May 20, 2024 - News

Indianapolis Public Schools sees increase in segregation

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 Indianapolis Public Schools has increased over the last three decades, according to an Axios review of federal data.

Why it matters: As the U.S. marked 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.

Flashback: While Indiana had a desegregation law on the books five years before the Brown ruling, it wasn't implemented in many school districts.

  • Two decades after Brown, courts ordered IPS to start busing for the purpose of ending intentional segregation.
  • Beginning in fall 1975, the one-way busing program sent hundreds of Black IPS students to neighboring township districts.
  • The program was phased out slowly, starting in 1998 and ending with the last students bused to neighboring districts in 2016.

By the numbers: Like public schools nationwide, IPS has become less white and more diverse over the last three decades.

  • In 1991, the district was 47% white, 52% Black and less than 1% Hispanic and Asian.
  • 30 years later, the district is 18% white, 44% Black and 32% Hispanic.

Still, schools are more segregated, according to data from The Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford.

  • In 1991, IPS had a segregation rating of 0.11 for Black and white students and 0.03 for Hispanic and white students, with 0 being the least segregated and 1 being the most segregated.
  • By 2022, those ratings had jumped to 0.37 for both Black and white students and Hispanic and white students.
  • The rating measures segregation by exposure of students of different races and ethnicities.

The change was driven by a combination of factors that included the end of busing, the return to neighborhood schools whose makeup often reflects communities segregated by housing policy and the dramatic exodus of families from IPS boundaries.

  • District policies that disadvantage Black and brown children also contributed.
  • In 2020, the IPS board of commissioners admitted as much when it adopted a racial equity policy and pledged to "eliminate opportunity gaps … as well as disrupt institutionally racist, structures and policies within the District."

The latest: This fall will mark the first school year with full implementation of Rebuilding Stronger, IPS' K-8 overhaul aimed at making school assignment and choice more equitable and high-quality academic programming more accessible.

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