Recent studies show U.S. public schools facing resegregation

Today’s student population is becoming increasingly diverse, yet American public schools are not reflecting that. Almost 65 years after Brown v. Board of Education (1954) deemed school segregation unconstitutional in the United States, recent studies are showing that the vision of a desegregated school system has yet to be fully implemented. Even worse, a reality where segregation is a word for the history books is slipping further and further away.

According to the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, the number of schools across the nation that are 90 to 100 percent nonwhite has more than tripled from 5.7 percent in 1988 to 18.4 percent in 2013. In California, 47.9 percent of African-American students attend 90–100 percent nonwhite schools. For Latino students in California, that statistic sits at 56.5 percent, the second worst rate in the nation behind New York’s 56.8 percent.

Education and civil rights researchers point to a variety of reasons to explain this trend of increased segregation in the school system. Federal termination of desegregation plans in the early 1990s is one cause for the growing number of 90–100 percent nonwhite schools. In Board of Education of Oklahoma City Public Schools v. Dowell (1991), the Supreme Court found that the Board of Education had met federally mandated integration goals, and so the Court allowed for a permanent end to its government-sponsored desegregation plan. The Court held that “federal supervision of local school systems [has always] been intended as a temporary measure to remedy past discrimination.” This decrease in regulation has at least partially lead to the resegregation students are experiencing today.

Other contributing factors to the resegregation of American public schools are population change and the way neighborhoods are zoned for school attendance. The past 30 years have seen increasing populations of nonwhite students and decreasing white student populations within concentrated neighborhoods. These larger populations of nonwhite students, who also tend to be a part of lower socioeconomic groups, are likely to attend schools in low-income neighborhoods with low numbers of white students, leading to a phenomenon the Civil Rights Project researchers call “double segregation.”

Students who attend segregated schools face a variety of barriers to success when compared to peers attending desegregated schools, including:

  • Less experienced and less qualified teachers
  • More teacher turnover
  • Worse school facilities and inadequate resources
  • Higher rates of student mobility
  • Fewer options for advanced curriculum

This leads to lower rates of academic achievement, poorer graduation rates and higher dropout rates.

Meanwhile, students who attend desegregated schools see:

  • Improved academic achievement, education attainment and occupational success
  • Lower levels of prejudice and stereotypical thoughts
  • Increased friendships across groups
  • Higher levels of civic engagement
  • Greater tendency to live and work in diverse environments as adults
  • Higher paying and more prestigious jobs
  • Better health
  • Decreased levels of adult poverty and incarceration

One economist at the University of California, Berkeley, has even found that attending a desegregated school can have multigenerational benefits. His research has also shown that while white students’ test scores are not affected by attending a desegregated school, they benefit by cultivating measurably less racial prejudice and tend to live their adult lives in more integrated neighborhoods.

While this resegregation trend is unsettling, there are fortunately a growing number of California school districts with successful programs in place to support African-American students, Latino students and other students of color. For instance, Sacramento City Unified School District’s Blacks Making a Difference program provides mentoring and support to African-American students attending schools with large African-American student populations. In some northern and southern California high schools, the Puente Project program helps Latino students boost academic achievement and become college and career ready. These are just a few examples of how to advocate for these children. To further support these students, check out a few of the resources below.

CSBA Resources

Governance Briefs

African-American Students in Focus, Issue 1: Demographics and Achievement of California’s African-American Students (4/16)

African-American Students in Focus, Issue 2: Closing Opportunity and Achievement Gaps for African-American Students (4/16)

African-American Students in Focus, Issue 3: Supporting African-American Teacher Retention (10/17)

Latino Students in California’s K-12 Public Schools Fact Sheet (10/16)

Blog Posts

Celebrating African-American History Month: A Snapshot of African-American Students in California

New study finds “adultification” bias toward African-American girls

The Demographic Divide — African-American Students in Focus in California

Other Resources

The Civil Rights Project, UCLA – Integration and Diversity Research

The Education Trust—West – The Majority Report: Supporting the Success of Latino Students in California

The Education Trust—West – Black Minds Matter: Supporting the Educational Success of Black Children in California

Hechinger Report – The children of children who went to desegregated schools reap benefits, too, study finds

SF Gate – Maps show the segregation within Bay Area school districts

Los Angeles Times Op-Ed – America is more diverse than ever before, but its schools are growing more segregated