Racial integration in American schools has decreased over the last few decades, with black and Latino students becoming increasingly likely to be isolated from their white peers and enrolled in schools with high numbers of impoverished students.
A new report by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, finds that school segregation has worsened even as the country's student population has become more diverse, with white students now accounting for about half of the school-age population and Latino student population exploding to 22.8 percent of overall enrollment.
The vast majority of Latino and black students now attend schools that are majority nonwhite -- 80 percent for Latino students and 74 percent for black students -- while nearly three-quarters of white students attend schools that are predominantly white. 43 percent of Latino students and 38 percent of black students attend schools where less than 10 percent of the student body is white.
In many cases, the authors wrote, this marks a reversal from an earlier era in which the government aggressively worked to integrate schools. In the South, for example, racial achievement gaps began closing in a period stretching from the 1960s to the 1980s, but the region has since seen a return to schools dominated by minority students.
"More than 60 years after the Brown decision rendered the separate but equal doctrine null and void, these figures for black students highlight a significant reversion to the all-black schools mandated during the Jim Crow-era," the authors write, alluding to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in which the Supreme Court struck down the "separate but equal doctrine."
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The deepening divide is not exclusively a matter of race, the report found. There is also evidence of socioeconomic desegregation being linked to racial fractures: The average black or Latino student attends a school where about two-thirds of students are low-income, compared to 37 percent for the average white student.
That means that black and Latino students are more likely to get a subpar education than their white or more affluent peers, the report says.
“Schools of concentrated poverty and segregated minority schools are strongly related to an array of factors that limit educational opportunities and outcomes," the report says. "These include less experienced and less qualified teachers, high levels of teacher turnover, less successful peer groups, and inadequate facilities and learning materials."
The authors also fault the Barack Obama administration for largely remaining idle on the issue and charge that the administration's enthusiasm for expanding the number of charter schools has exacerbated the problem. Charter schools are privately run entities that receive public funds, and while there is no conclusive data that charter schools perform better than private schools, critics argue that students who cannot win acceptance to competitive charter schools are left behind in underperforming public schools.
“The Obama administration, like the Bush administration, has taken no significant action to increase school integration or to help stabilize diverse schools as racial change occurs in urban and suburban housing markets and schools," the authors write. "Small positive steps in civil rights enforcement have been undermined by the Obama administration’s strong pressure on states to expand charter schools -- the most segregated sector of schools for black students.”