School Segregation is (Still) Making a Comeback.

It seems that segregation is making it’s way back into New Orleans’ public schools:

Three out of five schools are dominated by minorities with fewer than 30 percent of their attendees being white. Of those schools, 84 percent of them are considered “very high poverty schools,” where more than 75 percent of students qualify for either free or reduced-fee lunches. Fewer than 20 percent of white students in the New Orleans region attend very high poverty schools (in contrast to 65 percent of black students).

More than 55 percent of the students in New Orleans attend charter schools, which the report insists are contributing to the disparities, in some cases, by skimming better kids by setting high qualifications for incoming students.

The unfortunate reality is that school resegregation* isn’t a new trend; since the mid-1990s, African-American and Latino students have been dramatically more likely to attend schools where they are a significant majority. At present, about one-sixth of African-American students and one-ninth of Latino students attend schools that are at least 99 percent minority. What’s more, these schools tend to be very high poverty, and educational outcomes suffer hugely in schools where the majority of students come from high poverty backgrounds.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of school resegregation. Minorities make up a higher percentage of the population than they did a decade ago, and Latinos especially are concentrated in a few geographical regions. This feeds into housing segregation, which feeds into school resegregation. What’s more, there’s some evidence to suggest that charter schools are pushing some school districts towards inadvertent resegregation, as white students leave standard public schools.

Of course, you can’t discount the ongoing effort on part of the Supreme Court’s conservatives to dismantle mandated desegregation. In the 1991 Dowell case, the Court ruled that a federal desegregation order could be ended even if it subsequently resulted in re-segregation. The next year in Freeman v. Pitts, the Court held that a school district that had been under judicial review for school segregation could be freed of this review, even if some desegregation targets remained. This was followed by the 1995 Missouri v. Jenkins case, where the Court overturned a lower court ruling that the state of Missouri had to correct for de facto segregation in its schools. And in 2007, Chief Justice John Roberts — writing for himself, Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito — ruled that racial balancing for the purpose of diversity is unconstitutional.

So to keep this short, not only have demographic and educational trends pushed schools towards resegregation, but there has been an active effort to prevent federal and state governments from mandating desegregation, under the idea that — expressed best by Chief Justice Roberts — “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

*It’s not the best term, since this is a radically different species than the segregation of old, but it is the most descriptive, and so I will continue to use it.


Jamelle Bouie is a writer for Slate. He has also written for The Daily Beast, The American Prospect and The Nation. His work centers on politics, race, and the intersection of the two.

You can find him on Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram as jbouie.
  • Val

    Some of this has to do with separation rather than segregation. Until people of different ethnic backgrounds are more comfortable living next to each other this is going to happen.

    One solution might be more magnet schools that attract students from different backgrounds.

    But I also agree that the courts are not helping.

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