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The Resegregation of America’s Schools – Nu Leadership Series

” Every failure is a blessing in disguise, providing it teaches some needed lesson one could not have learned without it. Most so-called Failures are only temporary defeats.”

Napoleon Hill

America must revisit its educational system. Kozol (2006) argues that segregation has returned to public education as a result of several years of federal policies. Currently, the number of Black children attending integrated schools has dropped to its lowest levels since 1968. Demographics within the public inner city schools continue to change. These changes impact politics, which in turn, impact culture. In the process, traditional education suffers. When one discusses segregation, people immediately think about the South. Prior to Brown v. Board of Education in 1994, most Southern public schools were one race schools, either White or Black (Armor & Rossell, 2001). Today, New York is considered the most segregated state for Black and Latino children because seven out of eight children attend a segregated school (Kozol, 2006).

Many argue the success of past desegregation strategies. Between the mid-1960s to the late 1970s, federal courts and government agencies demanded race-conscious policies in every portion of school operations (Armor & Rossell, 2001). During this time frame, when racial balance quotas were adopted instead of neighborhood or other geographic rules, one of the most controversial aspects of school desegregation involved assigning students to schools (Armor & Rossell). As a result, many White parents started a massive withdrawal of their children from public schools into private, segregated academies, resulting in the withdrawal of substantial financial support.

This withdrawal of White families to the suburbs and away from urban areas is commonly called white flight. This left public schools under funded and inferior (Levin, 1999). Consequently, although large districts in suburbs were predominately White and middle class, only 3% percent of the nation’s White school-aged children were enrolled in the 25 largest urban districts by 1986 (Levin, 1999). Of all racial groups, Whites students are the most racially isolated; 78% of their peers are White. Therefore, not many minorities are exposed to White students as would be expected of the nation’s public schools (Orfield & Lee, 2006).

Meanwhile, school boards and state legislatures have tried various tactics to avoid the desegregation decrees. Many experts promote the merits of voluntary compliance for desegregation as opposed to mandatory because it is market-driven. In the market-oriented approach, the government provides incentives such as special programs or free transportation (Rossell, 2002). Many distracters of mandatory compliance say it does not work. Studies reveal that half or more White students assigned to Black schools do not attend them (Rossell, 2002). Furthermore, magnet schools are seen as an effective way to introduce market incentives to both voluntary and mandatory desegregation plans.

School choice is the latest buzzword to hit public schools. School choice includes a variety of programs such as tuition vouchers for private or public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, inter district transfers, and controlled-choice districts (Levin, 1999). Some researchers declare that Blacks are more likely to take a school choice in the public sector while Whites and Asian Americans are more likely to take a school choice in the private sector. Levin (1999) maintained that many school choices may increase racial and ethnic stratification and are likely to increase economic segregation.

Some critics such as the Harvard Project on School Desegregation assert that resegregation started in the late 1980s and worsened primarily due to the federal courts relinquishing school districts of desegregation mandates (Armor & Rossell, 2001). Traditionally, court orders have focused on racial balance as the measure of desegregation. Mandatory desegregation methods include pairing and clustering, satellite zoning, and voluntary options. Rossell (2002) argued the illogic of the process. Racial balance measures ignore the proportion of Whites in a district. Therefore, school systems do not capture the cost of desegregation in terms of white flight.

Furthermore, Orfield and Lee (2006) maintained that school segregation is more than race or ethnicity. They explain that it also involves concentrated poverty and linguistic segregation; these multiple factors often form tangible inequality in educational opportunities on multiple dimensions. Rossell (2002) found evidence to support this position. A national study was conducted of 600 school districts drawn from 6,392 school districts. The study found that the willingness of White parents to enroll their children declines as the percentage of minority students in the program increases.

In addition, some magnet schools’ options are more attractive than others. For example, more Whites will volunteer for a magnet in an urban environment if it is a program-within-a-school magnet while the least attractive is the whole school magnet (Rossell, 2002). Therefore, White parents fear the interaction of their children with urban children in a magnet school environment. Inner city schools are becoming a changing phenomenon in America. Given the transformation of the nation’s public schools, students are enjoying a wealth of diversity. However, Blacks and Hispanics comprise 56.1% of students in urban areas (Levin, 1999).

In this situation, the lack of White students in public schools is not due to white flight but demographic changes. Actually, Hispanics in the 2003-2004 school year became the largest minority group in America, with 19%, followed by Black students, with 17 % (Orfield & Lee, 2006). Hispanic students’ segregation is more than Black segregation in some parts of the South and West areas (Orfield and Lee, 2006). Furthermore, all of the minority populations are growing much faster than Whites; therefore, White students will someday become in the minority in the public school system. It is difficult to predict what will occur when this situation happens. We can only hope that America does not make the same mistakes of the past.


Armor, D. and Rossell, C. (2001). The desegregation and resegregation in the Public Schools. Hoover Press, pp. 219-258.

Kozol, J. (January 16, 2006). Segregated schools: Shame of the city. Gotham Gazette. Received on March 23, 2007, from http://www.gothamgazette.com/print/1718.

Levin, B. (1999). Race and School Choice. School Choice and Social Controversy. Pp. 266-299.

Orfield, G. & Lee, C. (2006). Racial transformation and changing nature of segregation. Civil Rights Project. Harvard University. pp. 1-41.

Rossell, C. (2002). The desegregation efficiency of magnet schools. Boston University, pp. 1-24.

Source by Dr. Daryl D. Green

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