6 Shocking Facts About Public School Segregation

Today is the 60th Anniversary of the 'Brown v. Board of Education' decision, yet many of our campuses are separate and unequal.

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May 17, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

In 1953, a nine-year-old black girl named Linda Brown was blocked from enrolling in all-white Sumner Elementary School in Topeka, Kan. Her family sued the Topeka Board of Education, and 60 years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in the historic Brown v. Board of Education case. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote those now famous words: “In the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.”

Warren and the other eight justices didn’t mandate a timeline for desegregation, but they probably didn’t envision that six decades later it would still be the norm in many schools across America. Here are six shocking facts about modern segregation that should spur us into taking a hard look at what’s happening in our public schools.

1. Schools today are so racially segregated, you’d think Brown v. Board of Education never happened.
According to a recent ProPublica report, “In 1963, about 1 percent of black children in the South attended school with white children.” However, the report notes, “by the early 1970s, the South had been remade—fully 90 percent of black children attended desegregated schools.” That kind of progress has ground to a halt and, in many places, has been rolled back. Because of lax enforcement or outright removal of federal desegregation decrees, in the South and elsewhere kids of color attend schools where 90 percent of their peers look like them.

2. Public school segregation is worst in the Northeastern states.
Black students in the Northeast are more segregated than kids in the South. Analysis by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, shows that in 2011, more than half—51.4 percent—of black students in the Northeast attended schools where the student population was 90 percent to 100 percent minority. The place worst off? New York. Black students in the Empire State are the most likely to attend majority-minority schools and the least likely to have exposure to white students.

3. West Virginia has the most integrated schools.
According to UCLA’s data analysis, no black students in West Virginia attend schools where the minority population is above 90 percent. And 92.6 percent of that state’s black students attend schools that are majority white. It’s tempting to chalk this up to demographics because in the 2010 Census, blacks were only 3.4 percent of the state’s population. However, that relatively small black population could have still ended up living in segregated neighborhoods and attending segregated schools.

4. In many states, Latinos are the most segregated minority group.
The majority of students in the South and the West are minority students, and the booming Latino population contributes significantly to this demographic shift. Although the South is considered the heart of black America, there are now more Latinos there than blacks. UCLA’s data reveals that in the 20112012 school year, Latinos were likely to attend a relatively segregated public school that was 57 percent Latino, 29 percent white, 11 percent black, and 5 percent Asian. By comparison, Asian children are more likely to attend schools that are 39 percent white, 25 percent Asian, 22 percent Latino, 11 percent black—significantly more integrated.

5. More money is spent on schools with majority white populations.
A 2012 study by the Center for American Progress found that public schools with student populations that are 90 percent or more white receive an average of $733 more per pupil. That’s 18 percent more per pupil than schools with 90 percent or more students of color receive.

6. Students of color get unequal course offerings.
Data released in March from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights revealed that one-fourth of schools with majority black and Latino enrollments do not offer Algebra II, and one-third of those schools don’t offer chemistry. Even though black and Latino kids are 40 percent of the population at schools that offer gifted programs, students from those backgrounds are only 26 percent of gifted enrollment.

These kinds of stats are the tip of the iceberg regarding racial inequality in our schools. “Brown was a major accomplishment and we should rightfully be proud,” wrote Gary Orfield, coauthor of the UCLA Civil Rights Project study, but “a real celebration should also involve thinking seriously about why the country has turned away from the goal of Brown and accepted deepening polarization and inequality in our schools.” Our mission moving forward, Orfield wrote, is figuring out how to “apply the vision of Brown in a transformed, multiracial society in another century.”