School integration slipping

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WASHINGTON -- Progress toward integrating America's schools since the landmark Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision 60 years ago is being chipped away, and it is no longer just a black-and-white issue. Latinos are now the largest minority group in public schools, surpassing blacks. And about 57 percent attend schools that are majority Latino.

In New York, California and Texas, more than half of all Latino students go to schools that are 90 percent minority or more.

For black students, the South now is the least segregated section of the United States. Outside of Texas, no Southern state is in the top five in terms of most segregated for black students. But more than half of black students in New York, Illinois, Maryland and Michigan attend schools where 90 percent or more are minority.

Gary Orfield, co-director of the University of California at Los Angeles' Civil Rights Project and author of "Brown at 60" about the Supreme Court decision, says the changes revealed in the new UCLA report are troubling, with many minority students receiving poorer educations than white and Asian students, who tend to be in middle class schools. Educational policy since the 1980s has largely ignored race, he says, with an emphasis instead on accountability measures that assume equal opportunity can be achieved in separate schools.

When people ask if there is any great advantage to sitting next to a white person, Mr. Orfield said, his answer is no. "But there is a huge advantage to being in a middle class school, where most of the kids are going to go to college, and almost everybody is going to graduate, and you've got really good teachers who know how to get you ready for the next education step, and you've got a class of other students you can learn from."

Although segregation is more prevalent in the largest metropolitan areas' central cities, it's also in the suburbs. "Neighborhood schools -- when we go back to them, as we have -- produce middle class schools for whites and Asians and segregated high poverty schools for blacks and Latinos," he said.

Housing discrimination -- stopping or discouraging minorities from moving to majority-white areas -- also plays a role in school segregation, and "that's been a harder nut to crack," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which argued the Brown case in front of the Supreme Court.

School performance can be entwined with poverty, too.

"These are the schools that tend to have fewer resources, tend to have teachers with less experience, tend to have people who are teaching outside their area of specialty, and it also denies the opportunities, the contacts and the networking that occur when you're with people from different socio-economic backgrounds," said Dennis Parker, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Racial Justice Program.

For students such as Diamond McCullough, 17, a senior at Walter H. Dyett High School on Chicago's South Side, the disparities are real. Her school is made up almost entirely of African-American students. She said her school doesn't offer physical education classes or art, and Advanced Placement classes are only available online.

Sixty years ago Saturday, the Supreme Court ruled that, "In the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."


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