Introduction in the past 50 years we can


United States school systems have has a history of
segregation.  This segregation began with
the passing of Jim Crow laws in the south in the late 1800’s.  The influence of this practice was at first
the slave culture of the southern states, and later was manifest as residential
segregation and school choice programs.  
There were also many Supreme Court rulings which failed to overturn
implement segregation which allowed for the practice to continue to flourish.  Although we have seen social improvements in
our society in the past 50 years we can still see that many citizens of the
United States are still placed at a disadvantage due to their class and
race.  In this paper we will examine the
history of segregation practices and examine how segregation is measured and
experience in America’s school systems.

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Historical segregation

The first form of legal segregation
of blacks and white started in the reconstruction era of 1877 with the
implementation of the Jim Crow laws. While these laws were most definitely the
most present in the southern states, some southwestern and Midwestern states
also passed these laws, which allowed for the segregation of blacks and whites
is almost all facets of life in public particularly public school
attendance.  A rather interesting fact is
that these laws did not only apply to black citizens1.  For example, in Texas, Mexican Americans and
Blacks were prohibited from sharing schools, churches, eateries and any other
type of public space with whites.  Native
American were also seen as blacks in some areas and were banned from public
interaction with whites. 

While blacks faced formal legal
segregation in society, Mexican Americans living in the Southwestern states
also had laws formally passed instituting the practice of segregation, but no
laws explicitly dictated that they could not access schools and other public
facilities.  Furthermore, most of the
supporters of Mexican American segregation were those in the state and local
legislation which wanted separate creation of schools and their sustainment.  However a majority of laws that instituted
segregation in the states were explicitly targeted towards African Americans,
and organization such as the NAACP were forced to challenging these policies at
schools for which the segregation was targeted specifically at black students,
when Mexican Americans had already had their presence established. 

In Plessy v. Ferguson2
constitutionality of the Jim Crow laws was upheld in the Supreme Court, where
it was ruled that separate facilities for blacks and white were allowable so
long as they were maintained at equal quality.  However, this was not what occurred in
practice and the fact that the facilities provided for blacks and other groups
were always underfunded and lacked quality was not challenged in the Supreme
Court again for over 20 years.  In 1954,
however, the ruling did get overturned however, when Brown v. Board of
Education ceased the practice of segregation in the United States3.  Unfortunately, the southern states failed to enforce
the new rulings that took place in this ruling for years and did almost nothing
to end the practice of segregation.  This
resulted in the segregation of schools until around 1968 about 14 years later
with the passing of further legislation for civil rights.  The peak period of efforts desegregate occurred
in the late 60s and 70s.  During this
time period the south went from being the region of the United States with the
most segregation to becoming extremely integrated.  .

During this time the parents of
both African American students and Mexican American students rallied against
the ongoing school segregation policies, through the National Association of
Colored Peoples, the American Civil Liberties Union, and League of United Latin
American Citizens.   Each of these groups attempted to challenge
these segregation policies in court with varying levels of success.  Usually at most small successes were sought
after such as trying to desegregate graduate schools as this was a less
contentious issue at the time and would result in the least backlash by White

Segregation Measures and Findings

The practice of segregation in
schools can usually be defined using two different schemes, racial isolation or
racial unevenness4.  These different measures can be used to
analyze the different numbers and levels of those at a school from various
ethnic groups.  Using these measures a
black student which attends a school with an extremely high level of black
students would be considered an individual which is racially isolated.  However those who criticize these measure of
exposure say that these measure are too sensitive to changes in a school’s
demographic composition.  For example, as
more minority students are present in an area these students will almost always
attend schools with a low proportion of white students.  Therefore it is proposed that we measure
segregation according to racial imbalance, which is the level at which racial
groups are placed unevenly among different school5.  Using imbalance measures are desired as they
are not dependent on small racial changes of the original population.

Through 1968 to 1980, the practice
of segregation decreased using both isolation and imbalance measures6.  Isolation measure within school districts have
shown that most integration occurred in the 1980’s and began to slowly decrease
in the 1990’s, as this was a time period in which income differences increased
rapidly  During this time many minority
populations were attending school which faced a declining number of white
students.  At this point measures of
racial isolation reached levels which resembled those of the 1960s7.  Many researchers point to this time period as
a time of desegregation, while other contend that this phenomenal is a result
of increased population distribution.

