Despite Brown ruling, integrated schools in California a vanishing dream

On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision there can be no complacency in California when it comes to achieving integrated schools.

A compelling new report from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project titled, “Segregating California’s Future,” describes how California leads the nation in the disproportionate enrollment of black and Latino students in schools with few white students.

It is a reality that undercuts the self-image of an open, progressive state committed to advancing opportunities for all its residents, according to the report’s authors, Gary Orfield, a former Harvard professor who moved The Civil Rights Project to UCLA eight years ago, and his co-author, Jongyeon Ee:

Californians rush to condemn racist comments by visible leaders, public or private, but accept astonishing inequalities in school opportunities by race as normal reality, and rarely seriously discuss ways to change it or even to stop its spread.

The reports makes the startling assertion that California “has tacitly accepted the Plessy v. Ferguson standards of ‘separate but equal’ and that California educators and local leaders act as if they can make equal schools that the Supreme Court said in Brown were inherently unequal.” As Chief Justice Earl Warren, a former California governor, wrote, “separate but equal has no place in the field of public education.”

The notion that California wittingly or unwittingly is not only perpetuating but creating separate and unequal schools is hard to grasp, or accept.

These are not the all-white or all black schools of the American South. Rather, Orfield and Ee argue, this is a different kind of segregation, in which blacks and Latinos are overwhelmingly concentrated in underfinanced schools with few – or in some cases no –white students.

Some of this segregation is the result of the transformed racial and ethnic make-up of our schools, which makes integrating schools across the state virtually impossible today. Whites comprise only 25 percent of the state’s public school enrollment – compared to 80 percent in 1968.

But as the report describes in painful detail, a lot of the racial imbalance in schools is the end product of specific policy decisions and laws, including at least two initiatives approved by California voters limiting school desegregation, court rulings that have allowed school districts to give up on achieving racial diversity, and exclusionary zoning and housing policies.

The report acknowledges that “housing segregation is a root cause of school segregation” and that “any long-term policy to foster increased and lasting school integration must determine how to enforce fair housing and affordable housing policies more effectively.”

But whatever the cause, the report points out, black students in the South are more than three times as likely than those in California to be in a majority white school. California ranks, it says, “as the most segregated state in terms of the share of blacks who attend majority white schools, a measure often used in the state during the civil rights era.”

Meanwhile, the average Latino student in California is likely to be in a classroom with fewer whites than a Latino student in any other state. California is now “the state in which Latinos are the most segregated,” the report states.

Not surprisingly, in a state as large and diverse as California, there are major differences among schools and districts. According to the report, “Some are far more integrated than others, showing that a pattern of segregation is not inevitable and offers models for other communities.” But as a state, the goal of school integration has been abandoned not only as an educational policy but also as an ideal to strive for.

The concentration of poor black and Latino students in certain schools and districts is not just a question of numbers, but has a rippling impact on the lives of children. According to the report, students in those schools are likely to get a lesser education than they would in schools attended by the majority of white and Asian students:

The consensus of nearly 60 years of social science research on the harm caused by school segregation is that racially and socioeconomically isolated schools are strongly related to an array of factors that limit educational opportunities and outcomes.

These factors could include less experienced and less qualified teachers, high teacher turnover, less successful peer groups, less challenging curricula, fewer AP or honors level courses, and inadequate facilities and learning materials.

The report also points to other more severe forms of segregation – “double segregation” in schools where students are overwhelmingly black or Latino as well as poor, and even “triple segregation” in schools with heavy concentrations of poor, black and Latino students, as well those who do not speak English well.

Can anything be done? The first priority, according to the authors, is to acknowledge that the unequal concentration of black and Latino students is occurring on a massive scale, and to document it. The second is to consciously create schools that welcome diversity and that provide resources, such as transportation, that help overcome the reality of housing segregation. A third strategy is to create regional collaborations that allow students to take advantage of educational offerings in other districts, transfer to other schools, and attend magnet schools that draw students across district boundaries. A fourth is to expand learning opportunities for children in segregated settings, such as providing greater access to preschool and afterschool programs.

One positive development is the new Local Control Funding Formula championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, which for the first time specifically targets funds to improve education outcomes of low-income students and English learners. The UCLA report says that some of those funds should be used “to help address some of the inequalities that face students in these unequal and separate schools while also expanding their real choices.”

