Racial Segregation in Schools Still Affects Many Americans
Years after Brown v Board of Education, racial segregation in schools still affects many Americans, specifically ethnic minorities such as blacks and Latinos. In the source provided by the College Board, “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, Martin Luther King Jr. addresses critics of the social reform movement for civil rights that was especially prominent in the 1950s-1960s. Dr. King also examines segregation among whites and blacks and his letter contains strong appeals to support the peaceful movement for racial integration. Another provided source, “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan, was also written in 1962. His song contains lyrics that advocate peace over war and address racial injustice with the lyrics “how many years can some people exist/Before they’re allowed to be.” The song supports the idea that the answer to solving many racial injustices is accessible when sought. Combined together, both sources advocate civil rights and social justice.
I wondered what the effect of changes made as a result of 1960s civil rights movements had on current social trends. I discovered that schools that had previously desegregated were beginning to resegregate or had never fully desegregated even after Brown v Board of Education. The UCLA Civil Rights Project investigates the “striking rise in double segregation by race and poverty for African American and Latino students” in schools all around the United States (Orfield et al. 1). According to Gary Orfield, Professor of Education and Social Policy, and Jongyeon Ee, Ph.D. in Education from UCLA, California “was little affected by the Brown decision” and “has had serious issues of separation and discrimination in its schools since it became a state.” These changes, and in California’s case as well a lack of change, lead me to ask the question: What factors contribute to growing trends of racial segregation in California schools? I have identified race and economic status as the two major factors contributing to racial segregation.
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History of Segregation:
Throughout the history of the United States, ethnic minorities, specifically blacks and Latinos have endured racism in all aspects of their lives, including housing and as a result, education. Eric Foner, Ph.D. from Columbia, DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History, describes how during the 1950s, “along with discriminatory practices by private banks and real-estate companies, federal policy became a major factor in further entrenching housing segregation in the United States” (Foner 834). Foner reveals how in some cases “the presence of a single black family led the agency to declare an entire block off-limits for federal mortgage insurance” and that “North as well as South, insisted that housing built or financially aided by the federal government be racially segregated” (Foner 834). These policies kept racial segregation in housing alive long after the civil rights movements of the 1960s and “As late as the 1990s, nearly 90 percent of suburban whites lived in communities with non-white populations of less than 1 percent” (Foner 938). In 1949 Congress passed a Housing Act that was limited, by private contracts avoiding competition, to only support the very poor (Foner 939). Coupled with white opposition to public housing construction, the Housing Act was “increasingly confined to segregated neighborhoods” and reinforced the concentration of poverty in “non-white neighborhoods” (Foner 939). In addition, urban renewal projects drove out residents living in poor neighborhoods in order to access the real estate they lived on (Foner 939). Displaced white residents often moved into suburbs while non-whites who were unable to do so, “found housing in run-down city neighborhoods” (Foner 939). Foner describes how “suburbanization hardened the racial lines of division” (Foner 939). In 1954, Brown v Board of Education was passed, a Supreme Court ruling that ordered the desegregation of public schools. Although Brown v Board of Education marked a change, it did not address the segregation that resulted from housing patterns because “school funding rested on property taxes” ( Foner 1076).
California specifically was not affected largely by Brown v Board of Education (Orfield and Ee 3). The UCLA Civil Rights Project describes how “[m]ajor court decisions in California mandating segregation that occurred in the 1970s were overturned by the 1990s, thus California presently has no school integration policy” (Orfield and Ee 3). According to data collected from the UCLA Civil Rights Project, these policies coupled with other factors have led to California to become one of the most racially segregated states for blacks and, the most racially segregated states for Latinos (Orfield and Ee).
Current Racial Segregation Trends:
There is a current trend towards resegregation in the public schools of the United States. This trend is supported by a study conducted in 2018 under the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a branch of the US Department of Education which included data that describes how “51 percent of White students were enrolled in public schools” where “75 percent or more of enrollment was White” (de Brey et al. 58). This data reveals the current isolation of white students in schools. The study compared the information with statistics on enrollment of ethnic minorities and found that “in fall 2015, approximately 30 percent of public [school] students attended public schools in which the combined enrollment of minority students was at least 75 percent of total enrollment” (de Brey et al. 57). Of the ethnic minorities included:
Over half of Hispanic (60 percent), Black (58 percent), and Pacific Islander students (53 percent) attended such schools. In contrast, less than half of Asian students (38 percent) … [and] White students (5 percent) attended such schools. Instead, the majority of White students (51 percent) attended schools where the combined enrollment minority students were 25 percent or less of total enrollment. (de Brey et al. 57)
EdBuild, a non-profit organization founded in 2005 that raises awareness about public school funding, describes how predominately white school districts receive $23 billion more than districts composed of predominantly nonwhites (EdBuild). Clare Lombardo, a news assistant at NPR, a nationwide broadcasting news company, covers the topic and EdBuild’s research in her NPR article. She describes how researchers at EdBuild have discovered that “high-poverty districts serving mostly students of color receive about $1,600 less per student than the national average” (Lombardo). Lombardo contrasts this data with that of predominantly white and poor students, who receive “about $130 less” than the national average (Lombardo). Currently, one of the major causes of racial segregation in public schools due to poverty is housing segregation. Housing segregation dates all the way back to the 1950s when suburbs were growing in popularity and size. Because school districts in California are based on where the student lives, students in poverty often attend schools that receive less funding (Lombardo).
