Our Schools Are Becoming Segregated Again, And It’s Bad News for Everyone

By Gibran Freilla-Williams, age 12 and IndyKids staff

Original illustration by Aida El-Hajjar, age 11

The fight to end segregation within education is an ongoing battle. A recent report released by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that a growing number of kids are attending segregated schools in the United States. According to the GAO, over 18.5 million students attend racially segregated schools today. 

In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education was the Supreme Court case that ruled racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional. Eventually, schools around the United States became less segregated, but since 1988 the number of schools where 90% of students are mainly of the same ethnicity has tripled, according to a 2019 study by the Civil Rights Project. In New York state in particular, segregation has widely expanded, with one out of three students attending a public school where 90 to 100% of the students are of the same ethnicity, according to an ERASE Racism report. 

Segregated schools are a problem because they are often separate and unequal. In an interview with NPR, Jackie Nowicki, the director of K-12 education in the GAO, said there are “large portions of minority children not only attending essentially segregated schools, but schools that have less resources available to them.” A report from EdBuild has estimated that school districts where the students are majority nonwhite receive $23 billion less than those serving majority white students. This means that predominantly Black, Hispanic and Native American students are attending underfunded schools and will not have all the advantages that white students benefit from, creating a racial gap in academic achievement.

One of the reasons schools are becoming more segregated is because of racially segregated neighborhoods. Redlining is when boundaries are drawn around neighborhoods based on the race of residents, which ultimately restricts minority homeownership to areas deemed risky and deprives communities of resources. Despite the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which outlawed redlining, housing discrimination based on race persists, according to the GAO, resulting in more segregated schools, as 70% of students attend public schools in their neighborhoods. On top of this, many school districts around the country have begun censoring curriculums, which may push some parents to remove their child from the school they attend. Florida’s Board of Education recently approved new standards for teaching Black history, for example, including teaching students that slavery was in part beneficial for Black people as “slaves developed skills” which could be used for “their personal benefit.”

Ultimately, research has shown that integrated schools are better for all students. A 2016 report published by the Century Foundation found that there is increasing evidence that “diversity makes us all smarter.” In this report, the researchers found that students’ exposure to those who were ethnically different led to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving. Dr. King once said, “For most of the past decade the field of education has been a battleground in the freedom struggle.” Continued racial segregation in schools proves that the battle is ongoing. In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King said he dreamt that students Black and white can go to the same school, learn the same things and have equal rights. What is happening in schools right now goes against what he believed in. 

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