Economic Segregation Rising in US Public Schools

By Khadaroo, Stacy Teicher | The Christian Science Monitor, May 27, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Economic Segregation Rising in US Public Schools


Khadaroo, Stacy Teicher, The Christian Science Monitor


The share of public schools with high concentrations of poor students jumped from 12 to 17 percent in eight years, a federal report shows. Economic segregation is tied to the persistent achievement gap.

More than 16,000 public schools struggle in the shadows of concentrated poverty. The portion of schools where at least three- quarters of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals - a proxy for poverty - climbed from 12 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2008.

The federal government released a statistical portrait of these schools Thursday as part of its annual Condition of Education report. When it comes to educational opportunities and achievement, the report shows a stark contrast between students in high-poverty and low-poverty schools (those where 25 percent or less are poor).

Economic segregation is on the rise in American schools, and that "separation of rich and poor is the fountainhead of inequality," says Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a public policy research group in Washington. High-poverty schools "get worse teachers ... are more chaotic ... [have] lower levels of parental involvement ... and lower expectations than at middle- class schools - all of which translate into lower levels of achievement."

Cities aren't the only places facing this challenge: Forty percent of urban elementary schools have high poverty rates, but 13 percent of suburban and 10 percent of rural elementary schools do as well. In some states - Mississippi, Louisiana, and New Mexico - concentrated poverty affects more than one-third of K-12 schools.

Hispanic and black children make up the majority of students in high-poverty schools - 46 percent and 34 percent, respectively, compared with just 14 percent white and 4 percent Asian/Pacific Islander.

In tests of reading, math, music, and art, students from high- poverty schools routinely score lower than their peers in low- poverty schools.

"There have been gains in achievement in high-poverty schools over the last decade or so ... but what we don't see in most cases is a closing of the gap," says Daria Hall, director of K-12 policy at the Education Trust in Washington, which aims to eliminate such gaps.

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