Back to Segregation. (Comment)

Article excerpt

Sit in classrooms, eat in lunchrooms, romp on playgrounds and wander the hallways in randomly selected public schools in America: It's right here, in the nation's increasingly segregated and astonishingly unequal schools, where one finds the most convincing case for keeping affirmative action intact.

The most recent statistics--compiled, analyzed and released by the Civil Rights Project, at Harvard--reveal that America's schools are now in their twelfth year of a continuing process of racial resegregation. The integration of black students, the new study shows, had improved steadily from the 1960s through the late 1980s. But, as of the 2000-01 school year, the levels have backed off to lows not seen in three decades.

It's true that the Supreme Court decisions and the enforcement of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that followed the Brown v. Board of Education ruling forced the South to desegregate. The region went, between 1964 and 1970, from almost complete segregation to becoming the most integrated region. After 1974, however, school integration efforts outside the South were stymied by the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Milliken v. Bradley, which prohibited heavily minority urban systems from including nearby suburbs in desegregation plans. School districts in the North usually run coterminous with municipal borders. Thus, Northern school districts usually reflect housing segregation rates, which are highest there. In the 1990s, a new set of decisions by a more conservative Supreme Court required that many large (and successful) desegregation plans be dismantled across the country.

Nearly 40 percent of black students in 2000 attended schools that were 90 to 100 percent black--up steadily from a low of 32 percent in 1988. In 2000, about one-sixth of blacks attended schools where 1 percent or less of their fellow students were white. In 90 percent of these schools, the majority of children were poor. The average black student, meanwhile, attended a school where just 31 percent of students were white.

Latino students are America's most segregated minority group and have become steadily more segregated in recent decades. The average Latino student now goes to a school that is less than 30 percent white, a majority of the children are poor and an increasing concentration of students do not speak English.

Segregation is not a word commonly associated with white students, though it should be. Whites are the most racially isolated group in America's public schools. Statistics from the 2000-01 school year show that the average white student goes to a school where 80 percent of students are white. Only whites who live in the South and West have experienced increased racial integration over the years.

Segregation is so deeply sewn into America's social fabric that the media rarely see it. And policy-makers, social thinkers, pundits and "education reformers" steer around the gross fact of segregation as if it were heaven-ordained, without insidious cause or acceptable cure. …