School Segregation Is Worse Than It’s Ever Been
The narrative may have changed in the greater populace, but a chilling fact remains that school segregation has gotten markedly worse over the past few decades. While this is a bold assertion, it has been repeatedly backed up by data which illuminates a growing divide in where students from disadvantaged and minority households go to school. In a society where black children are now more likely to grow up in a low-income neighborhood than 50 years ago under the ghost of systemic segregation, this data has scary weight.
In a country where black students were purposefully placed in segregated, low-income schools and forced into second-class citizenship from the get-go, African American students were left in situations with a very low chance of situational transcendence. This hasn’t necessarily changed much for the better, considering the disproportionate amount of African American citizens in low-income neighborhoods and research which shows that growing up in such neighborhoods can have a negative impact on everything from future earnings and educational opportunities to simple happiness.
The segregation truth
Research by Cornell sociologist Daniel Lichter concludes that actual segregation between white families and non-white families hasn’t changed much since the 1980s. Furthermore, while segregation within urban areas has gotten better, segregation between municipalities has become much, much worse. In short, your town itself may be less segregated as a whole. But, comparing your town to another town will likely show a greater rate of segregation.
This is extremely troubling for our nation’s schools as the way districts and school attendance are drawn up is based upon where the students are physically residing. With segregation at such a high point between municipalities, it naturally follows that segregation is at a high point in United States schools where school enrollments (and their overall diversity) are a direct reflection of the racial gap between municipalities. By sending kids to the nearest schools, our school districts are entrenching segregation as a reflection of a growing residential divide.
The sad truth of reactive segregation
Per research completed by Southern Methodist University’s Meredith Richards shows that while some neighborhoods don’t show many shifts in their demographics, these neighborhoods still draw school attendance zones in such a way as to segregate and resegregate. Furthermore, neighborhoods which do experience demographic change on a regular basis tend to draw attendance zones which promote further segregation as a response. This causes increased isolation for predominantly Black and Hispanic students in both our nation’s public and charter schools.
While this criticism and truth have been brought up time and time again in research, school districts are doing very little, if anything, to fix such segregation. By holding onto tried-and-true ways of drawing attendance zones and defensively redrawing districts to enforce and reinforce the divide between students of different colors and backgrounds, our nation’s schools are facilitating institutional segregation which is causing irrevocable harm. Unless schools counterbalance growing residential segregation with new ways of drawing up school attendance zones, this sad truth will remain true.