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Why Are Schools Still So Segregated?

Schools have become more and more segregated over the last 30 years. Why is this?

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America’s school-age population is more racially diverse than it’s ever been before. Yet schools have become more and more segregated over the last 30 years. So what’s the deal? Wasn’t that all resolved back in 1954 when the Supreme Court prohibited school segregation?

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How segregated are K-12 public schools nowadays?

According to a study by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, the number of public schools across the country with an almost entirely minority student body has more than tripled over the last 25 years. Today, almost 1 in 5 public schools in the U.S. have just about no white students.

How did this happen?

A bunch of different factors. Beginning in the late 1960s, a lot of segregated in the South were forced, under federal court order, to integrate. And although a lot of white communities weren’t super happy about it, it worked. School integration steadily increased over the next two decades, reaching a highpoint in 1988. Since then, though, many schools and communities have rapidly re-segregated, largely the result of more districts being released from their court orders and ending certain integration programs like cross-district busing.

There were other factors, too, including a mass exodus of mostly white middle class communities that starting moving from urban areas to the suburbs, in large part because of the schools.

So, in other words, forced segregation is still against the law: schools can’t prevent students from attending based on their skin color. But, without being aggressively pushed to integrate, many communities are still self-segregating.

Why does it matter?

Segregated schools have been shown to have disproportionately negative impacts on minority populations, especially in low-income communities. These students often attend schools with fewer resources, less experienced teachers and lower academic achievement rates. And that can affect everything from a students’ chances of graduating high school and going on to college to the kind of job they get and the amount of money they earn over the course of their careers.


School segregation data: UCLA School Segregation Project

Student racial demographic data: U.S. Dept. of Education

Study on the Benefits of Racial and Socioeconomic Diversity in Schools

School segregation in eight charts: PBS Frontline

The Return of School Segregation in Eight Charts

Study on reading proficiency in segregated schools: Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG)

School segregation and racial academic achievement gaps: Stanford University

School district racial data: EdBuild

Student racial demogrphics by county: Urban Institute

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KQED, an NPR and PBS affiliate in San Francisco, CA, serves Northern California and beyond with a public-supported alternative to commercial TV, Radio, and web media. Funding for Above the Noise is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Silver Giving Foundation, Stuart Foundation, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.