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New Harvard Study, "Schools More Separate" Finds Increased Segregation in 1990s

by Harvard Civil Rights Project Thursday, Jul. 19, 2001 at 5:55 AM

America's schools grew increasingly more segregated in the 1990s. This was the lead finding in a new report from the Civil Rights Project of Harvard University, "Schools More Separate: Consequences of a Decade of Resegregation," by Gary Orfield with Nora Gordon. "Much of the progress for black students since the 1960s was eliminated during a decade which brought three Supreme Court decisions limiting desegregation remedies," while Latinos have become even more segregated than blacks. The increased minority suburban population "minorities has not produced integrated schools."

School Segregation on the Rise Despite Growing

Diversity Among School-Aged Children

A New Study from The Civil Rights Project

Harvard Graduate School of Education

July 17, 2001

Almost a half century after the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that Southern school segregation was unconstitutional and "inherently unequal," a new study from The Civil Rights Project of Harvard University shows that segregation continued to intensify throughout the 1990s. The study, "Schools More Separate: Consequences of a Decade of Resegregation," by Gary Orfield with Nora Gordon, analyzes statistics from the 1998-99 school year, the latest data available from the National Center of Education Statistics' Common Core of Education Statistics. Researchers found that much of the progress for black students since the 1960s was eliminated during a decade which brought three Supreme Court decisions limiting desegregation remedies. The data also shows that Latinos, the nation's largest minority, have become increasingly isolated for the last 30 years, with segregation surpassing that of blacks, and the rapid growth of suburban minorities has not produced integrated schools.

This resegregation is happening despite the nation's growing diversity, in particular the rapid growth of 245% in the Latino student population over the last 30 years. According to Orfield, co-director of The Civil Rights Project and professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, resegregation is contributing to a growing gap in quality between the schools being attended by white students and those serving a large proportion of minority students.

"Though our schools will be our first major institutions to experience non-white majorities," says Orfield, "our research consistently shows that schools are becoming increasingly segregated and are offering students vastly unequal educational opportunities. This is ironic considering that evidence exists that desegregated schools both improve test scores and positively change the lives of students and that Americans increasingly express support for integrated schools. Minority students with the same test scores tend to be much more successful in college if they attended interracial high schools."

Key Findings Include:

* Steady Resegregation Occurring Nationally and in the South

70.2% of the nation's black students now attend predominantly minority schools (minority enrollment of over 50%), up significantly from the low point of 62.9% in 1980. More than a third of the nation's black students (36.5%) attend schools with a minority enrollment of 90-100%. The proportion of black students in such schools has been rising consistently since 1986, when it was at a low point of 32.5%.

Although the South remains more integrated than it was before the civil rights revolution, it is moving backward at an accelerating rate. In the decade between 1988 to 1998, the percent of black students in majority white schools decreased steadily from 43.5% to 32.7%. The resegregation in the South is noteworthy because this region saw the greatest increase in racial integration of its schools between 1964 and 1970.

* Steady Latino Segregation Growing

The most dramatic trends in segregation affect Latino students. While intense segregation for blacks is still 28 points below its 1969 level, it has actually grown 13.5 points for Latinos. In 1968, 23.1% of Latino students attended schools with a minority enrollment of 90-100%. In 1998, that number rose to 36.6% of Latino students.

* Whites Most Segregated in Schools

According to the data, in spite of the rapid increase in minority enrollment in schools, white students remain the most segregated from other races in their schools. Whites on average attend schools where more than 80% of the students are white and less than 20% of the students are from all of the other racial and ethnic groups combined. Even in the District of Columbia, where fewer than one student in twenty was white, the typical white student was in a class with a slight majority of whites.

Blacks and Latinos attend schools with 53% to 55% students of their own group. Latinos attend schools with far higher average (12%) black populations than whites do (8.7%), and blacks attend schools with much higher average Latino enrollments (10.5%) than whites do (6.9%). American Indian students attend schools in which about a third (31%) of the students are from Indian backgrounds.

* Strong Links between Segregation by Race and by Poverty

Segregation by race is very strongly related to segregation by class and income. Racially segregated schools (for all groups except whites) are almost always schools with high concentrations of poverty. Almost nine-tenths of segregated African American and Latino schools experience concentrated poverty.

The average black or Latino student attends a school with more than twice as many poor classmates than the average white student. Data from 1998-1999 shows that in schools attended by the average black and Latino students, 39.3% and 44% of the students are poor, respectively. In schools attended by the average white student, 19.6% of the students are poor. Poverty levels are strongly related to school test score averages and many kinds of educational inequality.

Policy Recommendations

The census data shows that, increasingly, there will be entire metropolitan areas and states with either no majority group or where the majority group will be Latino or African American. This will be a new experience in American educational history. Researchers at The Civil Rights Project recommend the

following policy actions in order to curb racial and ethnic polarization and educational inequalities:

* expansion of the federal magnet school program and the imposition of similar desegregation requirements for federally supported charter schools;

* active support by private foundations and community groups of efforts to continue local desegregation plans and programs, through research, advocacy and litigation;

* creation of expertise on desegregation and race relations training in state departments of education;

* documentation through school district surveys of the value (in legalterms, the compelling value) of interracial schooling experience in their own cities;

* creation of many two-way integrated bilingual schools in which students of each language group work with, learn with, and help each other acquire fluency in a second language;

* provision of funding for better counseling and transportation for interdistrict transfer policies;

* promotion and funding of teacher exchanges between city and suburban school districts and training of teachers in techniques for successful interracial classrooms;

* exploration of school and housing policies to avoid massive resegregation of large sections of the inner suburbs;

* sponsorship through federal and state funds and universities of integrated metropolitan-wide magnet schools;

* launching of serious new scholarship focusing on the most effective approaches to effective education and race relations in schools with three or more racial groups present in significant numbers and two or more languages strongly represented;

* careful documentation of the impact on students in districts that restore segregated neighborhood schools.


The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University is an interdisciplinary initiative committed to mobilizing the resources of Harvard and the broader research community in support of the struggle for racial and ethnic justice. By building strong collaborations between researchers, community organizations, and policy makers, The Civil Rights Project hopes to raise the level of discourse on targeted issues and to reframe the tone and content of many of the current legal and political debates

For More Information

Full copies of "Schools More Separate: Consequences of a Decade of Resegregation" can be downloaded from The Civil Rights Project web site after 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, July 17, 2001. Findings from a 1999 study on segregation, conducted by the Civil Rights Project, can be found on Harvard Graduate School of Education's website. For more information, contact Gary Orfield at (617) 496-4824, Johanna Wald (617) 496-3229, or Christine Sanni (617) 496-5873.

Respond to this press release with an e-mail to the editor


News & Views, Harvard Graduate School of Education

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