Writing for The 74, Linda Jacobson reviews a new study that explores segregation in U.S. public schools. Excerpts of the piece appear below:
In the 2018-19 school year, one in six students attended a school where over 90% of their peers were of the same race, with school districts in New York City and Milwaukee among the most segregated, according to a new study.
The publication of the report from The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, was timed to mark the 68th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education and demonstrates the degree to which the nation’s schools remain segregated by race long after it was legally outlawed.
‘Pernicious’ segregation between school districts, not within them, is the primary reason for racial isolation in 280 out of the 403 metro areas, the report said. That is particularly true in the Northeast and Midwest, where counties often have multiple small school districts. Within-district segregation is greater in the South, which tends to have larger, countywide districts.
“The way that district lines are drawn has a huge impact on segregation and the resources that students in segregated districts have,” said lead author Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the progressive think tank.
Enrollment losses in urban public schools, exacerbated by the pandemic when many students left for private and charter schools, have likely contributed to further racial isolation in some communities, Potter said. But she chalked up the chief causes of segregation to migration, immigration, and population growth. School attendance policies that keep students from enrolling in neighboring districts and white residents’ push to secede from majority minority districts are also contributing factors.
The Biden administration has proposed policies to address the issues, including a $100 million grant program to support racial and socioeconomic diversity. Potter said states also have “carrots and sticks” to achieve more integrated schools.
For example, states can allow students to transfer across district lines. They also can design magnet schools to draw students from multiple districts. And they can require districts to take diversity into account when making boundary changes — a practice that only Arkansas and California have implemented.
“It’s a lot of work and coordination to get individual districts to come up with this on their own,” she said, adding that if more states prevented secessions and actively encouraged district mergers that promote integration, “that could be a powerful tool for tackling interdistrict segregation.”