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School segregation is worse than in the 1980s

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Friday marks the 70th anniversary of the monument’s construction Brown v. Board of Education in which the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” schools for racial minorities were inherently unequal and unconstitutional.

But so many years after the watershed ruling, new research confirms a surprising trend: School segregation has steadily increased worse over the past three decades.

Researchers from Stanford University and the University of Southern California found that racial segregation in the nation’s 100 largest school districts, which serve the most students of color, has increased 64 percent since 1988. Economic segregation, or the division between students who receive free or reduced lunch and those who do not, has increased by 50 percent since 1991.

The research focused mainly on white-black segregation, the groups that Brown The decision was addressed, but found that white-Hispanic and white-Asian segregation have both also more than doubled in major school districts since the late 1980s.

Why does history reverse itself?

Residential segregation, which researchers have historically identified as the root cause, is not the leading cause, according to the new study. The increased segregation is also not due to a national demographic shift, as the country becomes less white. In most large counties the researchers examined, residential segregation and racial economic inequality declined.

Instead, they cited two policy choices America has made: expanding school choice and ending court oversight of integration efforts.

“As we move from a commitment to inclusion and equity to school choice, it is not very surprising that we see increasing school segregation,” said Ann Owens, a professor of sociology and public policy at USC and one of the report’s authors. “We have abdicated our responsibility for integration, and unfettered choice does not magically lead to integration.”

And now the steady increase means that black and Hispanic students are likely to concentrate in schools with higher poverty and fewer resources, a trend that worsens academic and life outcomes.

School choice, namely charter schools, has expanded

School choice, programs and policies that allow families to use public financing to access alternatives to traditional public schools, have grown in recent decades. That’s especially true of the charter school sector, which creates publicly funded schools that have greater flexibility than traditional public schools through “charter” agreements with states. Some of the first charter schools were introduced in the 1990s to create alternative learning environments, with their own curricula and discipline policies, for example.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, charters now serve 3.7 million students in 8,000 schools. During the 2021-2022 school year, they enrolled 7.4 percent of all public school students.

That may not seem like many students, but it is less how many register, and more WHO is.

The study supports the idea that parents, especially white parents, have enrolled their children in charter schools that are majority white. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, white parents have opted out of large urban district schools. There is generally more segregation, both within the charter sector and between charter and traditional public schools.

“We see that as the charter sector expands, the places where it grew the fastest from the late 1990s to now are the places where segregation grew the most, even after taking into account a lot of other things that were going on,” said Sean Reardon, the faculty director of Stanford’s Educational Opportunity Project, which produced the report and a new “Segregation Explorer” tool.

It’s not just white families driving the change: Some charters explicitly target families from certain racial or ethnic communities or neighborhoods, which has also contributed to the increase in segregation.

As school choice programs expanded, other policies that helped integrate schools came to an end.

Court supervision is gone

When Brown In 1954, the Court did not immediately require school districts to desegregate.

It lasted until the 1968 Supreme Court decision Green v. County School Board of New Kent County that schools were ordered to develop plans to dismantle their segregated enrollment systems. The decision introduced new criteria that courts could use to assess school compliance, such as the quality of a school’s physical resources and facilities (such as the type of extracurricular activities offered or the type of transportation they provide to all students, the number of teachers, etc.) or the ratio of black to white students and teachers.

The orders had a huge impact, but in the early 1990s, districts were released from the mandates after a series of cases that gave districts local control.

The new research shows that within five to eight years after districts were stripped of their mandates, segregation increased. Since 1991, about two-thirds of school districts required to comply with the court’s desegregation mandates have been removed from the court’s supervision.

Why this matters – and how we can reverse school segregation

Brown would lead to long-term desegregation. Although school segregation in most school districts is much lower than it was sixty years ago, it is higher than it was thirty years ago. And the current divisions are enough to concentrate black and Hispanic students in schools where poverty rates are higher.

And that, in turn, is driving a lot of the inequality and disparate outcomes that we’re seeing, Owens says. ‘It is not the case that sitting next to a child from a certain racial group is initially beneficial. The point is that home resources, social resources and political resources in our society are related to race.”

The achievement gaps are wider and growing faster as children progress in more segregated districts than in more integrated districts, Reardon said, adding that integration efforts tailored to the problems of a specific city have led to very large improvements in educational attainment. and life outcomes for students of color. Research has also shown that desegregation does not worsen outcomes for white students.

Given that housing segregation contributed to the emergence of school segregation in the first place, tackling this problem will mean taking a “multi-sectoral approach because the education system cannot cope with this alone ” said Reardon.

Apart from that, there are a few solutions that can at least help us counteract the declines of the past thirty years. Everything from voluntary integration programs to socio-economically based student allocation policies – and when we commit to school choice policies, we choose programs that positively promote integration.

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