“Now is the time to think about how to use that money and other resources to make California schools less separate and more equal,” its authors argue.

Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, these are uncomfortable truths Californians must face, unless they are willing to accept the state’s contemporary version of separate but equal schools.

Louis Freedberg is executive director of EdSource.

Filed under: Commentary, High-Needs Students



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20 Responses to “Despite Brown ruling, integrated schools in California a vanishing dream”

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  1. Manuel on May 18, 2014 at 11:07 am05/18/2014 11:07 am

    • 000

    As a numbers geek, I’d like to know how many white students are attending private schools. I find hard to believe that there are enough in private schools to reverse desegregation if they were to go back to public schools.

    Also, how much is that due to white flight to “suburbs?”

    Where is the research on that? Yes, I know that this is in the report:

    This is not because of white flight to private schools, which serve a small minority of California students, but a reflection of birth rates and migration patterns, both nationally and internationally.

    How can desegregation happen if there are not enough white students to go around?

    Still, in my opinion, it would help to know those numbers.

  2. Slammy on May 16, 2014 at 8:33 pm05/16/2014 8:33 pm

    • 000

    Integration is not a priority in SFUSD. Any effort to make all school more diverse is a political 3rd rail. Lip service is paid to the lottery system as a tool to improve diversity, but the only reason the lottery is supported is because it doesn’t integrate our schools.

  3. Floyd Thursby on May 16, 2014 at 3:09 pm05/16/2014 3:09 pm

    • 000

    Really what it comes down to is integrated schools are not a priority for many whites, who avoid them. Some even prefer privates to Lowell despite Lowell having a higher SAT Average, calling it too Asian. Stats show there is zero academic benefit to privagte schools. Either most whites don’t know this, or desire social segregation, or are so put off by certain behaviors they run away. We should have projects in every neighborhood, not off to one side, and we as whites have to understand there will be difficult sides to integration and we can’t just go private or move to Marin if there’s a bad incident or two. If integration is to be a priority, it has to be the highest priority. Currently, we all cheer the anniversary of Brown v. Topeka, but we don’t prioritize it in the way we raise our children. Most whites are happy with the heavily segregated status quo. In fact, most prefer it. I don’t, but that’s me. I’ve lived in Europe and Asia and the US and have gambled and fought in every corner of the globe. People are all the same. We need to overcome our fears nd integrate our schools, even if it isn’t perfect. We have to remember, as upper middle class whites, our kids aren’t victims. The real victims are the black and brown kids. Many white parents with money care more about the idea of their priveleged kids as victims than the idea of poor minorities as victims, and statistically, nothing could be further from the truth. They’ll go on and on about one kid might fight their kid, but won’t say a word about black and brown kids isolated in terrible schools. We don’t get to equality if the most priveleged don’t set the example.


    • Don on May 16, 2014 at 4:18 pm05/16/2014 4:18 pm

      • 000

      Floyd, you said – “Really what it comes down to is integrated schools are not a priority for many whites, who avoid them.”

      And that would include you and your family. You could send your children to integrated schools,but you choose not to. Instead you lecture the rest of us and call us racist. I send one of my children to one of the most integrated public schools in SF – a school that is several miles from home – a school that I drive to twice a day – a school that frequently leaves my child upset due to the troubles. The other, as you know, goes to an academic magnet school.

      Please spare us your hypocrisy. It is intolerable.

      • Floyd Thursby on May 16, 2014 at 5:23 pm05/16/2014 5:23 pm

        • 000

        The schools my kids go to are public and 28-41% free and reduced lunch and open to all. My kids are underrepresented minorities and I send them to the school closest to my home, which you agree with. Can only people with kids at schools in the worst area speak against integration? My kids go to schools under 20% white, very integrated by race and class. I don’t get your point. Do you give Jimmy Carter credit or blow him off? He sent his kids to a mostly black school. None are near my house. I believe in neighborhood schools, with busing, if we simply bused some from the Fillmore here we’d have integrated schools, instead we have voluntary busing and only the well off take advantage, as is to be expected, no one in public housing or very poor can drive across town twice a day, and even well off people barely can. How many adopt a disadvantaged child born with drugs in their system and volunteer and fight for public schools and all their kids are underrepresented minorities? The schools are more diverse than they would be racially due to my sending my kids there, all of whom are underrepresented. I don’t get your point.

