Some schools are resegregating as court orders to integrate are lifted, according to a new study, and the problem could have an adverse effect on Latino students.
The study by Stanford University's School of Education says hundreds of school districts, mostly in the South, are resegregating. Of the nearly 500 districts examined, almost half that were under court order to desegregate have been freed from judicial oversight in the past couple of decades, and the results have led to resegregation.
"The study shows that many of the gains that resulted from the [Brown v. Board of Education] decision are being lost," Sean Reardon, a professor of education at Stanford and the lead author of the research paper "Brown Fades: The End of Court-Ordered School Desegregation and the Resegregation of American Public Schools," said in a Stanford write-up of the study.
The Brown decision said that separate schools for children of different ethnicities, specifically black and white children, were not acceptable because they were unequal. Court orders forced schools to desegregate, which often meant busing students to different neighborhoods. But subsequent rulings said the orders were meant to be temporary, and some districts have been released from supervision over time.
Interestingly, the schools released from judicial oversight are not the most integrated schools. The researchers conducting the study found no clear reason for why oversight was lifted for some schools but not for others.
The study shows that resegregation has occurred mostly in the South. It has not been as prevalent in other parts of the country. Resegregation is most common in elementary schools and districts with large numbers of black students.
According to Reardon, the rate of segregation between white students and black students is much higher than the rate between whites and Hispanics, but the segregation of Latino students brings up an issue less common among black students.
"Language is an issue with Hispanics," he said in an interview with ABC/Univision News. "So to the extent that Latinos benefit from being in schools with two languages used and spoken - it gives them support in their home language and they learn English - we might worry differently about segregation for Hispanics because it may have implications for language developments."
According to a September report by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, Latino students "are attending more intensely segregated and impoverished schools than they have for generations."
The report says that the typical Latino student in the West "attends a school where less than a quarter of theri classmates are white; nearly two-thirds are other Latinos; and two-thirds are poor."
The reasons for resegregation are complicated. While mandating segregation is illegal, segregation in schools often results when neighborhoods are segregated. For example, if children in a poor, mostly black part of a city attend the closest school, the students in that school are likely to be mostly poor and black.
"The increasing segregation is often a reflection of the neighborhood," Reardon said.
People want their children to attend schools that are in their neighborhood, that they can walk to, and that allow their children to meet friends who live nearby.
"Poor folks want that, rich folks want that, white folks want that, minorities want that," Reardon said. "Everyone wants that."
But he cautioned that while the study didn't explicitly test the consequences of segregation, it can lead to a disparity in high school-graduation rates and achievement gaps. Students in middle-class neighborhoods often attend schools that are better resourced and that tend to have more "political clout" within a district, Reardon said. The quality in teachers is often different, as well.
Reardon brought up another, less studied concern also.
"The other thing I think there's less good research about but that we worry about a little bit is if kids growing up in more segregated schools grow up with less capacity to be good members of a democracy," he said, adding that they may be less able to understand different points of view and appreciate diversity if they are not exposed to it at school.
Kristofer Rios contributed to this story.