More than 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared that segregated schools are unconstitutional, some American school districts are more racially and economically divided than ever.
According to the Guardian, the number of substandard schools for nonwhite students is a “slow-burning crisis” that political and educational leaders are declining to address.
UCLA professor Gary Orfield released a report on the stunning racial and economic disparities in the U.S. public school system in 2014 and he says that little has changed since then.
Orfield said that a “substantial majority” of black and Latino students are attending schools that are segregated by race and poverty. He believes that students who are wildly underserved are destined for a “downward spiral” after graduation in a society that increasingly requires college diplomas and advanced labor skills.
“If you get in a really poor-performing high school, you probably were in a weak elementary school,” Orfield told the Guardian.
“Let’s say your family’s poor, and then your chances of going to a really great state university are basically nonexistent. It’s deeply unhealthy for a place where a majority of people are non-white,” he said. “If this is sustainable then it’s incompatible with democracy, and spells disaster for the long run.”
In the northeastern U.S., 65 percent of black students attend schools with virtually no white students. In California, the majority Latino students study in schools with only one or two white classmates.
Ironically, it is in the southern U.S. that integration has endured the longest due to decades of work by activists and educators who diligently worked against segregationist policies and unconstitutional inequities.
Virginia Commonwealth University professor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley said that schools attended by black and Latino students typically do not receive the funding that white schools in more prosperous districts receive. Their students typically drop out at higher rates and are significantly less likely to attend college.
“These school environments are linked to a lot of factors that depress kids’ educations,” said Siegel-Hawley.
These schools also have higher rates of absenteeism, but also have stricter rules about testing and discipline thanks to multiple layers of “accountability” measures. As a result, students who were already performing poorly often get shunted to the side or penalized for missing classes.
“And then, with post-secondary education not the norm, you’re much more likely to drop out when you see your friends drop out,” Siegel-Hawley said.
“All of those things look a lot different at segregated schools than at stable, diverse schools or homogenous white schools.”
Researchers say the decline in public education quality and integration began in the Reagan years as officials began to stress standardized testing over integration. Furthermore, redistricting has meant that many school districts have roped together white-majority, high-performing schools while isolating schools that face racial and economic challenges.