A new study shows de facto segregation in schools still exists.
Photo Illustration by Philip Catterall
A new study shows de facto segregation in schools still exists.

Although outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court more than 50 years ago, segregation in public schools persists across the nation, a study found.

The report “E Pluribus... Separation,” conducted by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, elucidates deepening segregation for Latino and black students, who attend increasingly more impoverished schools than they have for the past several decades. These findings, based on data from the Department of Education, show that 43 percent of Latinos and 38 percent of black students attend schools in which fewer than one-tenth of their fellow students are white.

Lead author Gary Orfield, co-director of The Civil Rights Project, could not be reached for comment.

It has been hard to conclusively prove the educational benefits of diverse student bodies, but the deleterious effects of poverty on schools are well-documented, wrote Jacob Vigdor, professor of public policy and economics, in an email Thursday. Vigdor conducts research on education and racial inequality.

“We have stronger evidence to indicate that it’s harder to recruit and keep great teachers in high-poverty schools,” he said. “Integration can guard against the development of high-poverty schools.”

The concentration of minority students in more impoverished schools thus poses a threat to the quality of education those students will experience.

In Durham, school system does not reflect the racial makeup of the general population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the white population in Durham County makes up 54 percent of the community, black people 39 percent and Latinos 14 percent.

In the Durham public school system, however, white students account for just 21 percent of the student population. Black students are the most numerous group with 51 percent of the population, and Latino students form the second largest group with 22 percent.

Robin McCoy, chief communications officer for Durham public schools, could not be reached for comment.

The Durham public school population, however, is still less stratified than the national average.

Jacob Vigdor, professor of public policy and economics, conducts research on education and racial inequality. He said that although the national statistics are dismal, the situation may be improving.

“Neighborhoods have been on an integrating trend for 40 years now,” Vigdor wrote in an email Thursday. “We’ll end up on a path to greater school integration so long as neighborhoods keep integrating.”

Even with increased racial and socioeconomic diversity, schools will still struggle with high performance, Vigdor added.

“I don’t think segregation is the biggest challenge facing schools right now. It’s funding,” he said. “We can integrate schools all we want, but if the schools have no budget, then education will suffer.”

The report conducted by the Civil Rights Project also found a significant correlation between schools with high poverty rates and those with high minority populations. When these schools are segregated racially and socioeconomically, they often lack the resources necessary to perform well, a situation neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration has been able to combat.

The states in which black students face the most segregation are Illinois, New York and Michigan, according to the study. Latino students are most affected in California, New York and Texas.

The report urges increased awareness, improved government policies, advocacy and enforcement to put schools back on track towards integration.

Freshman Lorena Garcia, who attended a public school in California’s central valley, said that her community, which was 99.8 percent Latino, faced a lack of opportunities and resources.

“I didn’t have great teachers simply because many good teachers didn’t want to teach at my school,” she said.