Why is school segregation rising as neighborhoods become more diverse?
New research from Professor Ryan Coughlan at Guttman Community College, CUNY, shows that while neighborhoods in the nation's 100 largest cities are becoming more diverse, their corresponding public schools are heading in the inverse direction, Chalkbeat reports.
Between 1990 and 2015, 72% of U.S. cities saw their neighborhoods become more integrated, while 62% saw their schools become more segregated, according to Coughlan's study, published last month in the peer-reviewed Peabody Journal of Education.
- What is causing the trend is unknown, though Coughlan told Chalkbeat that he believed school choice, specifically the rapid growth of the charter sector since the mid-1990s, may be a contributing factor — though Chalkbeat notes some cities exemplifying this trend, like Seattle, have very few charters.
As Chalkbeat notes, despite the limitations to the study — specifically on a micro-level, when one dives into the individual city data — there are big-picture trends that can be taken away, especially around rising school segregation.
Among its metrics for segregation, the study compared the racial breakdown in schools to the rest of the city. But, since the study didn’t include charter schools in most cases, Chalkbeat points out that the data could sometimes be difficult to draw conclusions from. Detroit, for example, has over half its students attending charters.
Regardless, the negative consequences of segregation have long been documented, and Coughlan writes in the study that its rapid increase in schools alongside greater neighborhood integration "requires the immediate attention of school leaders, policymakers, and the public as a whole."
In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights issued a letter explaining that schools serving more students of color were less likely to have students benefit from the presence of an experienced and highly-qualified teacher, or to offer Advanced Placement courses or even mainstays such as chemistry and calculus. These schools were also less likely to have access to technology.
That same year, UC Berkeley economist Rucker C. Johnson published a study finding that students attending segregated schools were more likely to be poor and more likely to not graduate high school. If they did wind up attending college, Johnson noted, they would be less likely to finish. Additionally, his study found that these students were more likely to go to jail and live in segregated neighborhoods as adults.
Somewhat complicating Johnson’s study is the fact that Coughlan’s study makes the case that segregated schools don’t necessarily mean segregated neighborhoods. This twist could be attributed, as Coughlin suggested to Chalkbeat, to the more recent proliferation of school choice and charter schools.
In 2017, for example, the Associated Press published an analysis of 2014-2015 national school enrollment data, where it found that “more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.”
The data showed that 4% of traditional public schools were 99% minority, compared to 17% for charters — a figure that rose to 25% for charters located in cities versus 10% for traditional schools.