Segregation Growing in American Schools Regardless of the racial tensions, Jena High School was — by definition — integrated. Other schools across America desegregated during the Civil Rights-era, but now they're unofficially re-segregating. The Civil Rights Project at the University of California Los Angeles is tracking this modern crisis in our classrooms.

Segregation Growing in American Schools

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And regardless of the racial tensions, Jena High School was - by definition - integrated. Black and white, rich and poor, walk the halls. But other schools across America desegregated during the civil rights era, but now they're unofficially resegregating. The Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles is tracking this modern crisis in our classrooms.

Chungmei Lee is a researcher with the project.

Good to talk to you.

Ms. CHUNGMEI LEE (Researcher, The Civil Rights Project): Thank you for having me.

CHIDEYA: So let's talk about the trends. When did we see the peak in the desegregation of the schools, and what did that look like geographically?

Ms. LEE: Well, we saw the peak starting from - well, in 1988, basically. There was a trend towards more desegregation that sort of peaked in 1988. And back then whites comprised about 71 percent of the school population and blacks as the largest minority group at 15 percent.

Nowadays, given our most recent research, whites are only 57 percent of the school population. Latinos has now become the largest minority group at 20 percent, followed by blacks at 17 percent. So the reality is that, increasingly, racial dynamics are no longer biracial black and white, but multiracial, with three or more groups in many communities.

CHIDEYA: So in the late '50s and early '60s, most schools in the South were desegregated by force, if necessary. How do they look today?

Ms. LEE: Well, we found that the South is a region that is the most rapidly re-segregating. It's not - and it's no longer the most desegregated region. And this is the result of three Supreme Court orders in the 1990s. Oklahoma City v. Dowell, Freeman versus Pitts and Missouri versus Jenkins. And you can find the details on our reports in the Web site.

But basically, the basic position of the courts with these three decisions was that violations are raising from a history of segregation justify race-conscious remedies for only for a limited time, which means that a judge can dissolve a desegregation plan if he or she thinks that the district has done as much as he or she thinks is practical for a number of years.

So the result of that, what we've been seeing is a study trend towards resegregation in the South, which has, for many years, sustained its position as one of regions with the most desegregated schools.

CHIDEYA: And so we've been talking about the South, but what about the rest of the country? You just painted us a bit of the big picture. But how fast is resegregation happening in other parts of the country?

Ms. LEE: Well, it's a good question that you're asking because in the rest of the country, what happened was that, in contrast to what happened with the South, there was a decision in 1974 called Milliken versus Bradley, which blocked city's suburban desegregation in much of the country outside of the South.

What this meant was that meaningful desegregation was impossible in much of the South - in the North since the large majority of white students in many areas were already in the suburbs, and stable desegregation was impossible within city boundaries. Thus, at the start of this we see a lot of regions, which is the northeast and the Midwest being like the most desegregated regions for a black and Latino students.

CHIDEYA: Now, let's turn to economics. So much of re-segregation has to do with where families move, where families live. How much - what is the impact of economic stratification on this issue of race in the schools?

Ms. LEE: Well, we find that residential segregation has definitely a large contribution to the school segregation trends that we have been looking and observing. And we also find that, you know - and many people think that school segregation is an old and obsolete issue. The fact of the matter is that, you know, this is not just segregation by racial ethnicity, but it's almost always double or triple segregation, involving concentrated poverty and increasingly linguistic segregation.

And we found out on average, segregating minority schools are inferior in terms of the quality of its teachers, the curriculum, the levels of competition and graduation itself. Many of these measures have a direct impact on, not just the educational quality of these schools, but how competitive the students who are graduating from the schools were proved to be in the - economy that's becoming increasingly globalized.

CHIDEYA: Talk about what you call linguistic segregation, particularly the impact on Latinos and Asian Americans.

Ms. LEE: Well, we have been sort of documenting where these students have been attending schools. I mean, many of our reports, we find that these sort of English (unintelligible) Latinos or Asians, attend schools with a far larger proportion of other English-language minors(ph) than their English-speaking peers. And so the question that begs to be asked is, are these students getting the kind of education they need, and are we doing all that we can do to ensure that?

CHIDEYA: Finally, is there any way to really examine the impact of resegregation, you know, on things like emotional health as well as test scores?

Ms. LEE: Well, I mean, there has been a series of research that we've done here at the Civil Rights Project and you can contact us and we'll look into it. But we've looked at some districts such as Louisville that was also recently contested in the Supreme Court decision. And so look at the experiences of students attending diverse schools. And we've found that students who attend more diverse schools show that they're more likely to work in integrated settings in a more comfortable living in integrating neighborhoods.

And so in the society that's becoming increasingly diverse multiracial, these are valuable skills that we need to have and are we giving them the skills when the schools are becoming increasingly segregated and students are attending schools that are not as diverse as we would like them to be and that actually does not reflect society in general as it's becoming more multiracial.

CHIDEYA: Well, thanks, Chungmei.

Ms. LEE: You're very welcome.

CHIDEYA: Chungmei Lee is a researcher at UCLA's Civil Rights Project.

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