It took ten years after Brown, but beginning with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the nation committed to desegregation and it worked. Courts and executive agencies consistently supported desegregation plans and from 1968 to 1988, as more schools integrated, academic achievement increased for African American students.
But, the legal and political tide turned against integration during the 1980s. Courts stopped ordering desegregation plans and began dismantling existing plans - both court-ordered and voluntary. Federal agencies stopped aggressive enforcement and by 1989 schools were beginning to resegregate, reversing many of the academic gains of the previous 20 years.
Percentage of Students in Extremely Segregated Schools
For African Americans in the South, which is now significantly more integrated than most of the rest of the country, the rate of resegregation since 1988 is the worst. In the Northeast, where schools have been getting more segregated since the 1960s, and in many large cities, minority students are the most segregated. For Hispanic students, integration never had a chance to take hold in any region.
Why are schools resegregating?
There are a number of factors that appear to have combined to cause the rapid resegregation of schools since 1991. First, beginning in the 1980s, courts turned against desegregation plans - denying new petitions to desegregate schools, ending previous court imposed plans and even striking down voluntary plans created by local school districts. Executive branch agencies have stopped the aggressive campaign to enforce the Brown decision and the Civil Rights Act that was so successful in the 1960s and '70s. At the same time, rapid growth in the Hispanic and African American population and growing income disparities have increased the concentration of minorities in high poverty districts.
What can change this trend?
- Federal and state laws creating incentives for more affluent schools and districts to enroll transfer students from poor and racially isolated schools, including providing transitional programs for new students and training on diversity issues.
- Federal and state financial incentives to help low-income districts recruit and train teachers.
- Increasing federal and state support for intensive academic after-school programs for children in low-income districts.
- Support research and focus public attention on the benefits of diversity for all students, white and minority, including the increased long-term college and economic success experienced by children who are educated in racially diverse schools.
- Ensure that public charter and public magnet school programs are implemented in a way that increases integration, rather than increases segregation as they do now in some districts.
More About Resegregation
- New Report Shows School Segregation Is Increasing - 1/26/09
- Resegregation Looms as 'Brown' Decision Abandoned - 02/02/04
- Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge - Civil Rights Project - January 2009
Source for segregation statistics: Brown at 50: King's Dream or Plessy's Nightmare?, Gary Orfield and Chungmei Lee, Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.