This week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report confirming increased racial and socioeconomic segregation in our nation’s public schools. Two years ago, the GAO was asked to examine changes in student racial isolation or integration in schools over time, why and how selected school districts have implemented actions to increase student diversity, and the extent to which the U.S. Departments of Education (DOE) and Justice (DOJ) have addressed issues related to racial discrimination in schools. The GAO concluded that DOE data shows that the percentage of K-12 public schools with students who are both mostly poor and mostly Black or Hispanic is growing. In 2013-14, 16 percent of our nation’s K-12 public schools served student populations comprised of 75 percent or more Black and Hispanic students and 75 percent or more students eligible for free or reduced lunch (FRL) (up from nine percent in 2000-01).
The National Coalition on School Diversity (NCSD) is a network of civil rights organizations, academics and advocates committed to policies that promote racially diverse and integrated learning environments. Unfortunately, more than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, our increasingly diverse nation continues to struggle with disparities in educational opportunity and outcomes along racial and class lines. As a result, NCSD continues to push for policies that promote student achievement, racial and socioeconomic diversity, engagement and equity in schools. For instance, NCSD support’s the President’s proposed “Stronger Together” program, which seeks to provide $120 million in funding to support school districts’ voluntary pursuit of diverse learning environments. As the GAO report makes clear, housing segregation continues to contribute to school segregation and exacerbate educational inequities. The GAO report also documents the prevalence of disparities in disciplinary actions and access to academic courses in schools that are highly isolated by race and poverty.
The NCSD is convening a public briefing today on “School Diversity: An Answer to Racial and Economic Segregation.” Panelists will include Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA), Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of NAACP Legal Defense Fund; Associate Professor Jennifer Holme of the University of Texas-Austin and Brenda Shum, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Concentrated poverty and racial isolation detrimentally affect student learning and life outcomes. However, the GAO report reinforced that in jurisdictions where education officials took steps to improve racial and socioeconomic integration, outcomes improved for all students. Research shows that racially and economically diverse schools benefit students’ academic and life outcomes, and that students who attend diverse schools are more likely to achieve higher test scores, and better grades, to graduate from high school and attend college.
The NCSD agrees with the GAO recommendations that DOE utilize its civil rights data to identify and address educational disparities in segregated schools. The NCSD also supports federal policies and legislation which would incentivize states and local school districts to reduce racial and socioeconomic isolation in public K-12 schools, such as magnet school programs and innovative and constitutionally permissible school assignment plans.
These conclusions are consistent with a recently released study by Stanford University, which reveals large academic gaps in places that have a high level of segregation in public schools. Some of the largest gaps between the achievement of white children and their peers of color exist in some of the wealthiest communities such as Berkeley, Calif.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Evanston, Ill. The Stanford study shows the extent to which race and class are inextricably linked, and how that connection is exacerbated in school settings which may offer fewerhigh-level courses and have fewer skilled teachers. More significantly, even in districts where white students and their minority classmates had similar socioeconomic backgrounds, academic gaps persisted, highlighting the importance of addressing both racial and socioeconomic isolation.
“As we reflect upon the promise of Brown, it is true that there is much to celebrate and yet there is much still to be done,” observed Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Progress cannot mask the great inequalities which continue to exist and which are reflected in our nation’s schools. As the challenge of persisting racial segregation becomes more urgent, we must offer real solutions and take positive steps to promote racially and socioeconomically integrated schools. We urge our policy makers to use the findings and recommendations in this GAO report to support innovative strategies to mitigate the racial and socioeconomic segregation in our schools and to ensure educational equity for all students.”
Dennis Parker, director of the Racial Justice Program at the American Civil Liberties Union, states, “Our failure to achieve the equal educational opportunity which was the goal of Brown v. Board of Education is a national disgrace which will continue to impose societal costs long into the future. We must end racial and ethnic segregation and poverty concentration in our schools if we hope to achieve equity and truly effective education for all.”
“We have known for many years that low income children do better in schools that are racially and economically integrated,” noted Phil Tegeler, executive director of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council. “But instead of learning from this, the GAO report shows that we are steering more and more low-income children, especially children of color, into high poverty, segregated