- A new report from the The Civil Rights Project declares there is "no cause for celebration" 65 years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, as racial segregation persists even after decades of effort to resolve the issue, continuing to threaten progress and erode the cohesiveness of the nation, The Civil Rights Project announced last week.
- Among its findings, the report details the shifting makeup of public school enrollment over the past 65 years, with white students for the first time representing less than half the nation's school population at 48.4%, Latinos following at 26.3%, black students at 15.2% and Asians at 5.5%. Other key findings detail the changing nature of suburbs and the fact that segregation has intensified despite greater diversity.
- The study notes that the share of “intensely segregated minority schools” — those enrolling 90% or more students of color — has more than tripled since 1988 and correlates these findings to rulings in the 1990s that led to the end of integration orders and plans. The report also calls for more federally-funded research about effective strategies for integration of schools.
The report, entitled “Harming Our Common Future: America's Segregated Schools 65 Years after Brown,” paints a bleak picture of the current state of segregation in America’s schools, supporting other studies finding racial segregation in public schools persists even despite greater diversity in communities nationwide.
When Brown v. Board of Education was decided in the U.S. Supreme Court, the issue was more clear-cut because the contributing factors were easier to define: Unfair laws and archaic attitudes prevented students of color from obtaining access to the same level of education as their white peers. While that issue was legally resolved, the problem of segregation still remains at a practical level in many parts of the nation, due to factors that can be less clear and harder to resolve.
While attitudes may still account for the problem in some areas, states with large, progressive urban population centers are also struggling significantly with the issue. According to the announcement by the Civil Rights Project, black students attend 90-100% nonwhite schools in New York, California, Illinois and Maryland.
The reasons for ongoing segregation appear to be quite complex and a clear solution is elusive. Housing patterns account for some of the issue, and these patterns are sometimes the result of choice as some demographic groups prefer to remain together for cultural reasons. However, these patterns can also be the result of more subtle manipulations by community leaders. A 2009 Forbes article noted segregation can flourish because of “innocuous” and “nonracial” choices by citizens and communities.
"Nationwide, municipal governments enact suburban land-use and zoning polices to promote larger land development, to sustain private property values and to restrict suburban rental housing, all of which limit the influx of black and Latino households,' Richard Benjamin, author of "Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America," wrote in the article.
School leaders can do little to effect change in economic policies or municipal planning other than making their voices heard at meetings and participating actively in their local communities as citizens. But as school leaders, they can remain aware of the situation and make creative changes in an effort to attract a wider student population.
The growth of school choice and charter schools, while valuable in many ways, has made it incumbent on traditional public schools to do more to maintain their diversity by offering attractive course options and promoting the need for and power of diversity. Though this may require more community engagement and effort, it's be well worth it in the long run.