Thursday, September 20, 2007

Segregation in U.S. schools rising

Wisconsin ranks high in separation, studies find
By ALAN J. BORSUK / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
September 15, 2007

Mix two parts population growth (among Latino and African-American students) and one part population decline (white students). Fold in a continuing pattern in which whites, blacks and Latinos generally live separately from each other. Let the mixture steep in a much cooler climate - legal, political and social - toward integrating schools.

This recipe for re-segregation is the subject of two new national studies.

Both say the tide of desegregation that roiled America from the 1950s through the 1970s has turned, and the reduction in racial separation that often came via court order and school bus is being reversed.

But there is a twist: Largely because there are so many more minority students than in the past, fewer whites are going to schools that are all-white or close to it.

At the same time, the numbers of all-minority schools are increasing.

Within several years, for the first time, fewer than half of the nation's kindergarten through 12th-grade students will be white.

In each of the studies, Wisconsin was listed as one of the states where segregation, particularly for African-American students, is strong.

The findings come at the same time as the 50th anniversary of the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., a milestone in efforts to end legal segregation of schools.

And they come in the aftermath of a 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in June that overturned voluntary desegregation efforts in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, and cast doubt on the constitutionality of remaining school assignment efforts based on race.

"Nearly 40 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we have now lost almost all the progress made in the decades after his death in desegregating our schools," writes Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The data in the UCLA report and in the report from the Pew Hispanic Center show that the level of racial integration still is much higher now than 40 years ago, by most measures, but the trends in the last couple of decades have been toward segregation, especially in the South, the region where legal segregation was the most overt and efforts to change it the most sweeping.

In its report, the Pew Center says the percentage of white students attending schools that were at least 95% non-Hispanic white dropped from 34% in 1993-'94 to 21% in 2005-'06, but the percentage of Latino students in schools that were at least 95% minority rose from 25% to 29%.

For black students, the totals increased from 28% to 31%.

The UCLA report lists Wisconsin as having the 16th highest percentage (72%) of black students attending schools that are more than 50% black and the 11th highest percentage (41%) of black students attending schools that are more than 90% black.

It also puts Wisconsin among a half-dozen states where the percentage of black students attending schools that are more than 90% black at least doubled from 1991 to 2005.

Wisconsin has the 16th highest percentage (17%) of Latino students attending schools that are more than 90% Latino, the UCLA report says.

Using slightly different definitions, the Pew report says Wisconsin had the fifth-largest decline over 12 school years ending in 2005-'06 in the percentage of white students attending nearly all-white schools (from 58% to 31%) but had the second-highest increase in the percentage of black students attending nearly all-minority schools (17% to 32%).

No figures were released in either report for the Milwaukee area specifically, but it appears highly likely the national trends are true here.

While nearly-all-black or all-Hispanic schools are found frequently in the city and suburban schools remain predominantly white, it is much rarer to find, even in the suburbs, schools that have few, if any, minority students.

At the same time, the momentum behind school integration has faded. Little is being done to try to diversify the student bodies of individual schools in the city - the Milwaukee Public Schools system is less than 13% white - and participation in the voluntary city-suburban integration program known as Chapter 220 has decreased.

The voice on the issue heard most prominently in recent times in the African-American community was that of the African American Education Council, which called for reduced busing to be included as a goal for the new strategic plan for MPS.
Suburban schools

In the meantime, the state's open enrollment law is allowing an increasing number of students from the city, about two-thirds of them white, to go to predominantly white suburban schools.

"There are many parents who just don't see the value of (desegregation)," said Jerry Ann Hamilton, president of the Milwaukee chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The organization, a key player in school integration efforts here going back to the 1960s, continues to support the idea.

"We see the value of people learning to live together at an early age," Hamilton said.

But, she said, "there's been a lack of interest on the part of everybody on whether (schools) should be integrated" and court-ordered school desegregation in Milwaukee, starting in 1976, did not turn out the way advocates hoped.

Black children bore a disproportionate share of the busing, which rubbed many African-Americans wrong, while thousands of white people moved out of the city.

Hamilton said in the South, there was great excitement about school integration when it first occurred because African-Americans thought their children would have the same educational opportunities white children had.

When that hope wasn't fulfilled, she said, "much of the glamour of integration diminished."

Orfield, who has spoken often in favor of school integration, writes, "Resegregation . . . is continuing to grow in all parts of the country for both African-Americans and Latinos and is accelerating the most rapidly in the only region that had been highly desegregated - the South."

Orfield writes that the evidence supporting the argument that integration boosts educational success for minority students is becoming clearer just as the practice is becoming rarer and as the connection between segregation and low educational outcomes remains strong.

Other efforts to increase minority student achievement, including the federal No Child Left Behind law, have much weaker track records or chances of succeeding, he argued.

"As the U.S. enters its last years in which it will have a majority of white students, it is betting its future on segregation," he wrote.

The Pew Hispanic Center report
The Civil Rights Project report

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