Education

California Schools ‘More Segregated Than Ever’ Study Shows

A new study shows that Latino and Black students in California are siloed by race, class and language.

Photo Credit: RyFlip via Shutterstock.com

Sixty years after the landmark Brown v. Board decision that desegregated public schools in the country, California has seen a new era of segregation, especially for Latino students, according to a new study.

Separate and Unequal: California Schools 60 Years After Brown v. Board of Education, released this week by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, shows that California’s Latino students – who account for more than half the state's student population – are siloed by race, class and language. African Americans, meanwhile, are increasingly minorities in Latino-dominated schools.

Continuing on this path of “triple segregation,” the study warns, portends dire consequences for the state’s future economic and social viability.

Among the key findings from the study are:

Latinos attend schools that are 68 percent Latino and 70 percent low-income; California is one of the most segregated states for African American students; one-third of California schools are 90 percent students of color, double the percentage from 10 years earlier.

These figures are also correlated to student performance, according to the study, with poorer schools showing profoundly lower scores than their more affluent counterparts. The study also found that California ranks last in the nation in terms of integrating its Latino students.

The report blasts California leaders for ignoring an issue that  “calls into question the state's racially progressive image.”

On the other side of the divide are whites and Asians, who are largely grouped together and typically find themselves in middle-class schools that have the highest ratings. Citing a 2009 study, the authors note that 49 percent of Asian students and 40 percent of whites are enrolled in schools ranked near the top in the state’s performance index. That compares to 12 percent for blacks and only 9 percent for Latinos.

"Brown was a major accomplishment and we should rightfully be proud,” said study co-author Gary Orfield in a statement. “But a real celebration should also involve thinking seriously about why the country has turned away from the goal of Brown and accepted deepening polarization and inequality in our schools.”

Orfield is a professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and co-director of the Civil Rights Project. Pointing to the demographic shifts of the last century, he stressed the need to find “ways to apply the vision of Brown in a transformed, multiracial society in another century.”

Among the most segregated districts in the state are Los Angeles Unified, Santa Ana Unified and San Bernardino. Conversely, Sacramento Unified and Fresno Unified were the most integrated and diverse.

“The most segregated schools are among the worst in California,” read a statement released by the Civil Rights Project ahead of the study, citing test scores, graduation rates, college prep course availability, and suspension and expulsion rates.

The report does cite the recently enacted Local Control Funding Formula, which redistributes state dollars by providing more to school districts serving greater numbers of high-need students, as a step in the right direction.

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

A spokesperson for the State Board of Education said members are “working tirelessly” to implement LCFF, “which the report's authors highlight as 'an equity-focused policy and funding strategy.’”

But Patricia Gándara, co-director along with Orfield of the Civil Rights Project, notes that unless LCFF funds are put to where research says they are most needed, it likely won’t have the desired effect. “It [LCFF funds] has to be spent on research-based things and not what districts might want to do without the research.”

As to the goal of reintegrating California’s schools, she noted that California’s shifting demographics could complicate such efforts. The state’s white population is decreasing – down to 38 percent this year from 42 percent in 2010 – while the number of Asians and Latinos continues to increase. The black population has fallen slightly, accounting for some 6 percent of the total population.

“This is a huge dilemma for us,” Gándara admitted. “People point out that in a region where 75 percent of students are of color, how will you desegregate? Any equality has to include equality in segregated schools.”

But, she noted, the Brown decision ruled that equality in segregated schools was not possible. “Separate means inherently unequal,” explained Gándara, “so this does raise an enormous dilemma for us.”

Still, despite the challenge she said the state needs to work at integration “in all directions,” including socio-economic and language backgrounds.

“We have to try to achieve the most desegregation that we can, and if that means sometimes having the same ethnic group but with different social and language backgrounds, that’s at least a movement in the right direction.”