Exclusion, discrimination, and racism are not new concepts in the United States. It was the law of the land in the 1950s. But with the overall public population becoming more diverse over 6 decades later, one would expect a reduction and not the increase we’re experiencing. More than a third of students in the country attend racially segregated schools. As in the past, racially segregated learners are disadvantaged, and leaders are exploring ways to ensure equitable access to quality education for all. This article will examine the ever-growing issue of racial segregation in schools today and ways to close the gaps and offset their negative impacts.
Current State Of Segregation Across The Country
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the student population has significantly diversified. Nonetheless, many schools remain highly segregated along economic and racial ethnic lines. During the 2020-21 school year, about 18 million students attended institutions where over 75% were of a single ethnicity or race.
GAO’s analysis of the Department of Education also found that 14% attended schools where over 90% of the population were of one ethnicity. The reason is mostly attributed to school district boundaries, which contribute to division along ethnic/racial lines. Apart from this, school districts that seceded from an existing one remain highly segregated, as they had higher percentages of White students than where they left.
There are still segregated schools in America. It is common in institutions with large proportions of Black and American Indian/Alaska Native and Hispanics. Although educational segregation in the US was historically associated with the Jim Crow laws of the South, reports found that the highest percentage of institutions affected were in the Midwest and Northeast. The GAO analysis also discovered racial school segregation across all school types. They include publicly funded and privately run charter schools, magnet schools, and traditional public schools.
Segregation In US Schools Still Exists And Is A Major Problem That Needs To Be Addressed
Unequal educational access results in unequal outcomes for affected kids. The reason for racism in education and disparities in academic access in the US is the result of various factors. They include highly segregated and implicit bias towards ethnicity, family wealth, and government policies. Let us examine them below:
The color line still divides American learning centers. Compared to Whites, Black, Asian, or Hispanic students are more likely to be expelled, suspended, or replaced in gifted programs. In many cases, the treatments are not intentional but stem from implicit biases and cultural misunderstandings. According to research based on data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Blacks are 54% less likely to be recommended for gifted-education programs than Whites. But they were three times more likely to be referred if the teacher was Black instead of White.
The teacher’s implicit prejudices make them less effective when teaching Black students. The bias does not just affect how they teach but also how they discipline them for misbehavior. Racially segregated American students face more punishments than their White peers, not necessarily because they are causing more trouble. Such action increases the risk of dropping out of school or run-ins with the juvenile justice system.
According to the data from the U.S. Department of Education, Black children represent 19% of preschool enrollment but 47% of out-of-school suspension. In contrast, White children represent 41% of enrollment and only 28% of suspension. The biases are subtle, but they affect children, as some are pegged as troublemakers even before starting kindergarten.
Income inequality is another reason for exclusion in schools. Some districts allocate more funds to schools with a high volume of minority students. The level of a parent’s income also determines the difficulty the child will face in school. Families with a low socioeconomic status can’t afford the same quality of schools as wealthy families, and it contributes to the highly segregated educational system.
School district secession
Boundaries are perceived as invisible structures you can’t do anything about. In a 1974 supreme court ruling in Milliken v Bradley, the court established that school districts were not responsible for desegregating across district lines. This frustrated desegregation efforts like busing – a means to achieve integration within a school district. According to the GAO reports, between 2009-10 and 2020-21, over 30 new districts broke off in seven states. The ones that did become wealthier than where they broke off from. Interestingly, all the newly formed districts are whiter. Bear in mind that allowing districts to disintegrate ended previous desegregation efforts in places where a return to exclusion was likely.
Efforts to Address Segregation in US Schools
Schools have a long way to go in addressing exclusion in their environment. Over the years, there have been various recommendations to create and align a culturally responsive system. The most popular is culturally responsive teaching. Culturally responsive teaching recognizes the importance of including cultural references in all aspects of learning. It means using students’ characteristics, customs, perspectives, and experiences as tools to improve the classroom. The teaching allows the marginalized student population to see themselves as a part of a community.
Magnet schools are another concept that targets school segregation and integration. It involves using innovative curricula to attract families from different demographic backgrounds. But magnet schools are not without their challenges. One of the ways to make the program more effective is to provide transportation for children who live far away from such institutions.
The K-12 educational reforms were designed to increase overall spending in low-income districts relative to their high-income counterparts. This will help maintain critical investments and turn around the lowest-performing learning centers. More importantly, kids from old districts won’t suffer as opposed to whites in new districts.
Other efforts geared towards addressing school segregation and integration include:
- Race-conscious admission policies
- Equitable funding
- Less policing and surveillance of students
- Advocacies to end de-facto discrimination through district boundaries
Importance Of Ensuring Quality Educational Opportunities For All Students
Exclusion in U.S. schools put many communities at a disadvantage. The best-performing education system is more diverse and combines quality with equity. Such systems give equal opportunities for good quality education to all children. With this, they can graduate with relevant life skills, prospects of higher earnings, and lower risks of unemployment. Not only this, but they can participate in the democratic and civil aspects of modern society.