May 17, 2024 - News

School segregation growing in Texas

Choropleth map of U.S. counties showing the estimated level of segregation between Black and white students in K-12 public schools. Schools in counties in the southern U.S., southern California and Northeast tend to be more segregated than counties in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest.
Data: Stanford Education Data Archive; Note: Index ranges from 0 to 1, where 0 implies no segregation (all schools have identical proportions of Black and white students) while 1 implies complete segregation (no Black student attends a school with any white students, and vice versa); Map: Axios Visuals

Racial segregation in schools in Austin and across the country has increased dramatically over the last three decades, according to two new reports and an Axios review of federal data.

Why it matters: 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.

The big picture: The resegregation of America's public schools coincides with the rise of charter schools and school choice options, and as civil rights groups have turned away from desegregation battles.

By the numbers: The Austin Independent School District has a segregation rating of 0.46 for Black and white students and 0.40 for Hispanic and white students, per an analysis by Stanford University and the University of Southern California.

  • The rating measures segregation by students' exposure to different races and ethnicities, with 0 being the least segregated and 1 being the most segregated.

Flashback: In 1991, the measure was 0.38 for Black and white students and 0.28 for Hispanic and white students.

Zoom in: Mendez Middle School, in Southeast Austin, was a model of integration in 1991: 25.3% white, 24.6% Black and 48.9% Hispanic. By 2022, it was 88.8% Hispanic, 7.6% Black and 1.8% white.

  • As the campus became less diverse, school ratings dropped. The school received an F rating from the state four years in a row, and the district hired an outside firm in 2018 to help manage the school to avoid state intervention.

What they're saying: Austin ISD officials say they have taken measures to address school segregation.

  • The district has a transfer rule that allows a student to transfer from a school "where the student's ethnic group is over 50 percent of the school's population to a school where the student's ethnic group is under 50 percent of the school's population."
  • It has also overhauled its enrollment system "to minimize any advantage that some families may have had in navigating our old transfer process and accessing special programs or magnet schools — all factors that can have a positive effect on campus diversity," district spokesperson Ali Ghilarducci tells Axios.

As for schools with low ratings, the district has also prioritized "filling vacancies at our schools that have high concentrations of families experiencing poverty," Ghilarducci says.

  • The fact that 81% of Austin's K–12 aged children who reside within the district attend an Austin ISD school is "a testament to the broad range of opportunities, high-quality program offerings and the fabulous things happening in every one of our schools," Ghilarducci says.

Stunning stat: About 15% of Texas schools were intensely segregated in 1988. That figure jumped to 36.4% by 2021, according to a UCLA Civil Rights Project analysis of federal data.

  • Intensely segregated schools are those with 90-100% nonwhite students.
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