School Desegregation
September 25, 2013 6:38 PM   Subscribe

Are our schools becoming more segregated? In 1954 "Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka" desegregated schools in the United States... but, it appears that the country is losing ground in this effort. According to an article in Aljazeera America: "African-American and Latino students are less likely to attend racially and ethnically diverse schools today than at any other time in the last four decades. This, almost 60 years after the landmark Supreme Court ruling that desegregated schools, represents a major setback for one of the core goals of the civil rights movement."
posted by HuronBob (24 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Complicated topic.

Two especially interesting tidbits from the (very good) Al Jazeera article:
[The National Bureau of Economic Research says] “Understanding racial patterns in school enrollments requires understanding the effect that the post-1970 immigration surge has had on the racial composition of the U.S. population. Although the percentage of black students enrolled in schools with 90-100 percent nonwhite enrollment in the sampled districts did increase between 1993/94 and 2003/4, its increase appears to be attributable to the growth in the proportion of Hispanic and other non-white non-black students, rather than to any changes in enrollment patterns by black or white students… The percentage of black students in nonwhite schools is increasing because immigration has increased the number of students who are considered nonwhite under current systems of racial categorization.”
"Charter schools have a different set of rules that they can play by because they can pick and choose the students they want," said NAACP education manager Moore. "We have to be careful that we aren't working with a double standard, where charter schools, which are public schools, have the option to pick students, where other public schools have to take the students they are assigned."
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:03 PM on September 25, 2013

We're seeing another white-flight right now in Florida schools, I think. Whites who can afford it (which is a higher proportion than any other cultural group in most parts, with some heavily Spanish-speaking parts of South and Central Florida excepted) are abandoning the public school systems en mass now, turning to home schooling, charter schools, and the virtually unaccountable public and private virtual schools.

Most I know who are doing it are good people with bad memories of their own school days who are genuinely trying to do what's best for their children. Many admit to being terrified of what those other kids might say or do to their children. A few seem especially keen to convince you not to view their motivations as race-related, but every once in a while, you get the feeling they might be, just a little. The state politicians' solutions so far have been to make it easier to enroll in virtual and home school and to offer parents small vouchers to go seek options outside the public system--options like the many relatively cheap A Beka curriculum schools. It's not good for society. We're backing down from gains we made decades ago and giving drastically unequal educations to our people.

It's nuts to me. Sure, reform education--but do it in the context of improving the public school system, in ways that don't create more potential for predatory, profit-seeking behavior. Public schools can be remade to be whatever we need them to be to meet our kids' learning needs and to help them develop the social and civic skills to become part of a healthy, functioning society. We don't have to let companies squeeze profits out of us to deliver a decent education that respects not only the economic value but the whole worth of a child as a human being. We could do all that within our own public class rooms if we were willing to make the investments and commitment. We don't need to replace public schools with an educational ghetto system. That's not in anyone's interests.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:13 PM on September 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

The high school I went to had a regular track and an honors/AP track. The school was almost 75% black, but there were zero black students in those classes. I believe this was due to a combination of peer pressure, modest bureaucratic barriers (you had to fill out an extra form), and occasional outright racism by teachers and counselors. So it is completely possible to have a school that is integrated on paper and deeply segregated in practice.
posted by miyabo at 7:16 PM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Boston is an excellent example of modern day school segregation, sadly.
            Boston       Boston Public School Students
Hispanic    18%          40%
Black       24%          36%
White       54%          13%
Asian       9%           9%

(Sources: 1 2)
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:34 PM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Desegregation worked. But not in the manner it was intended to.

The original theory was that schools in more affluent white neighborhoods within the same school district [not suburbs] had better teachers and more resources. This may have been an accurate assesment. To remedy this in the seventies they put us on busses. Black people were bussed to the white neighborhoods and white people were bussed to the black neighborhoods. They designated some schools in the black neighborhoods as "magnet schools", targeting resources.

I went to the "white" school and later rode the bus to the "black" school. This was as bussing was first instituted. I didn't see any difference in the quality of education.

