American schools are now becoming increasingly segregated by race, according
to a new study. Nearly half a century after the famous battles to integrate the
school system, classrooms have become "re-segregated" and more race-based, according
to the survey.
The report by the Civil
Rights Project at Harvard University confirms what activists have increasingly
claimed that despite the many changes in US society, de facto segregation still
exists in many parts of the country. Legal challenges to affirmative action policies
have also had an effect on the levels of integration.
According to the study, integration between whites and blacks is either decreasing
or unchanged in all but a few of the country's largest school districts over the
past 14 years.
"A lot of people think that nothing can be done, and the efforts have failed,"
said Chungmei Lee, a co-author of the report. The study took a sample of 185 of
the largest school districts and found black students' exposure to white students
had increased in only four of them between 1986 and 2000. Latino exposure to whites
increased in only three districts. In 53 districts, white schools became increasingly
whiter. The most marked example in the study was Clayton county, Georgia, where
the level of integration had fallen threefold in the period of the study.
The pattern across the southern states, which had been the scene of the most
turbulent desegregation struggles in the 50s and 60s, was the most pronounced.
Texas has eight of the 20 most resegregated schools in the report, and Georgia
has three. But the south also contained a number of school districts that had
resisted the trend and remained integrated.
Chungmei Lee said that economics was a major driving force in resegregation:
the poorest school districts, which had the least educational resources, suffered
the biggest collapse of integration.
While the report recommends that poorer inner-city school districts should
be combined with wealthier suburban school districts to make up a single, more
integrated district, such attempts have faced legal challenges from conservative
Chester Darling, a lawyer representing parents currently fighting a desegregation
policy in Lynn, Massachusetts, challenged the report's assumption that diversity
was desirable. He said that parents and not the government should decide whether
they wanted changes to be made.
"When you have a government involved in enforcing a particular form of diversity,
then you have a government making decisions that are illegal," he told the Associated
The report's findings did not surprise some veteran civil rights campaigners.
Sam Walker, of the Coalition of Alabamians Rebuilding Education, said that the
public school system in Selma, Alabama, was now about 95% African-American with
white parents putting their children in private schools. After integration was
introduced in Selma, he said, white students studied at the same schools but benefited
from a streaming, "academic tracking", system. "Since then the whites have fled
the public school system to white academies," Mr Walker added.
Why separate was ruled unequal
The case of Brown v the Board of Education of Topeka in Kansas, which was
finally decided in 1954, has been the symbol of desegregation in education for
almost half a century.
The ruling found that segregation in the public schools solely on the basis
of race denied equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th amendment.
Mr Chief Justice Warren delivered the historic opinion in a case that also
involved schools in South Carolina, Virginia and Delaware.
It was ruled that the concept of "separate but equal" was unconstitutional,
even if the facilities were equally good at all schools.
But the ruling was greeted with fierce opposition from white parents. Bussing
of black students into white areas and vice versa was introduced but has also
since faced legal challenges.
The case of Milliken v Bradley in 1974 discouraged the policy and after the
election of President Reagan in 1980, federal funds for desegregation were reduced
and resegregation began.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002