While explicitly racist segregation of American schools has been outlawed, education across the country is still largely divided along racial lines. If they want, districts can rezone schools to either decrease — or increase — segregation.
The policies adopted by New York City are successful in reducing segregation compared to the level of neighborhood divisions in the city, according to research by Tomas Monarrez, a UC Berkeley economics PhD candidate.
To illustrate this research, Vox published an article this week demonstrating how school district policies across the country either increase, decrease or preserve the level of segregation already present in the community. Check out the article Vox published to see a visual presentation of your district’s policies.
Most school districts slightly improve integration in the classroom compared to their neighborhoods, according to Monarrez, but they could do better. However, some districts sort their students such that their schools are even more segregated.
More than 50 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that explicitly sending white and black students to schools segregated by race was unconstitutional. But sharp racial divisions persist in many of the nation’s school districts, and a recent report from the Government Accountability Office showed that levels of school segregation nearly doubled between 2000 and 2013.
And, as the Vox article showed, many schools in the South in recent decades appear to be re-segregating.
Alvin Chang, the author of the Vox article, said the data confirmed what he had long suspected: districts could go further — much further — if they value reducing segregation.
“I’ve always had this inkling that school districts don’t do much to actually reduce the amount of segregation,” he told Patch. “Despite essentially being given this tool [racially inclusive zoning] to desegregate, school districts are not doing it.”
Chang also said that while zoning to desegregate is an important strategy, it’s “weak, given the underlying geography.”
In other words, as long as racial divisions persist in our cities, communities and neighborhoods, desegregation will be a struggle.
There are some caveats to the data. Not every district participated in the federal survey of school zoning, so some data is missing. And the most recent data available is from 2013, so the Vox article doesn’t reflect changes made since that time.
Chang sees his article and the data as a “jumping-off point” for communities to begin discussing these issues and take a closer look at what is going on in their own neighborhoods.
Benjamin Scafidi, director of the Education Economics Center of Kennesaw State University, praised Chang’s article.
“The new research he cited is impressive,” Scafidi said.
But Scafidi offered a somewhat more optimistic take on the potential for desegregation than Change presented.
“Most public school segregation is across districts, not between,” said Scafidi. And on that front, Scafidi notes that overall, neighborhoods and communities in the United States have gotten less segregated — not more — in recent decades. And by the measure of neighborhood segregation levels, the Southeast and West are more racially inclusive than the Midwest and Northeast.
While there are efforts that could reduce segregation further — Scafidi argues for expanding school choice — he also said that the trends are heading in the right direction. As neighborhoods and communities become less segregated, schools may soon follow.
“In all respects of life, we’re becoming more integrated by race,” he said. “Public schools are what’s lagging.”
Story by Cody Fenwick