What desegregation did accomplish was that it normalized white people and black people being in the same place. We, black and white, before desegregation, were scary and unknown to each other.
posted by vapidave at 7:35 PM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I find this a particularly amusing point of view coming from an organization largely funded and backed by the Qatari crown.
posted by unknownmosquito at 7:38 PM on September 25, 2013

I (a white guy) went to high school at a historically black school that had been desegregated in the 70s by turning it into a magnet school with 50% black/50% non-black enrollment. I remember clearly when the courts ruled that they could no longer use race as a basis for enrollment. They instead started using a location based system which, in a highly segregated city, accomplished about the same thing. Curiously enough though, after the race-based system was gone, the school started getting a lot more funds allocated to it and there was an effort by the local media/school board to change the name of the school from honoring a black man to not using the full name of the black man because his last name is more often associated with a white man. I've since moved away and have no idea how much the change has taken hold, but at the time there was a huge backlash among the student body. It seemed like a mostly white majority in a mostly white city was trying to strip the school of everything it had stood for in the past and subtly replace it by using the offer of more funding. It just seemed dirty then and disgusts me even more now that I live in a more diverse city that seems to be working just fine.
posted by fishmasta at 8:19 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was a kid in the Denver Public Schools in the 1970's, and started school just as court-ordered desegregation was implemented. The first two years they kind of eased everyone into it, pairing classes in each school, and doing everything in half measures: half of a class, half the year, would, halfway through the day stop what they were doing and get on a bus and ride seven miles across town to join the other class for the rest of the day. As a kid it struck me as incredibly silly, but in retrospect I wonder how much hand-holding the school district had to do with anxious parents. By third grade it was a more straightforward thing where the schools were still paired, but one school was 1-3 and the other 4-6 and everyone was together all the time.

Fast forward to 2008. I came back to Denver to do election protection for the Obama campaign (they wanted a bunch of attorneys available on-site in case of hijinks) and after the polls closed, there were a couple of Obama volunteers chatting. Both African-American women in their mid to late 50s, I would guess. They realized they knew each other, but where trying to figure out how. College? Not the same college. High School? One went to East, the other to Manual. Junior High? Nope. Elementary School? They both went to Columbine! That was my elementary school, the paired one. I was sitting right next to them so I piped up "I went to Columbine too!" One of them looked at me, shook her head, and said "oh, no, honey, you went to a different Columbine." I said "Columbine Elementary, up on 29th and Columbine- right?"

Could have knocked their socks off.

Colorado's state flower is the Columbine, so there are tons of schools with that name, not just the infamous one.
posted by ambrosia at 8:32 PM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

vapidave: "To remedy this in the seventies they put us on busses. Black people were bussed to the white neighborhoods and white people were bussed to the black neighborhoods. "

I remember that. Whatever happened to bussing students around? I remember there was massive resistance to it when it was approved and upheld, but I don't recall why it eventually ceased.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:08 PM on September 25, 2013

I see the segregation still occurring. Instead of occurring across neighborhoods within the same city, it is now simply occurs across city lines, with mostly-white suburbs surrounding mostly non-white urban cores. People simply fled to where they couldn't be bused, and made sure that the communities to which they fled enacted certain laws, primarily involving zoning, to keep out poorer - read: nonwhite - people.

This kind of segregation is even worse because at least in the 1960's there was a facade of equality. A city couldn't spend more on schools in white neighborhoods than on schools in black neighborhoods. When you cross city lines, that is now perfectly legal, because schools are funded by local property taxes.

Certainly not all nonwhite people are poor, and a fair number can probably afford to cross the boundaries if they wanted to, but I have to imagine that it would still be a very difficult decision for a nonwhite person to send their child to a school that was 95% white. I think that there is some self-segregation by nonwhites, maybe quite a bit for all I know, but the end result are some schools in a region that are 95% white, others that are 95% nonwhite, in a region that is overall about 20% nonwhite.
posted by RalphSlate at 9:21 PM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I find this a particularly amusing point of view coming from an organization largely funded and backed by the Qatari crown.

