May 17, 2024 - Education

Houston's segregation after Brown v. Board of Education

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 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 Friday, American public schools are growing more separate and unequal even though the country is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever.

What they did: Analyzing data from U.S. public schools going back to 1967, a Stanford University and University of Southern California study found that segregation between white and Black students has increased by 64% since 1988 in the 100 largest districts.

A line chart shows that the percentage of U.S. public schools with student bodies that are more than 90% non-white has steadily increased from 7.4% in 1988 to 19.8% in 2022.
Data: Orfield and Pfleger, 2024, "The Unfinished Battle for Integration in a Multiracial America"; Chart: Axios Visuals

The intrigue: Houston ISD schools have become slightly more segregated over the past three decades, per the analysis.

  • The district has a segregation rating of 0.47 for Black and white students and 0.34 for Hispanic and white students. The rating measures segregation by exposure of students of different races and ethnicities, with 0 being the least segregated and 1 being the most segregated.

In 1991, the measure was 0.44 for Black and white students and 0.32 for Hispanic and white students.

Zoom in: Westbury High School, in southwest Houston, was a model of integration in 1991: 30.8% white, 43.5% Black and 17.9% Hispanic.

  • By 2022, it was 1.6% white, 28.8% Black and 67.2% Hispanic.

Zoom out: Texas is among the states with the largest growth in intensely segregated schools, defined as schools with 90%-100% nonwhite students.

  • About 15% of Texas schools were intensely segregated in 1988. That figure jumped to 36.4% by 2021, according to a UCLA analysis of federal data.

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.

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