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Segregation Remains an Issue in School Districts Throughout the Country

Even though school segregation under law was left behind in the middle of the 20th century, many of the country’s schools remain segregated, both economically and racially. It’s not a problem strictly in the Deep South either -- though Alabama schools are guilty of it -- but can be found in schools from New York City all the way to California.

In the 1950s, when the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education and the desegregation process in U.S. schools was put underway, it was a step in the right direction. Slowly but surely schools across the country have begun sliding backwards to becoming more segregated with 37 percent of our nation’s schools being almost entirely one-race schools.

Public policy, housing prices, and unfortunately prejudice, are the driving factors in shaping the racial and economic makeup of most school campuses. New York, California, Michigan, Texas, and Maryland are some of the worst offenders for highly segregated schools. For example, in New York 65 percent of black students attend a primary school that is 90-100 percent black. California’s Latino students have less contact with white students (only 15 percent) than Latinos in any other state.

In many of the majority minority-based student population schools, income inequality adds a second layer of segregation. At Foster Elementary School in Ventura, California, 83 percent of its mostly Latino population is low-income.

This segregation is especially troubling say educators when it happens in elementary schools and can hinder students as they move to more diverse populations in high school, college, or the workforce. "Students in racially isolated schools may not have the experience of interacting and working with people from different cultures and different backgrounds," said Joe Richards, Ventura Unified's interim superintendent. Ventura stressed that in such cases it’s incredibly important that educators place a high priority on educating students about different cultures and embracing diversity. “Teaching students about different cultures and ethnicities makes a big difference."

While those who must field questions concerning the reasons behind a city’s segregated schools, like New York City’s mayor Bill de Blasio, largely point to residential reasons, that’s not always the case. In NYC’s District 1 which covers parts of the Lower East Side and East Village neighborhoods, the elementary student population looks roughly like this: 50 percent Latino and the other 50 percent an even mix of white, black, and Asian children. Families choose between a number of schools they want to send their children and with the majority of the families getting one of their top three picks, students end up being by and large segregated.

For parents like Nancy Zhang, who chose to send her children to the district’s majority-Asian school, it’s simply about where her kids will feel the most comfortable. “Here I feel and also the kids feel the most comfortable,” Zhang told The New York Times.

The choice by parents to segregate their children isn’t limited to large metropolitan areas of course. A judge in Gardenale, Alabama recently allowed the mostly white suburb of Birmingham to secede from the larger district it served that was 48 percent black. The parents in Gardendale simply said like all parents, that they just wanted the best education for their children. While the judge didn’t buy that as the only reason and speculated that there was also a desire to control the schools’ racial demographics, in the end it was allowed. Judge Madeline Haikala said had she blocked it innocent parties would likely “bear the blame” and those that really did want an improved educational system would be left feeling stifled.

Finding ways to balance the enrollment of a school is easier said than done, but it’s a goal David Pollock, who served on the school board of Moorpark Unified in California feels is worth pursuing. Moorpark’s goal is simple: have the schools reflect the diversity of not just the neighborhoods they’re in but the entire community. Moorpark has managed some success in doing so by turning two of its schools into magnet schools and having each school develop a specialty of study. For example, having one school that focuses on earth sciences.

"We didn't want kids from opposite ends of town to meet each other for the first time in high school," Pollock said. "They're teenagers, and their attitudes have already set in."


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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