Considering they're reporting, not editorializing, and Al Jazeera has proven itself a legitimate, rather impartial source for news, your "ha ha irony bias hahaha!" says more about you than it does them.
posted by incessant at 10:41 PM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

InsertNiftyNameHere: busing still exists in many places, though a lot less than there used to be (and the structure of it had to change after the Supreme Court ruled that race couldn't be used in school assignment in 2007). There have been organized movements against it for decades, though (when I was going to school in North Carolina, the general arguments made were in favor of 'neighborhood schools'). Over time, these movements gained traction and busing had been on the decline even before the 2007 ruling.
posted by janewman at 11:37 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

See also: The Shame of the Nation by Jonathan Kozol (published in 2005, but noting that the re-segregation of the US has been going on for a long time).
posted by eviemath at 3:15 AM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is a demographic trend influencing these results. Latino and African American kids make up a growing share of the population while the number of white kids is declining. It is difficult to know how much of the decline in diversity is just a lack of children for a specific ethnic group.
posted by humanfont at 4:22 AM on September 26, 2013

There is a demographic trend influencing these results.

Yep, this is a thing. The article touches on this, although it could have addressed it more. Of course, resegregation is still a real and serious problem, but it's just one part of an education policy ratking.

I know this isn't a representative example, but here's an example: the school my wife teaches at is largely Chinese, with a substantial minority of Black/Latino students. The school does a pretty good job, considering the fact that almost nobody's parents are wealthy. Those Black/Latino kids would be categorized as going to a 90% nonwhite school, even though the school itself is well-staffed and well-resourced. On average, for general needs students, the school is fine.

But! The vast majority of those Black/Latino students at her school are special needs students. The typical reason why her school takes them in is because they have been brought in from a less-resourced area. Like all the other schools in the city, there are severe policy problems with how it handles special needs students. That's a major issue, one which won't show up in a report about resegregation or desegregation.

And that's not even getting into the internal, informal, pervasive race and class segregation which goes on in the talented and gifted program, etc. Even just within the Chinese population, there's a sharp divide between the students from better-educated families, and the students from the much more poor, often Fujianese families. This distinction will not show up on any report about resegregation, since the listed racial categories are just going to list all of those kids as being Asian. Besides, they're not really facing formal discrimination - "oh, you're Fujianese, give back that textbook" - but rather the informal (but no less real) result of various socioeconomic factors.

Anyway, the point is, you could look at my wife's school, and purely on the resegregation numbers, you might think it would make sense to start busing people to other schools, but that wouldn't really resolve the real problems going on. For general needs students, her majority-Chinese school is more than adequately well-staffed and well-resourced. The racial/ethnic discrimination that a kid will face will be more informal, multifarious, and smaller-gauged - not the kinds of things which Brown v. Board addressed. Worse, especially for the Black/Latino kids at my wife's school, the majority of whom are special needs students, the special needs program is already broken across the entire city - they're already been bussed in, and it won't much matter where you bus any particular special needs student.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:08 AM on September 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Turning away from my wife's school, the broader point is that desegregation was meant to address several issues. It was supposed to normalize diversity among students as peers, yes, but it was also supposed to give minority students better resources than they had been receiving at their segregated schools. "Going to the white school" was supposed to mean "going to the better school." Desegregation is meaningless when minority students don't actually receive a better education at their new, technically-integrated school.

Indeed, misfired forms of desegregation can actually make the problem worse. When you create an "integrated" magnet school, where there's a heavy-majority White/Asian advanced program and a heavy-majority Black/Latino "regular" program, you've only fulfilled the letter of the law, without remedying any substantive problems. Not only have you basically just replicated segregation, except an informal version where there is no legal argument against it, but you've created a "meritocratic" system, where those who didn't make it to the advanced program are assumed to have failed only by their own efforts.

To create actual, positive change, the broader community would have to address those socioeconomic issues which keep people down. The educational system would have to emphasize early intervention - "show me the boy at six, I'll show you the man at sixty". We would need improved vocational training. You need more appealing options for a young adult, other than just being the first to go to college from their family.

Oh, and we'd need to have a growing working/middle class, minus precarity. Little things like that.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:27 AM on September 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

What desegregation did accomplish was that it normalized white people and black people being in the same place.
This, for sure. I grew up in Charlotte, NC, starting school in 1971, integrated classrooms my whole career. I didn't know there was such a thing as white or black schools until I moved to DC.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:07 AM on September 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I led school tours at a museum, briefly, and saw 3rd and 8th grade classes.

