Hispanic students have become more segregated in suburban public schools over the last decade, even while Blacks and Asians have become slightly less isolated, according to a new study.
The report by the Pew Hispanic Center challenges the conventional assumption that growing minority populations will create an instant “melting pot” in suburban and other districts. It raises questions about whether local school boards need to actively promote integration.
“Suburbia has changed, and suburban schools are getting much more diverse,” said Richard Fry, a senior researcher at Pew, a Washington think tank. “But we shouldn’t assume that White suburban students as a result are interacting significantly more with non-Whites.”
The popularity of charter schools, now promoted by President Barack Obama, is a factor behind some of the segregation in grades K-12, Fry and other experts say. This is because many charter schools have special ethnic themes or offer bilingual courses, and minorities are choosing to enroll in schools with classmates of the same race.
The nation’s suburbs added 3.4 million students from 1993 to 2007, representing two-thirds of the growth in public school enrollment. Virtually all the suburban growth came from the addition of Hispanic, Black and Asian students.
But, while Black and Asian students saw small gains in integration, Hispanic students were increasingly clustered at the same suburban schools. The study found their segregation was particularly evident not only in counties around Chicago; Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; and Prince George’s, Md., where their population is small as compared to Blacks and Whites, but also in Hispanic hotspots in the Los Angeles, Miami, and San Diego metropolitan areas.
Among other findings:
White students made up 59 percent of suburban public school enrollment, down from 72 percent in 1993. Hispanics, who now make up 20 percent of enrollment as compared to 11 percent in 1993, were the primary driver of overall growth.
Minority students tended to cluster in schools where Blacks, Hispanics and Asians made up the majority of students, rather than being evenly spread among schools.
Nationally, Blacks, Hispanics and Asians saw modest declines overall in segregation since 1993, as minorities began moving away from city districts, which were disproportionately minority.
The latest trends reflect some of the challenges ahead as public school districts educate a K-12 population that is increasingly minority.
David R. Garcia, an assistant professor of education at Arizona State University who has researched charter schools, said the dilemma of resegregation in some communities is complicated. That’s because, he claimed, many minorities are choosing to congregate in charter schools because of their emphasis on special needs, such as Hispanic students with English-language problems.
The Supreme Court in 2007 rejected the explicit use of race in assigning students to schools, leaving districts scrambling to find new ways to alleviate isolation among racial and ethnic groups.
“We worked hard to have more diversity by bringing together students of different races who go to school together, learn together and become more tolerant as a whole, so there is concern,” Garcia said. But policymakers have been loath to intervene when minority and other parents are making the choices, he said.
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