Brown at 65: UCLA Civil Rights Project Research Details Increasing Segregation in a Transformed School Population

As the nation marks the 65th anniversary of the landmark Brown v Board of Education ruling declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional, the UCLA Civil Rights Project has published new research detailing school segregation in the nation’s schools amid a rapidly changing student population.

Since 1988, the share of intensely segregated minority schools — schools that enroll 90-100% non-white students, has more than tripled from 5.7% in 1988 to 18.2% in 2016.

The report, Harming our Common Future: America’s Segregated Schools 65 Years After Brown, details the transformation of the nation’s public school enrollment from primarily a two-race white and black school population, to a truly multi-racial population re-shaped by a surging Latino population and the emergence of a significant population of Asian students. Despite increased diversity in the U.S. population, the new research finds the segregation of black students expanding and intensifying across the nation.

Key Findings of the report include:

Since Brown, public school enrollment has grown larger in size and more diverse by race.

A system that enrolled 43 million students in 1968 now enrolls 49.4 million students.  The population has transformed from a predominantly two-race public school system of majority white enrollment with black students making up the minority, to a national public school enrollment that is truly multiracial. The white share of public school enrollment has been declining, and for the first time in the Civil Rights Projects’ decades of analyzing desegregation trends, now comprises less than half of the nation’s public school enrollment. In 2016, the public school enrollment across the United States was 48.4% white, 26.3% Latino, 15.2% black, 5.5% Asian, followed by 3.6% multi racial and 1.0% American Indian. More than half of students of color identify as Latino.  The racial composition of the public school enrollment varies considerably by region and by state.

Despite the increase in diversity, segregation has intensified and expanded.

Desegregation peaked for black students in 1988. Over the last three decades, black students have been increasingly segregated in intensely segregated schools (90-100 percent nonwhite) By 2016, 40% of all black students were in schools with 90% or more students of color.

Segregation for black students has expanded in all regions of the country, except for the mid-west.  In the South, since 1988, the percentage of black students attending intensely segregated schools has increased by 12 percentage points, more than any other region. New York, California, Illinois and Maryland are the four states for in which a majority of black students attend 90-100% nonwhite schools.

Latino students have grown to account for more than one-fourth of our nation’s public school students. They are the second largest group in the nation’s public schools as well as in most regions of the country—and are the largest group in public schools in the West. Latino students were 5% of U.S. enrollment in 1970 and 26% by 2016. Over time, the Latino student population has also become highly segregated. In 2016, Latino students, on average attended a school in which 55% of the students were Latino. And in 2016, 41.6% percent of Latino students attended intensely segregated nonwhite schools. The largest share (46.2%) of Latino students attended intensely segregated schools in the West. California is the most segregated for Latinos, where 58% attend intensely segregated schools In the South in 2016, 41.9% of Latino students attended intensely segregated schools.

Although it remains relatively small, the Asian share of enrollment has also been increasing, from 0.5% in 1970 to 5.5% in 2016.  Asian students, on average, attend schools with 24% fellow Asians. The typical Asian student’s school was 37% white, 24.1% Asian, 23.3% Latino, and 10.4% black. It is important to note that the category for Asian students includes students from a wide variety of racial, cultural, socioeconomic and historical backgrounds as well as different levels of access to educational opportunities.

White students are now a minority across the nation’s public school enrollment comprising less than half (48.4%) public school students in 2016, a decline of eight percentage points from 2006. Yet white students are the most isolated. As their population declines white students are becoming less segregated with same-race peers, yet they continue to attend schools in which nearly seven out of 10 of their classmates are also white, a much higher percentage than their overall share of the enrollment.

The suburbs are experiencing profound changes.

Suburban schools in our nation’s largest metropolitan areas had only 47% white students in 2016, a ten-percentage point decline in a decade. About a seventh of these suburban students were black, and more than a fourth (27%) were Latino. There was considerable segregation within the suburbs, where both African American and Latino students typically attended schools that were about three-fourths nonwhite. White students in these same large suburbs attended schools where on average two-thirds of the enrolled students were white.

Harming our Common Future: America’s Segregated Schools 65 Years after Brown, is a project of the UCLA Civil Rights Project with the Center for Education and Civil Rights at Pennsylvania State University. The report was produced in collaboration with researchers at Loyola Marymount University, North Carolina State University and Pennsylvania State University. The full report was published online and is available on the UCLA Civil Rights Project website.

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