Time to ‘retire segregation’

Sixty-five years after Brown v. Board of Education, schools in the United States are intensely segregated and are growing more so, according to a new analysis by scholars at UCLA and Penn State.

Supreme Court Building

But the demographics of schools have changed since the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were “inherently unequal,” regardless of resources.

In 1954, the U.S. had a large white majority and a small black minority, and the groups were taught separately in 17 Southern states. Today, whites are fewer than half the students in public schools, there are more Latino than African American students, and schools are more segregated in the North.

In another change, suburbs of the largest metro areas have become more racially diverse as black and Latino families find work and homes outside the cities.

“With a truly multiracial student enrollment, it is essential that we revisit Brown to reconceptualize what it means to desegregate our schools so that students from all racial backgrounds can learn together,” the authors write.

The story of desegregation since Brown is familiar. White Southerners initially resisted, even shutting down schools and using public dollars to fund private, whites-only “segregation academies.” But the federal government stepped up enforcement in the 1960s, and states mostly complied.

Eventually, enforcement waned, courts began to favor “color-blind” approaches, and schools re-segregated. The peak year of desegregation was 1988. Since then, the share of intensely segregated minority schools – those that enroll more than 90% non-white students – has tripled.

Today, black students are most intensely segregated in New York and Latino students in California. Students also face what the report calls “double segregation” by race and economic status: schools with high concentrations of students of color are overwhelmingly high-poverty schools as well.

Indiana schools remain majority white overall, but the state’s demographics are changing — the Latino population has more than doubled since 2000. Here, 68.6% of students are white, 12.5% are black, 11.6% are Latino, 3.7% are multiracial and 2.4% are Asian.

While national policymakers seem to have turned their backs on desegregation, the authors of the report find cause for hope: Segregated schools are being challenged in state courts. Activists are addressing the long-term effects of housing segregation policies. Advocates are speaking out against racial imbalance in school discipline and in admission to selective schools and programs.

“In dozens of districts around the country,” the authors write, “we see educators, community leaders, parents, and/or students leading the way to talk about why segregation is harmful and pressing districts and schools to do more to address segregation and inequality.”

The most promising development, they say, is that student-led groups like Integrate NYC are taking the lead, using the hashtag #RetireSegregation and arguing that it’s past time to fulfill the promise of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision issued 65 years ago today.

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