public schools, Segregation

Study: Racial Segregation In Public Schools Is Widespread

The practice of “educational redlining” combined with school districts who aggressively enforce their zoning rules has resulted in elite public schools being stratified along the lines of race.

According to a new study from Available To All, an education nonprofit, equal access to a quality education has declined, and has resulted in the return of segregation to public schools in America. The study found that this occurs due to legally enshrined segregation and enrollment policies that have a discriminatory effect in practice. 

As Axios reports, the practice of “educational redlining” combined with school districts that aggressively enforce their zoning rules has resulted in elite public schools being stratified along the lines of race. This has left parents like Kelley Williams-Bolar, who became the subject of a national debate in 2011 when she used her father’s address to get her children into a better school in Ohio, with few legal remedies—as a result of her attempt, Williams-Bolar, a Black woman, spent nine days in jail. 

The report on the state of public school education in America was commissioned to mark the 70th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that officially ended segregating schools by race. However, the system of segregation by other means was never addressed, and as the study makes clear, it continues to plague the education system presently. 

As the study states in its introduction, “How can a public school deny enrollment to a student in 2024? Usually because of their address. Most public schools still use exclusionary maps to determine who is or isnʼt eligible to enroll. These maps are reminiscent of the redlining era in the decades before Brown when the federal government drew maps that determined who was or wasnʼt eligible for housing assistance.”

The study goes on to illuminate that families need adequate legal protection as it relates to their children’s access to individual public schools. Admission discrimination is either allowed or flat-out required by law, and school administrators can exploit several loopholes to maintain a specific makeup of a school’s demographics. This, the study argues, is a violation of the social contract of the education system and is stopping children of color from being full participants in the American Dream. 

Charter schools could be a model to base reforms of the public school system. Still, it also shows that the charter school system carries elements of the same geographic discrimination in public schools. In its conclusion, the report recommends that parents be given true school choice, that schools be transparent about why they deny a child access to their school in detail, and the practice of open enrollment should be made mandatory instead of optional. 

In addition, the study recommends that public schools be required to collect and report their admissions and enrollment data to the Department of Education, whose state branches should make this data available to the public. They also recommend wholesale changes aimed at reducing the impact of geography on the public education system. One of these changes, decriminalizing address sharing, which the study points out is a policy that is selectively enforced, would keep parents like Williams-Bolar out of jail for simply wanting a better education for their children. As the study concludes, “Such laws could go a long way to restoring the publicʼs trust in the K-12 public schools and upholding Justice Warrenʼs promise that the public schools will be “available to all on equal terms.”

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