been ended.”
The Supreme Court made race-based integration more difficult with a 2007 decision striking down separate systems in Seattle and Louisville. Since then, there has been a rise in socioeconomic-based integration efforts. According The Century Foundation, a think tank that backs integration, more than twice as many school districts or charter schools (91) had some sort of system for advancing class-based integration in 2016 compared to 2007. Even with this increase, however, just 8 percent of public school students attended a school in such a district.
By Matt Barnum
7/12 Have school choice programs, such as charter schools, helped integration efforts?
In fact, the research debate regarding charters generally focuses on whether they have exacerbated segregation or had no impact on it. Some argue the former, pointing to studies in places including North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Indianapolis, and Texas.School voucher programs are much less common than charter schools and so have less potential to systematically affect integration. There is also limited research on the impact of vouchers. However, one study showed that Louisiana's voucher program led to more integration in the state’s public schools, though slightly greater segregation in its private schools.
8/12 Is racial segregation the result of public policy (de jure) or choices by individual families (de facto)?
For instance, there is a long history of discriminatory housing practices, the legacy of which continues today and manifests itself in school segregation. According to an extensive review published by the Economic Policy Institute, specific examples include:
“From its New Deal inception and especially during and after World War II, federally funded public housing was explicitly racially segregated.”
“The federal government subsidized relocation of whites to suburbs and prohibited similar relocation of blacks.”
“Bank regulators … and other agencies knowingly approved ‘redlining’ policies by which banks and savings institutions refused loans to black families in white suburbs and even, in most cases, to black families in black neighborhoods.”
“Explicit racial zoning in some cities was enforced until the 1960s.”
“Urban renewal programs of the mid-twentieth century often had … undisguised purposes: to force low-income black residents away from universities, hospital complexes, or business districts and into new ghettos.”
This is just a sample of the discriminatory policies that cemented residential segregation. As a result of such policies, African-Americans, regardless of their own socioeconomic status, are much more likely to live in low-income neighborhoods. Black families also have been less able to accrue wealth through homeownership, reducing their ability to buy houses in affluent areas with more desirable schools.In sum, a variety of explicitly discriminatory policies perpetrated in recent history have led to patterns of segregation in housing and education that remain today. Although there has been some improvement in housing segregation in recent decades, much of the country remains deeply segregated by race.
9/12 Do parents and families want their children to attend integrated schools?
On the other hand, some families clearly want integrated schools. A study of the school lottery system in Washington, D.C., showed that many families want diversity. In middle schools especially, the research found that families, across races, preferred schools that weren’t segregated in one direction or the other. This suggests that there is at least some demand for integrated schools.
10/12 Is most school segregation within districts or between districts?
This is significant because it shows the limitations of desegregation efforts by single districts: one district’s ability to integrate schools is severely restricted by the fact that the composition of other districts drives segregation. As the research study put it, “No amount of within-district reassignment of students can overcome high levels of between-district segregation.”Some areas have addressed this issue by consolidating districts or busing students between districts.
11/12 What are some arguments against pursuing school integration?
12/12 Has the federal government pursued integration in recent years?
But former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told The 74 that he would give himself “a pretty low grade” on school integration, a policy that was not included in the Obama administration's signature education initiative, Race to the Top, or in No Child Left Behind waivers.
Former Secretary of Education John King, a longtime advocate for integration, has supported such efforts by, for instance, using diversity as a criterion in awarding innovation grants, publicly advocating for more integrated schools, and proposing a budget item to advance integration. (The budget item was not funded by Congress, however.)
King has stated that he supports voluntary integration efforts, as opposed to mandated busing or school reassignment. Notably, he will have only a short tenure and limited power to make significant changes in this area.However, the Trump administration seems unlikely to back school integration. The president-elect has talked about the issue little, if at all, and his education advisers have been sharply critical of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.