In 1954 the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education mandated desegregation of public schools. So, why are 21st century public schools more racially segregated than the schools of the late 1960s? In an article called "The New Racial Segregation at Public Schools," Teaching Tolerance writer Tim Lockette tries to answer this question.
In the piece, Lockette interviews Gary Orfield, director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. According to Orfield, growing numbers of black, Latino and Asian American students attend "intensely segregated" schools, or those where students of color make up more than 90 percent of the student body. School segregation, of course, is directly linked to residential segregation. For example, one-third of black students attend school in places where the black population is more than 90 percent. Class ties in as well, with one-third of all black and Latino students attending schools where more than 75 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch. In contrast, only 4% of white children do.
The trend not only plays out in regions one might expect--such as the South--but in the racially divided Midwest. A drastic reduction in the number of students being bused as well as the rise of charter schools all contribute to school segregation. To boot, the U.S. Supreme Court didn't help matters when in 2007 it determined that school districts can't consider racial diversity as a factor in assigning students to schools. Lastly, the fact that minority children make up more of America's students today than they did four decades ago also factors into the re-segregation of public schools.
In the mid-1960s, 80% of American students were white, Lockette reports. But now children of color make up nearly 40% of U.S. students. "While the student body as a whole has grown more much more diverse, many majority-white schools have seen only a slight bump in their minority enrollment," Lockette writes.
And lest one think that school segregation only affects "those people," research indicates that the fact that students in segregated schools are far less likely to graduate or attend college has far-reaching consequences for the entire nation. Civil Rights Project scholar Erica Frankenberg puts it this way: "If we don't start educating black and Latino students better than we are doing now, we are going to see an intergenerational decline in the percentage of high school graduates in the adult population for the first time ever."
Additionally, both Frankenberg and Orfield argue that evidence indicates that integration could help eliminate the oft-discussed "achievement gap" between white students and students of color. That's because this gap was lowest during the late 1980s and early 1990s. What was unique about this period? It was the point in time when schools were most integrated.