Progress Undone

America’s most segregated schools are not in the Southern states, where many of the hard-won battles for desegregation were waged in the 1950s and 1960s. Instead, California, New York, Illinois, Maryland, and Michigan have the greatest number of minority students attending segregated schools, according to the Harvard Civil Rights Project study. Public schools nationwide are increasingly becoming re-segregated, and studies have shown that graduation rates at these schools are lower than schools with diverse student populations.

“There’s a direct correlation between school segregation and the drop-out rate,” says Gary Orfield, co-author of the study. “Segregated schools are almost always distinguished by poverty as well as race. In those schools you find fewer qualified teachers, higher student turnover, and more remedial classes.”

According to the study, 75% of white students graduate in four years, compared with 50% of minority students. Moreover, 87% of African American students in California, attend schools with a student body composed of more than 50% ethnic minorities, according to Racial Transformation and the Changing Nature of Segregation, a report based on numbers from 2003–2004. A comparison Harvard study shows that 65% of students in California attending racially segregated schools graduate, and only 58% graduate from socioeconomically segregated schools (schools in which at least 40% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch).

In New York, 61% of black students attend minority-populated schools, where 90%–100% of the student body is non-white.

“We’re going backward,” Orfield says. “We’re going down a path that didn’t work in the past.”