A study in 2014 by sociologist
Jeremy Fiel found that, “for the most part, compositional changes are to blame
for the declining presence of whites in minorities’ schools8,” and
that racial balance increased from 1993 to 2010. This study showed that
minority students had become isolated and had faces less exposure to white
students, but had become distributed more evenly across a wider variety of
schools.  In 2013, another study found
that exposure based segregation measure had increased over the last 25 years to
demography changes, but did not find that racial imbalance or balance had
remained at a consistent level.

Residential segregation

One of the main sources of school
segregation in society comes from the consistent residential segregation in
America.    There is a high correlation
between residential location and school assignment and this residential
segregation as a result of growing income inequality increases the level of
school segregation

Through 1990 to 2000 Sear Reardon
and John Yun conducted a study which showed that African American, White and
Hispanic American, White segregation had declined by a considerable amount in
the US, however, the segregation of public schools increased during this same
time period9.  Since the two factors went in different
directions at the same time it seems that the change in residential locations
is not the sole cause for segregation of schools.  However the study found that in 1990 schools
showed less segregation than neighborhoods, which is an indicator that during
this time period local legislation or policies were instrumental in lowering
the effects of residence based segregation however, in 2000 is seemed that
public policies were no longer being instituted as commonplace as before
leading to increasing correlation between residential segregation and school
segregation. This is supported by a study done in 2013 which showed that school
segregation increased over the decade of 2000 to 201010.

School choice

School choice should increase
integration by selecting students from a larger and more diverse geographical
area.  However, it has been shown that an
increased in choice mostly has the reverse effect.  It has been shown through multiple studies
which have been done on the correlation between a larger choice of schools and
levels of school segregation that the racial composition of charter schools
often maintain or even increase instances of racial and economic segregation or
increase the “white flight” from public school systems11.  It has been increasingly shown that these
students are leaving diverse public schools to attend much less diverse charter

Another important school choice is
that of private schools.  In 2002 it was
found that over the 1990’s private schools were a large contribution to school
segregation in the southern states. 
After desegregation in the 1970’s the amount of whites enrolled in
private school increased rapidly, and continued to increase up until the early


history of slavery and racial inequality initially led to segregation policies
as a compromise to the growing nation racial tension. However although these
systems seemed to be completely eradicated by the 1970’s.  Remnants of the rationale of these practices
and the inequality of America’s history have to a modern time in which,
although social acceptance of non-whites is much more commonplace, informal
segregation of this group continues to be prevalent all over the country,
especially in our nation’s schools systems. 
It has been show that these school systems remain racially unbalanced
demographically which leads to many low income residential areas, which consist
of a large amount of minority families to be left racially isolated at lower
quality schools which leaves less opportunity for a quality education and
future growth, while many whites with higher income backgrounds have the
opportunity to flee these schools and enroll in either private or charter
schools to achieve a higher quality education, a practice in which leads to
more isolation and a growing segregation of the races in American school

1 Aguirre,
Adalberto, and David V. Baker. Structured Inequality in the United States:
Critical Discussions on the Continuing Significance of Race, Ethnicity, and
Gender. Prentice Hall, 2000.

2 1896

3 Aguirre,
Adalberto, and David V. Baker. Structured Inequality in the United States:
Critical Discussions on the Continuing Significance of Race, Ethnicity, and
Gender. Prentice Hall, 2000.

4 Reeves,
Frank. Race and Education. Association for the Teaching of the Social Sciences,

5 Aguirre,
Adalberto, and David V. Baker. Structured Inequality in the United States:
Critical Discussions on the Continuing Significance of Race, Ethnicity, and
Gender. Prentice Hall, 2000.

6 Wynn,
Richard, and Joanne Lindsay. Wynn. American Education. Harper & Row, 1988.

7 Victor,
Paul. American Schools: Fantasy, Farce, and Fraud. The Better Education
Foundation, 2010.

8 Morrison,
Henry C. American Schools: a Critical Study of Our School System. University of
Chicago Press, 2014.

9 Reeves,
Frank. Race and Education. Association for the Teaching of the Social Sciences,

10 Taeuber,
Karl E. Racial Segregation: the Persisting Dilemma. Institute for Research on
Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1975.

11 Lipman,
Pauline, and Gloria Ladson-Billings. Race, Class, and Power in School
Restructuring. State University of New York Press, 1998.

12 Morrison,
Henry C. American Schools: a Critical Study of Our School System. University of
Chicago Press, 2014.