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Wednesday, 18 July, 2001, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
US school segregation rises
girls getting exam results
Latino and black students now mix less with white pupils
American schools are becoming increasingly segregated, despite the nation's growing diversity, and offer vastly unequal education opportunities, a new study has found.

Research by Harvard University shows that white students are now more likely to be educated away from black and Latino pupils, who in turn go to predominantly minority schools.

Evidence exists that desegregated schools both improve test scores and positively change the life of students

Gary Orfield
Harvard University
"White children are growing up in a society that is going to become more than half minority, and they are almost totally isolated from these minorities," said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Harvard University Civil Rights Project that conducted the study.

The rise in segregation stems from a series of US Supreme Court decisions in the 1990s that limited moves to mix schools across city-suburban boundaries, leaving central city schools overwhelmingly poor, researchers say.

Using data from the National Center of Education Statistics, the Harvard study found that:

  • 70% of black students now attend schools where minority enrolment is over 50%
  • 36.6% of Latino students go to minority schools, up from 23.1% in 1980
  • white students on average attend schools where 80% plus are white

Growing gap

Researchers say segregation is increasing despite America's increasing racial and ethnic groups, in particular the rapid growth of 245% in the Latino student population over the past 30 years.

Civil Rights Project co-director Gary Orfield said segregation was contributing to a growing gap in quality between schools attended mainly by white pupils and those serving a large proportion of minority students.

Cheerleaders at an Amrican high school
Mixed schools are better for students, researchers say
"This is ironic, considering that evidence exists that desegregated schools both improve test scores and positively change the lives of students," he said.

Not only minority students suffer from being educated separately, according to Mr Orfield.

Attending mixed schools would prepare white students better for life in an increasingly mixed society.

"These surburban (white) kids are vastly unprepared for the future," he said.

Court rulings

In 1954, a US Supreme Court ruling saw the beginning of a programme of desegregation, with the aim that all public schools would teach pupils of all races.

Researchers say one reason for the reverse trend dates back to 1974 when the US Supreme Court banned moves to mix schools across city-suburban boundaries.

Subsequent rulings that limited moves to desegregate have also left central city schools overwhelmingly attended by minorities, they say.

The study says the southern United States, the focus of moves to desegregate schools half a century ago, is moving backwards at an accelerating rate.

Between 1988 and 1998, the number of black pupils in majority white schools decreased from 43.5% to 32.7%.


Racially segregated schools, except those predominantly white, are almost always those with high concentrations of poverty, the study says.

The average black or Latino student attends a school with more than twice as many poor classmates as a white student.

To reverse segregation, the Harvard study includes several recommendations, including the creation of magnet schools to attract students of all races across district boundaries.

See also:

14 Dec 00 | Education
Testing times ahead for US schools
23 Jan 01 | Americas
Bush sets out education plan
16 Sep 00 | Education
US education rising by degrees
21 Jan 00 | Education
Clinton urges wider college access
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