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Why Are American Public Schools Still So Segregated?

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As of 2014, white students no longer made up the majority of America's public elementary and secondary school students.

As our latest Above the Noise video points out, this milestone might give the impression that public schools are becoming increasingly diverse institutions, with a solid mix of white students and students of color.

But, by and large, they're not.

In fact, schools have gotten steadily more segregated in recent decades. According to research from UCLA's  Civil Rights Project, black students are just as segregated today as they were in the 1960s, before serious enforcement of federal desegregation orders went into effect. The study found that in most public schools throughout the country, there's little contact between white students and students of color.


Segregated schools have been shown to have disproportionately negative impacts on minority populations, especially in low-income communities. These students often attend schools with fewer resources, less experienced teachers and lower academic achievement rates. And that can affect everything from a student's chances of graduating high school and going to college to what kind of jobs they get and the amount of money they earn over the course of their careers.

In an effort to visualize the extent of modern segregation, the Urban Institute, a left-leaning policy group, mapped 2011-12 government education data on the racial composition of public schools.

"These maps show that America’s public schools are highly segregated by race and income, with the declining share of white students typically concentrated in schools with other white students and the growing share of Latino students concentrated into low-income public schools with other students of color," the Urban Institute notes.

The maps reveal that in every state except New Mexico and Hawaii, the average white student attends a majority white school. It's a finding that's unsurprising for many rural areas of the country with small minority populations. But the trend persists even in the most mixed parts of diverse states like California, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York.

Mouse over this map for county-specific data on the share of white students attending majority-white schools, as well as the percentage of white, black and Latino students in that county.

As the Urban Institute notes, the racial separation is most dramatic in the nation's large metropolitan population centers, where the most students of color live. For example, Chicago's student population is about 25 percent white, 31 percent black and 37 percent Latino. But a whopping 96 percent of black students attend majority non-white schools and 67 percent of white students attend majority white schools.

The trend is similar in other cities and counties with large minority populations, including Detroit, Minneapolis, New York and Philadelphia.

Southern schools, which underwent forced integration efforts beginning in the late 1960s, still have the largest mix of black and white students, although those rates are dropping rapidly as a result of recently suspended court orders.

Watch: The Battle for School Busing from the Retro Report

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