Science + Technology

Report From Civil Rights Project at UCLA Shows Racial Inequality Growing in America’s Schools


The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, one of the nation's leading research centers on issues of civil rights and racial inequality, has released a report examining the growing racial inequality in America's public schools. Offering recommendations on how to realize the benefits of integration, the report comes as school districts across the country face the challenge of responding to the U.S. Supreme Court's new limits on desegregation plans.

Co-authored by Civil Rights Project co-director Gary Orfield and researcher Chungmei Lee, "Historic Reversals, Accelerating Resegregation and the Need for New Integration Strategies" shows that resegregation was accelerating long before the Supreme Court's June 2007 ruling, particularly in the South, where new 2005–06 school-year data show a historic reversal in the region's desegregation.

"Nearly two decades into the resegregation that earlier decisions helped create, the South is losing its huge gains in race relations in the civil rights era," said Orfield. "The country is likely to become even more separate — shutting out rapidly growing Latino and black populations from the strong schools and interracial experience they and our communities need if we are to be an economically and socially successful society. This goal is so important that educators and community leaders must find ways to support integrated schools in spite of the new limits."

The report concludes that for the first time in more than three decades, the South no longer has the nation's most integrated schools and that desegregation is in rapid decline. The report also suggests that the frequently proposed use of social-class desegregation as an alternative to assignment by race will be unsuccessful because of a declining relationship between race and poverty.

Additionally, there has been a substantial increase in multiracial schools where diversity policies would be far less likely to help integrate highly segregated black and Latino students.  Findings also show that segregation had been increasing in all parts of the country before the recent court decision, largely because of a series of negative rulings by the Supreme Court in the l990s.

The report comments on the massive evidence presented in briefs by researchers to the Supreme Court last fall. That evidence demonstrated the inequalities of segregated schools, along with the educational and social gains found in desegregated schools. Orfield described the Court's June decision as a "historic blunder ignoring much more powerful evidence than what was before the Court at the time of Brown v. Board of Education and sending the country back on a path that failed in thousands of communities embracing 'separate but equal' for six decades before Brown."

The report notes that the Supreme Court decision will invalidate many desegregation plans that currently exist outside the South and points out that, if adopted, a proposal by the U.S. Department of Education to change the racial categorization of students would make it impossible to effectively measure the impact of the Court's decision on school desegregation. The report concludes with recommendations for school districts and communities trying to preserve racial diversity given the constraints of the Court's new decision.

Additional key trends:

        The percentage of public school students who were white fell from 80 to 57 percent between 1968 to 2005; Latino enrollment nearly quadrupled during that period.

        The percentage of students poor enough for free lunch has soared, and all groups of students now attend schools with higher percentages of poverty than in the past.

        Latino students are more segregated than black students, but both groups are growing increasingly isolated from whites.

        On average, Asians attend the most desegregated schools; whites are the most segregated from other groups.

        There are now 10 states where less than half the students are white, and most non-white students live in these states.

        Black students are now the fourth-largest minority group in the West, after whites, Latinos and Asians.  Black students tend to be segregated in schools with more Latinos than fellow blacks.

        There is a powerful relationship between segregation and dropout rates.

        While America's large suburban school districts are rapidly becoming more diverse, segregation is also spreading to the suburbs.

The report, based on federal school-enrollment data, is the latest of more than 20 reports issued under Orfield since 1976, after the federal government stopped issuing regular updates on the progress of desegregation in the nation's schools. The full text of the report is available at

Book Elaborates Research Findings

Coinciding with the release of the report is the publication of "Lessons in Integration: Realizing the Promise of Racial Diversity in American Schools," a book edited by Orfield and Civil Rights Project researcher Erica Frankenberg. This research, produced with the support of the Southern Poverty Law Center, provides new evidence on the benefits of integration and points out that a majority of schools — particularly segregated white schools in suburban America — will inevitably become multiracial and experience dramatic racial change as the demographic transformation of America proceeds.

The book shows ways in which teachers, administrators and school district officials can more effectively teach in diverse classrooms and equitably structure welcoming schooling environments for students from all backgrounds.

In the last quarter century, there has been little research or substantial training of the nation's overwhelmingly white teaching force in preparation for such racial transformation. Yet schools are not likely to succeed in achieving stable multiracial integration without adequate planning and preparation. Future multiracial student populations will require educators to deal with more complex issues of language and culture.

The book proposes ways to use existing knowledge to more successfully structure schools to embrace these changes and to avoid the endless repetition of residential and school resegregation, which are so devastating to cities.

"The question is not whether we should have interracial schools but whether or not the interracial schools that will come in thousands of communities across the country will be successful and stable or polarized and resegregating," Frakenberg said. "This book offers promising evidence about what it will take in today's interracial society to make integration work for all — what is needed now is leadership to implement what we know about making integration work."

About the Civil Rights Project at UCLA


Founded in 1996 by former Harvard professors Gary Orfield and Christopher Edley Jr., the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles is now co-directed by Orfield and Patricia Gndara, professors at UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. Its mission is to create a new generation of research in social science and law on the critical issues of civil rights and equal opportunity for racial and ethnic groups in the United States. It has commissioned more than 400 studies, published 13 books and issued numerous reports from authors at universities and research centers across the country.



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