Resegregation in American public schools has intensified over the last two decades, particularly in the American South, and the U.S. Supreme Court is largely responsible for this trend. Those are the findings in a new report released by the Civil Rights Projects, which is headquartered at the University of California, Los Angeles.
In “Historic Reversals, Accelerating Resegregation, and the Need for New Integration Strategies,” authored by Dr. Gary Orfield and Chungmei Lee, the scholars argue that since 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court has steadily ruled against efforts to integrate public schools, creating a climate that has ultimately forced local and state school districts across the country to abandon voluntary desegregation programs.
The indictment of the Supreme Court comes just three months after the high court ruled in the Louisville and Seattle cases that race cannot be used in an effort to achieve desegregation, prompting some to question whether the court was slowly reversing its position on the 1954 landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
“The court [has] reversed nearly four decades of decisions and regulations which had permitted and even required that race be taken into account because of the earlier failure of desegregation plans that did not do that,” Orfield and Lee wrote, adding that in 1968, 99 percent of Black students attended totally segregated schools, compared to 27 percent of Black students who attended majority White schools in 2005. If left unaddressed, the authors conclude that the level of resegregation among African-Americans in the South will likely revert back to the dismal numbers of the 1950s and 1960s.
Orfield and Lee argue that the trend against desegregation has impacted African-Americans and Latinos the greatest, in part because many of these students are often separated by residence from Whites and from middle-class students and often attend schools that lack quality teachers, high test scores and steady graduation rates.
“The reality is that we are going backwards, year after year,” said Orfield, who is co-director of the Civil Rights Project and a professor of Education, Law, Political Science and Urban Planning at UCLA. “We think that the Supreme Court is the leading cause for what is happening in the country, particularly the South. Schools are becoming more segregated.”
Orfield says that Latinos — the fast growing group in the American South — are most at risk, particularly since there has been no significant action to reverse the rapid increase in Latino segregation and its relationship to high dropout rates and low test scores.
“Unfortunately the period of explosive Latino growth came after the civil rights era and those problems have been treated largely with test-driven reform strategies that ignore unequal school and community conditions,” the authors write. “Schools with students segregated by language who often fail tests in a language they do not understand are sanctioned for problems resulting in part from segregating Spanish-speaking students from native English speakers and from high-achieving students and the most experienced teachers.”
Orfield and Lee recommend that local school districts implement diversity efforts as part of a larger plan to counter low achievement, low graduation rates and other problems largely associated with poverty, even if they are forbidden from implementing desegregation plans. They also called on Congress to fund and support programs aimed at grappling with the disparity, including the implementation of a desegregation assistance program that was once in existence in the 1970s that focused on teacher training programs and student opportunities and outcomes.
– Jamal Watson
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