It's pretty clear that here in Louisiana, at least, segregation is still in effect.

The odd thing to me was that out of the small sampling I saw, maybe ten schools, the fact that the schools were white or black, public or private, was not a good predictor for how smart the kids were.

The best group, hands down, was a black 3rd grade group, whose teachers had gone over the exhibit subject (Mars) in class before coming to the museum. They were also striking for being very firm, but not mean, disciplinarians.

As a side note, one day we got a group in from what was clearly the school where all the disciplinary cases got sent. It was chilling. The teachers were like prison guards, and the kids were both clearly aware they were in the fuckup school, and equally clearly on their way to jail or worse.
posted by atchafalaya at 6:26 AM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

At the elementary level, the district where I live now has four city neighborhood schools, two suburban schools, and two incorporated rural schools. They all eventually funnel up into one massive high school campus on the edge of town.

The majority of the spaces in each school are for kids in the neighborhood (there was a recent re-drawing of some of the neighborhoods that a number of parents weren’t exactly happy with), with some lottery spaces reserved. If you want your kid in another school, you can either enter him in the lottery, or make a case for how his needs can’t be met by the one he’s assigned to.

Same old story, though; because a lot of neighborhoods tend to segregate themselves de facto, some of the grade schools end up the same way. There are a couple of schools where the student body is nearly all white, Black, or Asian. I’ve heard that it can be a bit of a culture shock when they’re all dumped into the big high school together.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:53 AM on September 26, 2013

My own K-12 education was all at lily-white small-town schools. We had one Black kid and one Hispanic kid in the school I graduated from. And they were the same kid.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:58 AM on September 26, 2013

Charter schools are segregation through the back door.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:36 AM on September 26, 2013

As a parent and a resident in an area where there was a cultural shift due to immigration I watched a school go from an integrated school to accommodating the influx of immigrants to catering to the immigrants and marginalizing everyone else in about 5 years. It happened to me neighborhood at the same rate going from a mixed lower income community to a 50-50 split Korean/Everyone else to a majority Korean neighborhood.

It had happened to me before in what was a Black neighborhood that swished through West Indian and to full on South East Asian by the time I moved out. These switches just happen I guess.

I remember one neighborhood in Richmond Hill that had a historically British culture (Scottish, Welsh and English) and thus had Scottish and English pubs, import shops and so on; but when I went door to door selling natural gas it was an overwhelmingly Asian community. It was funny to me at the time.

It's happening now in my neighborhood; one end of the street has an enclave of Asian people moving in next to each other one house after the other as residents move out or die (older neighborhood) I expect I'll have Asian next door neighbors in the next 10 years or so as my direct neighbors move out or pass on.

It's the way of things; the schools then become overwhelmingly populated by the new residents and the racial mix becomes more homogenous.

Without forced integration of some form it appears people just club together for some reason.
posted by NiteMayr at 8:38 AM on September 26, 2013

"I remember that. Whatever happened to bussing students around? I remember there was massive resistance to it when it was approved and upheld, but I don't recall why it eventually ceased."

Huh. In the neighborhood that I grew up in, which is poor and about 80 percent black, bussing is still going on — kids from different sides of the parking lot go to different elementary and middle schools. I'm not sure how the new high school has affected this — everyone used to end up back at the same high school, which was pretty good (though I split my time between there and the magnet), but since there's a brand new school about the same distance away, some of the kids might go there now.

"But! The vast majority of those Black/Latino students at her school are special needs students."

The mainstreaming of special needs and learning disabled kids is a huge, huge, huge and often unmentioned part of educational policy and funding. That's where the vast majority of increases in costs have gone to, because the state has an obligation to educate these kids (and rightly so) but they're so much more resource intensive to educate correctly. In many schools, this can even rise to the majority of their staffing budget. It's one of the biggest structural changes, and something that rarely gets talked about.
posted by klangklangston at 9:39 AM on September 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Without forced integration of some form it appears people just club together for some reason."

Conway's Game of Life predicts this.
posted by klangklangston at 9:40 AM on September 26, 2013

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