        When you look at the % of whites in SF, Oakland,going to the local public school and compare it with all white areas, be it Minnesota, Los Gatos, Mill Valley, Fairfax, Piedmont, do you not see a consistent pattern?

        So the only way I can speak out is if I drive twice a day across town, lose my job, and then have to move?

        OK, you win then, if only people who are white with kids in school in Hunter’s Point can talk, you silence 99% of people. I feel I have added to integration my whole life, and attended over 30% African American schools as a child. This is a strategy of those who support the status quo, individualize it so no one is left. Only those who bike everywhere can criticize on environmental issues, only whites with kids in school in the Fillmore can speak out on integration. It’s disingenuous. Alamo is not Hamlin.

        • Floyd Thursby on May 16, 2014 at 5:26 pm05/16/2014 5:26 pm

          • 000

          Don, you do realize many wealthy whites do look down on Lowell as being “too Asian”. The same who criticize Latino and AA schools often also criticize a school with the one group that overachieves on whites. Even Lowell is not above reproach. To some, the highest rating and SAT scores don’t make Lowell better, what matters is the school being white and having clean fields and arts programs, not test scores and AP/SAT/ACT, etc. Lowell wins and it loses, according to them, so a magnet school it is to some, but many rich whites criticize it and look down on it.

        • Don on May 16, 2014 at 7:08 pm05/16/2014 7:08 pm

          • 000

          The thrust of your whole argument is that whites could help out poorer non-Asian students if they went to school together, whether that is in fact the case or not. Your children may add diversity to a largely Asian school, but they do nothing to help out the underperforming groups and no assertion by you to the contrary will change the basic fact that you do not do what you preach.

    • Don on May 16, 2014 at 6:56 pm05/16/2014 6:56 pm

      • 000

      Your assumption is that SAT scores are the last word on school quality.People look at many characteristics when shopping for schools. It well may be you are right that integrated schools are not a priority for some people, white or of color. Some people look to teacher quality, a certain curriculum or pedagogy, class size, etc. Why is diversity the most important factor? It doesn’t correlate well with higher achievement and if we agree that the purpose of schools are to educate ( I can’t even believe I’m saying this) why should diversity be higher priority?

  4. Floyd Thursby on May 16, 2014 at 12:08 pm05/16/2014 12:08 pm

    • 000

    However Steven, while the hypocritical actions of whites (there is a 3% black/Latino, 90% white school Hamlin just 3 blocks from a public school under 5% white, Cobb, in Pacific Heights) do hurt African Americans, I am also critical of African Americans and Latinos in this regard.

    We often hear that integrated schools would enable an opportunity to learn good habits. However, in the same schools, Asians perform well and blacks and Latinos terribly. Even the most dangerous and looked down upon schools by the middle class have Asians who are thriving. Teachers don’t point this out for fear of “stereotyping” or being “racist”, even though Asians are studying 3 times or more the time, and are 3-5 times as likely to qualify for a UC, it remains taboo to discuss. We need to make more of an effort when we do integrate schools to make failing groups aware of the parenting and study practices of those who are thriving. We can all learn from what Asians have achieved. They are 3.5 times as likely to qualify for a UC and study nearly 3 x the hours whites do, use libraries, study weekends, prepare their kids for kindergarten, etc. If all Californians did that, we wouldn’t have any of these problems. However, most in SF care more about bbeing PC than getting results in closing the achievement gap for real. They like to blame poverty, but it is the habits of poverty and not poverty itself causing the problem.

  5. Floyd Thursby on May 16, 2014 at 11:54 am05/16/2014 11:54 am

    • 000

    This is very true about San Francisco, a valid criticism. San Francisco makes a pretense at being one of the most liberal cities in America, with polls showing opposition to all wars since WW2, support for legalizing all victimless crimes, particularly marijuana, gay rights, high minimum wage, rent control, etc. However, whites in San Francisco are often unwilling to back up liberal talk with liberal action when it comes to having children go to public schools with minorities.

    Many whites criticize their kids going to school with Asians as much as Latinos and African Americans. There are schools in Bernal Heights, a half white neighborhood, with 2% white schools, these liberals go private, do a white flight move, or try to win the lottery which makes the schools less diverse because only those with resources on the East Side can afford to drive twice a day to the Avenues and back. Private schools are a huge problem causing a wholesale evasion of Brown v. Topeka.

