NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Schools More Segregated

January 19, 2004

Half a century after the Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of American education, schools are almost as racially segregated as they were when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, according to a report by Harvard University researchers.

However, the resegregation trend is no longer due to legal barriers to integrated schooling. Some experts say it is partly the result of changes in the demographics of urban areas, which have become predominately minority communities.

The Harvard researchers say that it is due to a return to neighborhood schools instead of busing. The study examined segregation patterns since a 1991Supreme Court decision that allowed a return to neighborhood schools. The researchers found:

  • In Southern states, for example, from 1954 to 1988, the percentage of blacks attending predominantly white schools increased from zero to 43 percent.
  • By 2001, the figure had fallen to 30 percent, or about the level in 1969, the year after King's assassination.
  • However, the report says the most segregated states for black students are New York and Illinois.

Hispanic students are more segregated than African American students; in western states, more than 80 percent of Latinos attend predominantly minority schools, compared with 42 percent in 1968. For Latinos, the most segregated states are New York and California.

Source: Michael Dobbs, "US School Segregation, Now at '69 Level," Washington Post, January 18, 2004 and "Study: Schools Slip Back to Segregation," USA Today, January 19, 2004; based upon Gary Orfield and Chungmei Lee, "Brown At 50: King's Dream or Plessy's Nightmare?" Civil Rights Project, Harvard University, January 2004.


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