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Report: Increased Education May Help Breed Segregation

Studies have long shown that education broadens an individual’s perspective and helps to diminish racist attitudes. But new Rice University study indicates highly educated Whites help perpetuate racial segregation in U.S. schools.

“I do believe that White people are being sincere when they claim that racial inequality is not a good thing and that they’d like to see it eliminated. However, they are caught in a social system in which their liberal attitudes about race aren’t reflected in their behavior,” says Dr. Michael Emerson, a Rice University sociologist and co-author of a study titled “School Choice and Racial Segregation in U.S. Schools: The Role of Parents’ Education.”

Emerson and research colleague Dr. David Sikkink, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, knew that income and other factors come into play in terms of school choice. But even after controlling for these variables, their study shows education has an interesting effect: Whites with more education place a greater emphasis on race when choosing a school for their children, while higher-educated Blacks do not consider race.

In a study to be published in Ethnic and Racial Studies, Emerson and Sikkink cite earlier work on school choice in Philadelphia, where race was found to be a factor in Whites’ decisions about the quality of a school. Unlike Blacks, who judged schools on the basis of factors like graduation rates and students’ test scores, Whites initially eliminated any schools with a majority of Black students before considering factors such as graduation rates.

When they analyzed a national data set of Whites and non-Hispanic Blacks to see if the level of their education would have an impact on their school choice, Emerson and Sikkink found a similar pattern.

“Whites with higher levels of education still made school choices based on race, while Blacks did not,” says Emerson.

The researchers found that regardless of income, more-educated Whites in their data set also lived in “Whiter” neighborhoods than less-educated Whites. Higher-income Blacks also lived in Whiter, but more racially mixed neighborhoods than lower-income Blacks.

“The more income African-Americans made, the more likely their children attended more racially mixed schools than did African-American children of less-educated, lower-income parents,” says Emerson.

According to Emerson, this is because highly educated or higher-income Blacks often live in areas with racially mixed local public schools, close to high concentrations of Whites.

“African-American children of less-educated, lower-income parents attend largely Black schools,” he says.

When separating income from their analysis, however, the researchers concluded that unlike Whites, Black parents’ higher-education levels don’t affect their school choice.

“Our study arrived at a very sad and profound conclusion,” says Emerson. “More formal education is not the answer to racial segregation in this country. Without a structure of laws requiring desegregation, it appears that segregation will continue to breed segregation.

“What we believed from prior studies is that education has a significantly positive impact on racial attitudes,” he adds. “What we found when studying behaviors, however, is that people acquiring more education is not a means of combating segregation. Education may broaden an individual’s world, but it also leads to greater negative sensitivity toward Blacks’ presence in public schools.”

— Diverse reports

Reader comments on this story:

There is currently 3 reader comments on this story:

“Education by discipline”
It would have been interesting if the authors of the study would have been able to disaggregate the data on “white” parents by discipline or by number of courses taken in hierarchy attenuating fields.  It wouldn’t surprise me based on what I know about the nature of educational curricula that have been in place at majority-serving institutions, that most of these individuals had little exposure to courses that would have challenged their prejudices.  In addition, they wouldn’t have had much extracurricular exposure to African Americans on these campuses, either.  So, when the authors describe education as a force that broadens perspectives, I suggest that for most Americans, education is narrowly focused on career related courses. The absence of courses in the general curriculum that effectively address American conceptions or race and social hierarchy, for most students means that they leave the university with their prejudices reinforced, as opposed to critically examined.  If we add to that the further support for racial prejudice in the professions, and it isn’t hard to see why educational level as a variable, correlates so closely with practiced bigotry by those who are already socially dominant.

     If the results of this study are truly general, then this sends a clarion call to American universities with regard to their curriculum.  We at NCATSU have realized the need to develop critical and analytical reasoning in our students, as well as moral and ethical reasoning.  These results suggest that more of our universities need to revisit what they are teaching, and whether their curriculum is truly producing well-educated students who are equipped to fully participate in our modern world.
-Dr. Joseph L. Graves, Jr.

“faulty conclusion”
I think the researchers’ conclusion is faulty.   I doubt the children of those  parents are ending up in segregated schools.  What likely is happening is that they are ending up in schools with low to moderate levels of black students.   I don’t have the link on hand, but there was recently a piece in the Portland  paper about white parents sending their children  to schools other than the predominantly minority elementary school in their gentrifying neighborhood.   The irony was that the school they were avoiding is one if the highest achieving in the city. 

-June Gordon

“a rational choice”
One message implicit in this account is that there are majority-black schools with high graduation rates and superb test scores which are avoided by well-educated whites because of racial prejudice. 

   Such institutions must be exceedingly rare.

   It may well be true that white parents eliminate majority-black schools from consideration without conducting research of test scores, graduation rates, and other objective measures of quality.  However, we must recognize that for practical considerations consumers must constantly edit choices. 

   If a consumer of education edits out majority-black schools, he is making a rational choice.  It is unlikely in the extreme that this process is resulting in the elimination of the optimsl choice for any given consumer.

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