In America’s schools, desegregation is a dream deferred

Demand No. 3 of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was “desegregation of all school districts in 1963.” Fifty years later, we’re still waiting.

And when the nation marks the anniversary of the March on Washington this Wednesday, will the pundits and newscasters even mention this failing? Don’t count on it.

Sure, there are no longer laws that mandate separate schools for blacks and whites. Those were overturned by Brown v. Board of Education, nine years before the march. But as the Civil Rights Project at UCLA has documented, U.S. schools are growing more segregated, not less.

The project’s most recent report, released last fall, showed that segregation of Latino students has increased, especially in the West; and segregation remains high for black students in much of the country, despite reduced racial isolation of neighborhoods.

“It is also double segregation by both race and poverty,” project director Gary Orfield and his fellow authors write. “Nationwide, the typical black student is now in a school where almost two out of every three classmates are low-income.”

Among the report’s most striking findings: 15 percent of black students and 14 percent of Latino students attend “apartheid schools,” where white students are less than 1 percent of the student body. (In Indiana the figure is 10.5 percent for black students).

And segregation matters. “The consensus of nearly 60 years of social science research on the harms of school segregation is clear: separate remains extremely unequal,” the report says. “Schools of concentrated poverty and segregated minority schools are strongly related to an array of factors that limit educational opportunities and outcomes.”

School choice may be making things worse. Writing about segregated charter schools in the racially diverse Twin Cities area, Hechinger Report’s Sarah Butrymowicz notes that “some experts are concerned that this trend is an example of the next phase of white flight, following a long history of white families seeking out homogeneous neighborhoods and schools.”

That goes double for Indiana’s school voucher program. Although the private (mostly religious) schools that get vouchers can’t discriminate on the basis of race, they can exclude students for other reasons, including that they don’t appear to be a good “fit.” No doubt some have used taxpayer-funded vouchers to open their doors to low-income children. But a number of voucher schools appear to be virtually all white or all black.

And of course racial and socioeconomic segregation remains widespread in public schools – in part because of housing patterns but also because of political decisions involved in the design of school districts and the drawing of school attendance areas.

Today, we can’t think of the March on Washington without recalling Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that someday, all across the nation, “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as brothers and sisters.”

In America’s schools, that’s less and less likely to happen.

8 thoughts on “In America’s schools, desegregation is a dream deferred

  1. Not sure how it can make things worse. White Flight occurred in IPS back in the 70s and 80s only to be replaced by middle class flight. This reality predates vouchers and the opening of any charter schools. In IPS the only schools that reflect the racial and socio-economic diversity we all say we value are a few of the magnet schools, which are choice schools.

  2. Parents of a higher socioeconomic status do not want to send their children to schools where a large portion of the children are poor.

    They want a school where students have the same financial resources as their children.

    Even though they may not admit it, they want their children to attend a school where students are well-dressed, well-fed, well-behaved, culturally literate, and college bound.

    In a nutshell, they seek what we label as “good schools” but are actually buildings that house a majority of students that have adequate financial means and come from equivalent and culturally enriched environments.

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