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American Schools Still Heavily Segregated By Race, Income: Civil Rights Project Report

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Minorities account for nearly half of the student population in America, and will likely become the majority within the next decade or two, but recent studies show that students across the country are still largely learning in segregated environments -- along both racial and economic lines.

According to a new analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education, an overwhelming majority of Latino and black students study in racially isolated classrooms: 80 percent of Latino students and 74 percent of black students are in schools where the majority of students are not white. More specifically, 43 percent of Latinos and 38 percent of black attend "intensely segregated schools" where white students comprise 10 percent or less of the student body.

The report, released Wednesday by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, also found that the average black or Latino student now goes to schools where low-income students account for nearly double the proportion of poor students than the average white or Asian student. It also targets charter schools, which studies have shown to fall short of equal education promises, nearly six decades after Brown v. Board.

"These trends threaten the nation's success as a multiracial society," Civil Rights Project Co-Director Gary Orfield said in a statement Thursday. "We are disappointed to have heard nothing in the campaign about this issue from neither President Obama, who is the product of excellent integrated schools and colleges, nor from Governor Romney, whose father gave up his job in the Nixon Cabinet because of his fight for fair housing, which directly impacts school make-up."

Increasing prevalence of school segregation is most dramatic in the south for black students. More northern states like New York, Illinois and Michigan tend to have the most segregated schools for black students while Washington, Nebraska and Kansas are most integrated. For Latino students, California, New York and Texas have the most segregated environments.

White students, on the other hand, tend to attend schools where about 75 percent of their peers are white.

But Education Department spokesperson Daren Briscoe tells the New York Times that the Obama administration has, in fact, taken measures to reroute the public school system that had in the past failed to support at-risk students.

And those representing minority groups say that segregation likely isn't the key issue. Raul Gonzalez, director of legislative affairs and education policy at the National Council of La Raza, told the Times that black and Hispanic parents are more likely worried that "I want my kid's school to do better than what it's doing," versus "I want my kid to be in an integrated setting."

The report's authors contend, however, that a focus on integration is necessary to improve schools, as a correlation exists between poor, high-minority schools and resource issues like less experienced and less qualified teachers, high teacher turnover rates and lesser facilities and lesson materials.

"Simply sitting next to a white student does not guarantee better educational outcomes for students of color," the report reads. "Instead, the resources that are consistently linked to predominantly white and/or wealthy schools help foster real and serious educational advantages over minority segregated settings."

To reverse the trend of what researchers call resegregation, the report offers suggestions like implementing laws that encourage integration and reauthorizing regulations that support integration.

Thursday's findings come at a time when the achievement gap between minority and white students continues to widen. A January report notes that minority high schoolers are performing at academic levels equal to or below those of three decades ago, attributable to differences in performance expectations, growing income inequality and diminishing resources as well as inadequate access to experience teachers.

And the high school graduation rate for black males still trails that for white males, according to a report released this week. While the black male graduation rate has improved to close the racial gap by 3 percentage points over nine years, it would take 50 years for that rate to catch up to the white male graduation rate if it continued growing at the same pace.

The combination of high-minority, low-income education environments have perpetuated an education gap in America, as students from low-income, lesser educated families struggle more than their foreign peers to attain higher levels of education than their parents. Sometimes, even high-performing students from low-income backgrounds are less likely to graduate from college.

And as Pew research suggests that upward mobility is proving more difficult for black students, improved education and a college degree could make that more likely for America's poor.

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