Segregation in schools: a thing of the past?

Tahlea Jankoski | Published  May 26, 2017



More than 60 years ago, a supreme court ruling in the Brown vs. Board of Education determined that "separate educational facilities were inherently unequal" and states established educational opportunities to be "available to all on equal terms." 

How have schools progressed in the last several decades?

According to a report last year by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), schools are still largely segregated by race and class. The report focused on K-12 public schools in the United States to find that the number of African-American or Hispanic students in socio-economic isolated public schools increased to 20 million in 2014. Socio-economic isolated schools have 75 percent or more students who are of the same race and economic background. 

The U.S. Department of Education reported in 2014 that white students were in more diverse classrooms when compared to the 1970s and 1980s. Yet, African-American and Hispanic students were less likely to be in a classroom with white students based off of changing demographics in the last 50 years. 

How does socio-economic isolation affect students?

According to the GAO report, students in isolated public schools have fewer math, science, and college-prep classes and more students are held back a grade, suspended, or expelled. Funding is also lower as many high-minority schools are in high-poverty areas. These schools are also twice as likely to have teachers with one year or less of teaching experience and five times as likely to have teachers who don't meet state certification requirements. 

Are diverse school communities important?

The Center for Public Education suggests that "diverse school communities foster empathy and understanding across cultures and prepare students for life and work in a multi-ethnic nation." CPE also explains that children have greater academic success in integrated schools, when compared to students in isolated schools. 

Working to desegregate schools

While some reports find that student distribution in metropolitan public schools has become more balanced in the lat 10 years, this varies by location and there is still plenty of work to do to help balance segregated schools. 

Supporters of school integration note that the Every Student Succeeds Act established in 2015 gives states and school districts more opportunity to help disadvantaged students and integrate public K-12 education. However, school integration can be limited by legal boundaries and hard to implement for the majority of public schools. 

Educators and administrators continue to find ways to better support and break down barriers of segregated schools. The CEP recommends new policies are made on a local level with community input to fit the needs of the district. It's also suggested that families should have a level of choice with school assignments.

While school integration may not work for every community, studies have found that it can provide long-term positive effects for K-12 students' current academic achievement and offer greater opportunities for post-secondary education in the future.


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