« Ed. Dept. Still Seeking Input on English-Learner Programs | Main | School Provision of Ala. Anti-Immigrant Law Gutted in Legal Settlement »

Civil Rights Researcher Gary Orfield Calls For New Look at School Segregation

Cross-posted from Sarah D. Sparks at Inside School Research.

Nearly six decades after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled "separate but equal" education intrinsically unequal, American schools remain deeply racially segregated, and approaches to fixing the problem have not kept pace with the changing dynamics of segregation.

That was the crux of the argument recently by Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil RIghts Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, at the American Education Research Association's 10th-annual Brown lecture in education research (named for the seminal civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education).

Orfield, an education, law, and politics research professor, traced the intertwined histories of education, jobs, and housing initiatives of the Brown era that have not yet closed racial gaps: nearly two out of five black and Latino students attend deeply segregated schools, and schools with on average twice the poverty concentration of the schools of white and Asian students.

Moreover, Orfield said education researchers and policymakers today still hold an outdated and overly simplistic view of race and segregation in schools: "In the 1960s we were 90 percent white, 10 percent black, less than 5 percent Latino, and ...Asians were an asterisk in our data tables," he said. "We have policies developed for a two-race country, mostly in the South, and we now have four-race country or more, with west of the Mississippi a totally different picture."

"We need to think about what segregation means in our society now; it's not just isolation from whites," he said, but isolation racially, economically and in some cases linguistically. Moreover, schools with no white students often still deal with racial and cultural tensions from black, Latino and Asian students, but these issues, he said, often are not taken into account when discussing school race issues.

Orfield said magnet schools and charters may hold promise for creating more integrated schools, but only if the choice plans are constructed to prevent racial or economic strafication. For example, districts should enroll students "based on their interest, not their test scores," he said. "Schools don't get the right to choose; students get the right to choose."

Even this can be problematic, as recent research on the New York City school matching system have found students generally choose to attend schools near their homes, so simply giving them the right to choose a new school didn't neccessarily ease concentration of poverty, race, or academically struggling students.

Orfield called for cities and their suburbs to take a more regional approach to integration, planning school siting and public housing and transportation systems to make more integrated communities. "It has to deal not just with public schools and not just with central cities. It has to be metropolitan," he said, and cover preschool through college and career preparation.

The full speech will be posted on AERA's Website in the future.

Want more research news? Follow @SarahDSparks on Twitter for the latest studies, and join the conversation.

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on edweek.org, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Follow This Blog


Most Viewed on Education Week



Recent Comments

  • Charles: ELLs in our state ARE required to take State standardized read more
  • Melissa: Maybe I'm just becoming jaded, but this feels to me read more
  • Anonymous: Are you kidding me....UNO is an organizaion that literally destroys read more
  • Meg Baker: Are any schools using ACCESS scores for purposes other than read more
  • Dr. Mendoza: This is great news i must say. Hopefully this DREAM read more