  6. Steven Andersen on May 16, 2014 at 9:18 am05/16/2014 9:18 am

    • 000

    San Francisco Unified School District is one of the most egregious creators of separate and unequal schools. And it has had a huge negative impact on African-American student achievement.

  7. Vito on May 16, 2014 at 9:03 am05/16/2014 9:03 am

    • 000

    How come all these EdSource stories on minorities in California always leave out Asian-Americans?

  8. Ann on May 16, 2014 at 7:36 am05/16/2014 7:36 am

    • 000

    Oh really? No takers?

  9. Paul Muench on May 16, 2014 at 6:37 am05/16/2014 6:37 am

    • 000

    I’d be happy to receive a tax credit for living in an integrated neighborhood.


    • Celeste Phooey Condon on May 16, 2014 at 1:46 pm05/16/2014 1:46 pm

      • 000

      What if you live in an integrated neighborhood but send your kids to private school? Or use the lottery to get into a school in the Avenues even though that wasn’t the intent of the lottery, it was to increase diversity. Or live in an integrated neighborhood but move before your kids get to high school or even elementary school? It’s more complex than that. Just living in an integrated neighborhood isn’t enough. You have to have integration in your heart and recognize sacrifice is required, it won’t be easy, but we all need to work together to create an equal and integrated world. In San Francisco, according to the statistics, white families are more, not less, racist than those in Arizona, Utah, Texas and Mississippi, in terms of willingness to send their kids to an integrated school. My often opponent on here has document this a lot. I believe if you compare, in areas near blacks and Latinos most whites say they have no choice but private school, but in areas which are nearly all white, public schools, with the same funding, are perfectly acceptable. I can tell you most whites in SF even in integrated neighborhoods don’t have equality and integration in their hearts. So no tax break for them.

      • Paul Muench on May 17, 2014 at 8:16 am05/17/2014 8:16 am

        • 000

        There’s an excellent article in the Atlantic about the history of school segregation/desegregation. Given that history I’d guess the successes at Central High in Tuscaloosa, AL did not require desegregation to be in the heart. I’m guessing we have a lot of faking until we make it.

        • Don on May 17, 2014 at 10:31 am05/17/2014 10:31 am

          • 000

          As you know court-ordered desegregation efforts derived from districts that practiced segregating assignment policies and is something very different than the general socially-inspired efforts to create diversity for its own intrinsic good in schools and districts where it was previously limited by residential characteristics. While I send my own child to a very diverse school, even by SFUSD standards, the USSC has ruled that it is not to purpose of a school district to create integrated schools, unless it is to undo the damage of districts that purposely set out keep schools segregated by policy.

          In the case of a district like SFUSD which did not practice segregation and where the intent to diversify was there but the result wasn’t, so it is the case elsewhere. But it is amazing to me that people who weren’t born yesterday want to go back to the failed busing era. Shuffling the deck may change the demographics statistics, but it did little to change achievement.

          The solution is community schools and community revival. Let’s not go backwards.

          • Paul Muench on May 17, 2014 at 11:41 am05/17/2014 11:41 am

            • 000

            Don, would you please define by busing. So you mean forcing children to attend schools that they don’t choose? Or do you mean the use of buses to get children to schools they choose?

            • Paul Muench on May 17, 2014 at 11:43 am05/17/2014 11:43 am

              • 000

              Sorry for the sloppy typing….

              …what you mean by bussing..,

              Do you mean..,,

            • Carl Miller on May 17, 2014 at 2:28 pm05/17/2014 2:28 pm

              • 000

              Integrated schools will help but it requires humility on the part of the poorly parenting and poorly performing groups. Slammy is wrong to say that all benefit automatically. You only benefit if you see some kids doing well and then change your home life, your parenting, your study skills and your habits to be more like the successful individuals or groups. If you just put blacks and Asians in the same school, and Asians study 15 hours a week and blacks 4, it won’t help equality at all. In some ways it just makes things worse because the Asians will say why can’t they sacrifice like I am to improve their lot, why are they blaming racism and poverty but not willing to sacrifice the time and energy I am sacrificing? Talk is good, but you have to back it up. If you aren’t putting in the effort talk is cheap!

              I can respect claims of racism from those who put in a full 100% effort as parents and studeents, but anyone studying 4 hours a week and watching 40 of TV needs to look in the mirror and change thier habits before complaining about racism or poverty. This is what Matt Haney will never understand.

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