Why are American schools still segregated?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Jeremy Fiel grew up going to fairly diverse public schools in Lubbock, Texas. "Some schools had a higher black or Hispanic population," he said. "But there weren’t any all-white schools." After graduating college in 2006, he spent three years teaching science in Greenwood, Mississippi. What he saw in Greenwood shocked him.

"Segregation there was the most extreme I’ve ever seen," said Fiel. "There were literally less than five white kids in an entire public school."

Fiel's experience as a teacher inspired him to go to graduate school in sociology to study segregation and inequality in education. Now a Ph.D. candidate at University of Wisconsin–Madison, Fiel recently published a study in the American Sociological Review that suggests the factors driving segregation have increased in scale in the past several decades—and that fixing the problem will require a new set of strategies.

Nearly 60 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that ordered school districts to desegregate, schools seem to be trending back toward their segregated pasts. In the 1968-69 school year, when the U.S. Department of Education started to enforce Brown, about 77 percent of black students and 55 percent of Latino students attended public schools that were more than half-minority. By the 2009-2010 school year, the picture wasn't much better for black students, and it was far worse for Latinos: 74 percent of black students and 80 percent of Latino students went to schools that were more than half-minority. More than 40 percent of black and Latino students attended schools that were 90 percent to 100 percent minority.

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