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Achievement Gaps
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Why Do the Achievement Gaps Exist?

  1. Explanations

    1. School Factors

      1. Racial Segregation in Schools

Are U.S. Schools Becoming More Segregated? Research Says "Yes"

The U.S. is becoming increasingly diverse. This trend is probably nowhere as evident as in U.S. public schools where the number of black and Latino students has risen dramatically over the past thirty years. However, U.S. schools are also becoming more segregated, says a leading scholar.

Citation:
This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:

Orfield, G. (2001).Schools more separate: Consequences of a decade of resegregation.Retrieved August 2, 2002, from Harvard University, The Civil Rights Project Web site: http://www.civilrightsproject.harvard.edu/ research/deseg/separate_schools01.php

To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.


The U.S. is becoming increasingly diverse. This trend is probably nowhere as evident as in U.S. public schools, where the number of black and Latino students has risen dramatically over the past 30 years.

However, U.S. schools are also becoming more segregated, argues Harvard researcher David Orfield. After decades of desegregation, most dramatically in the U.S. South, Orfield shows that the desegregation trend reversed in the 1990s.

Resegregation of Schools in the U.S. South

Prior to the Civil Rights era of the 1960s and early 1970s, the U.S. South was the most segregated part of the country. Much of the national effort to dismantle the institutionalized apartheid focused on the South. The results were dramatic. As a result of desegregation efforts, the part of the country that had been the most segregated became the most integrated.

However, this trend began to reverse in the late 1980s and continued throughout the 1990s.

Orfield draws on data on school segregation in the U.S. South to show that the percentage of black students in white schools increased from near zero levels to a high approaching 45% in the late 1980s. Following the indifference of the 1980s Reagan Administration and the hostility of the U.S. Supreme Court to desegregation policies, these trends reversed. See Figure 1.

Figure 1. Percent of Blacks in Majority White Schools in the U.S. South: 1964-1998

Unfortunately, says Orfield, the resegregation apparent in the U.S. South was not confined to the South. Resegregation is a national trend.

Segregation of Blacks and Latinos into Minority Schools

Turning to national trends, Orfield shows that Blacks and Latinos have become increasingly segregated into predominantly minority schools. Looking at the percent of Black and Latino students in schools with 50% or more minority students and schools with 90% or more minority students, Orfield finds a common trend.

Figure 2. Percent of Black Students in Predominantly Minority Schools

Figure 2 shows that after a decline in the Civil Rights era, the percentage of black students in predominantly minority schools leveled off in the mid-1980s and then began to increase throughout the 1990s. Currently, the percentage of black students in schools with 90% or more minority students is approaching 40%.

The pattern for Latino students is somewhat different. Orfield says that Latino students were not as segregated in the 1960s as their black counterparts. However, in spite of desegregation efforts in the 1970s, the proportion of Latino students in predominantly minority schools has risen dramatically. In fact, the proportion of Latino students in schools with 90% or more minority students now matches that of black students. The proportion of Latino students in schools where a majority of the students are minority is even higher than that of black students.

Figure 3. Percent of Latino Students in Predominantly Minority Schools

The Percentage of White Students Who Are Exposed at School to Black and Latino Students Drops

Orfield says that population trends indicate that current white students will live in an increasingly diverse society. They can expect to work and live in an increasingly non-white America. However, because white students are learning in schools that are becoming more and more white, we cannot expect that their educational experience will prepare them for this future. According to Orfield, white students are having less and less exposure to black and Latino students in public schools.

What percentage of white students are exposed to black or Latino students? In other words, what percentage of white students attend schools also attended by blacks or Latinos?

Orfield combined the numbers from all schools in the U.S. and looked at the average racial makeup of schools attended by black and Latino students. He then compared how the percentage of white students at these schools changed between 1970 and 1998.

Figure 4. Percent of White Students Exposed to Black or Latino Students

Figure 4 shows a disturbing trend. White students are increasingly educated in segregated settings. For instance, even though the Latino population is the fastest growing segment of the U.S. community,fewer than30% of white students attend school with Latino students.

Orfield does not believe that the current situation in U.S. public schools is adequately preparing students to live in an increasingly diverse society. School segregation not only has dramatic costs for minority students educated in inferior schools, but, Orfield argues, it will have a negative impact on white students' abilities to interact with minority Americans in their future workplaces.

Research Design:

Research Questions

How have segregation trends in U.S. schools changed over the past 40 years?

How is school segregation related to educational equity?

What are some effects of school segregation?

How has U.S. federal policy changed toward school segregation?

How is segregation in U.S. schools related to the changing trends in the achievement gap between white and non-white students?

Data

Orfield draws on numerous educational data sets, including: the National Center for Educational Statistics Common Core of Data, U.S. Census data, U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, and the Southern Education Reporting Service.

Methods

Orfield combines statistical data on school enrollment trends to create a picture of desegregation and resegregation trends over the past forty years. In addition to data on schools, Orfield draws on U.S. Supreme court decisions and other governmental policy information to make the argument that the resegregation trends are the result of government indifference or hostility to desegregation efforts.

 



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