The Most Segregated Schools Are in the South, Right? Wrong

students in high-poverty schoolsA new report by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project (CRP) finds that public school students in New York are the most severely segregated in the nation. Students across the state are increasingly isolated by race and class as the proportion of minority and low-income students continues to grow, according to the report, New York State’s Extreme School Segregation: Inequality, Inaction and a Damaged Future.”

“No Southern state comes close to New York,” said Gary Orfield, co-director of CRP. “Decades of reforms ignoring this issue produced strategies that have not succeeded in making segregated schools equal.  It is time to adopt creative school choice strategies to give more New York children an opportunity to prepare to live and work effectively in a highly multiracial state.”

New York City, the largest school system in the country, is also one of the its most segregated. The share of white students enrolled in public schools declined by 10 percent in 2010 from 45 percent in 1989. During the same time period, black enrollment declined by 20 percent, while Asian and Latino enrollment has increased significantly, 20 percent and 50 percent respectively.

Public School Enrollment by Race, New York (Click to Enlarge) Source: The Civil Rights Project

Similar trends can be seen statewide. From 1989 to 2010, the proportion of Latino and Asian students has doubled, as white student enrollment  has decreased. In addition, concentration levels have increased for black students in intensely segregated minority schools (where less than 10 percent of the student body is white). Concurrently, there has been a simultaneous and dramatic increase in exposure to Latino students.

The CRP report also shows that schools become more impoverished as their student populations become majority minority. Nearly 50 percent  of public school students were low-income in 2010, but the typical black or Latino student attended a school where close to 70 percent of classmates were low-income.  The typical white student, on the other hand, attended school where less than 30 percent of students were low-income.

“Many of these areas, particularly suburban ones, have experienced dramatic demographic transformation coupled with a lack of diversity-focused policies, and this inevitably leads to problematic segregation patterns,” explains John Kucsera, lead author of the CRP report.

The report traces the reversal of integration policies back to the mid-1980s when the state began to turn its back on desegregation efforts and instead focused on school choice and charter schools.

“In New York City, the area has been experiencing significant school choice programs and policies that are exacerbating racial isolation as demographics continue to change,” according to the report.

Orfield believes “choice”can provide, at least theoretically, good education alternatives,  but how the policies have been designed and implemented – that is, without any integration plan or basic civil rights standards – have only deepened resegration patterns.

Racial Composition of School Attended by Typical Student by Race, New York (Click to Enlarge) Source: The Civil Rights Project

“This is ultimately a discussion about choice,” Orfield explains. “Choice can either increase opportunity and integration, or increase inequality and stratification. If choice is going to work in a positive way, it has to meet three basic civil rights conditions:  good reliable information has to be provided to parents, there has to be clear goal of diversity and free transportation has to be provided.

“These conditions together don’t exist generally, especially in charter schools.”

Related Post:
Public Schools More Segregated Now than 40 Years Ago