Similarly to Lombardo’s research, the UCLA Civil Rights Projects evidence supports the existence of poverty for black and Latino students with data focused on schools in California. The project studies double segregation by race and poverty for blacks and Latinos. According to Orfield and Ee, “the average white or Asian student attends a school where about 40 percent of their schoolmates are poor, while the typical black or Latino student attends a school where 70 percent of students are poor” (Orfield and Ee 40). The study describes how most white and Asian children will attend a “middle-class school” while blacks and Latinos are more likely to attend a “school of concentrated poverty” (Orfield and Ee 40). Furthermore, the “poverty California’s children experience has increased markedly in the last generation, as has the level of segregation by poverty, particularly for black and Latino students” (Orfield and Ee 41).
The problem of racial segregation in California is ethically important to address because of the inherent racism that surrounds this problem. In order to effectively combat the rise in double segregation for blacks and Latinos in California, there are multiple new standards that need to be implemented. School districts need to receive more equal funding and need to attempt to combat the current difference in money provided by local state taxes. Although “Black, Latino, and American Indian or Alaska Native students are more likely to attend schools with higher concentrations of inexperienced teachers” combatting this statistic is difficult without moving teachers who have been teaching for a while into other districts (2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection A First Look 9). One solution is to provide buses for students and shuttle students from poorer school districts into ones that have more funding. On This American Life, a radio program produced in collaboration with Chicago Public Media and hosted by Ira Glass, Nikole Hannah Jones, an award-winning investigative reporter covering racial injustice for the New York Times Magazine, describes how “the data shows that at the start of real desegregation [in 1971], the achievement gap between black and white students was about 40 points.” Glass includes the idea that:
[O]n standardized reading tests in 1971, black 13-year-olds tested 39 points worse than white kids. That dropped to just 18 points by 1988 at the height of desegregation … And these scores are not just the scores of the specific kids who got bussed into white schools. That is the overall score for the entire country. That’s all black children in America. Halved in just 17 years. (Jones)
Jones’ describes how integration moves “black kids in the same facilities as white kids, and therefore it gets them access to the same things that those kids get– quality teachers and quality instruction” (Jones).
Another solution to the problem is to redraw school zoning lines based on economic status (Delmont). NPR program guest, Matthew Delmont, writer of a book on why busing failed to desegregate America, describes how by redrawing “the zoning lines you can accomplish school desegregation” (Delmont). Because blacks and Latinos often face segregation by poverty, redrawing school district lines allows them to attend more well-funded schools without some of the opposition associated with forced integration based on race.
There are limitations associated with each solution. With busing, there is opposition to forced integration from both blacks and whites. An article in the New York Times by Michael Winerip, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, describes how “[w]hen the Charlotte busing plan began in 1971, there were whites who threatened to go to jail before they would let their children attend schools with blacks.” In addition, Delmont describes how one of the reasons busing failed was due to white flight from neighborhoods; another reason was the “tremendous burden” busing placed on black students and on students of color who “were asked to travel to the suburbs, travel sometimes to hostile neighborhoods.” However, busing allows black and other minority students to attend schools with better funding and have more equal access to opportunity.
There are also limitations associated with redrawing the school districts based on economic status. Students will be mandated to attend different schools other than ones they had previously attended, separating them from friends. In addition, time is needed to decide how to redraw districts as well as allocating additional funds to schools. However, this solution shifts the burden of integration from resting on ethnic minorities to resting on school districts, which can adjust over time. In addition, redrawing districts helps to decrease the ethnic achievement gap because blacks and Latinos will have access to quality teachers and instruction.
America has long defined itself as a country where anyone can be successful by pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. However, after examining the current racial disparities in the American schooling system and learning how they are further exacerbated by economic status, it becomes clear that for many children, inequality for ethnic minorities living in poverty begins at a young age (2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection A First Look 3). In order to once again begin the process of desegregation, schools need to redraw school district lines based on economic status. Although there are limitations of time and funding, the best solution to reduce inequality within school districts that will move us as a nation forward is to redraw the boundaries to ensure all students have equal access to the best opportunities in public education.”