May 16, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Latino students are the most segregated they've been since 1968

Illustration of a classroom full of desks with half of them in black and white and half in color

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The share of Latino students attending intensely segregated schools has skyrocketed over the last three decades, according to two new reports and an Axios review of federal data.

Why it matters: Intensely segregated schools, defined as schools with a student population that is more than 90% nonwhite, have fewer resources, more teacher shortages, higher student-to-school counselor ratios, and fewer AP class options.

Driving the news: As the U.S. marks the 70th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling on Friday, American public schools are growing more separate and unequal even though the country is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever.

State of play: Around 28% of the nation's public school students were Latino in 2021, compared to 16% in 2000. But as the share of Latinos in the country has surged, the schools they attend have become much more segregated.

  • On average, the percentage of Latino students who attended intensely segregated schools jumped by 67% 1968-2021, although some regions in the country saw much more dramatic shifts, according to an Axios analysis.
  • For example, the percentage of Latino students in the West who attended intensely segregated schools spiked from 12% in 1968 to 46% in 2021, according to a UCLA Civil Rights Project analysis of federal data.
  • California has the highest percentage of Latino students (59%) in intensely segregated schools, followed by Texas and New York (both at 53%), the UCLA report said.

Zoom in: Segregation between Hispanic and white students, while lower on average than that of white and Black students, more than doubled in large school districts since the 1980s, a new study from Stanford and the University of Southern California found.

  • On average, Latino students attended a school that was 75% nonwhite, while the typical Black student attended a school that was 76% nonwhite.
  • The average Latino student also attended a school that had 60.7% poor students.
  • The average Asian American and white students attended schools with 37% and 35% students in poverty respectively.

Flashback: The 1947 Mendez v. Westminster case, which outlawed school segregation in California, helped set up the Brown case. But when the Supreme Court handed down the 9-0 Brown decision, Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans weren't considered in the ruling.

  • Some districts took more than 20 years to finally desegregate after court challenges and busing plans.
  • Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project, tells Axios it would take years for Latinos to be included in school desegregation cases, and even then, enforcement was always weak.

Zoom out: A 1991 decision by a conservative-leaning Supreme Court that terminated desegregation plans in Oklahoma City took some teeth out of the Brown decision after justices concluded the plans weren't needed anymore.

  • White flight to the exurbs have contributed to resegregation, but so have charter schools, which at times can pick and choose who they can accept, Orfield said.

What they're saying: Patricia Gándara, co-director of the Civil Rights Project, tells Axios that segregation of Latino children also has gotten worse because some civil rights activists have given up after early gains.

  • "It's been radio silence on the part of the advocates and continuous attacks on the part of the critics."

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