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Children sit on the steps of Malverne HIgh School in Malverne, N.Y., in 1962, with picket signs supporting integrated education. Photo: Marvin Sussman/Newsday RM via Getty Images

Today's school boundaries in many cities are still linked to a history of housing segregation that goes back to the 1930s, a new study has found.

Why it matters: These boundaries largely determine which schools students will attend, and in many parts of the country they're reinforcing segregation and inequality, despite years of strides.

Details: The Urban Institute examined over 65,000 school attendance boundaries.

  • More than 2,000 pairs of adjacent public school boundaries had vastly different racial compositions on either side, according to the report..
  • Many of today's school attendance boundaries closely track old maps of redlining — a practice explicitly designed to keep Black Americans out of certain neighborhoods, the study found.

The big picture: "It's unequal, and not just in terms of race. The schools are different. The quality of instruction is different. Kids get expulsions and suspensions more on one side. There are more cops on one side than the other," said Tomás Monarrez, one of the authors of the report.

How it works: Researchers examined the boundaries using GIS technology, census records, current demographics, and relining neighborhood maps stemming from a New Deal law to provide emergency relief to home mortgage indebtedness.

What they're saying: "When these laws were passed, the government in this country knew exactly what it wanted. It wanted to segregate people based on race and location. And it wanted to make sure that schools reflected that," Derrell Bradford, president of the education advocacy group 50CAN, told Axios after reviewing the report.

  • Bradford said over the years, local and state governments have imposed criminal penalties on parents who use other addresses so their children will be assigned to better schools. Security guards sometimes follow students home to double-check where they live.
  • "The most important thing in American public education is place. And we have a system that is based on place because our system of place is based on race," said Bradford, who advocates for school choice.

Yes, but: Some Black residents also are moving to new majority-Black areas by choice, and those areas are more economically and culturally diverse than 50 years ago, said Andre M. Perry, a Metropolitan Policy Program fellow at the Brookings Institute.

  • Some school districts in new and growing suburbs in California, Arizona, and New Mexico are growing more diverse, and they are less connected to a history of redlining as older metropolitan places.

Don't forget: The Bush-era No Child Left Behind law allowed parents to pull children from schools with poor test scores and grades to those with higher scores.

  • Yet, parents in many states were left with choosing schools in the same school districts that were overcrowded.
  • Teacher unions and some community groups fought the labels of "failing schools" and sought to prevent them from closing, even when students leave without basic literacy.

Be smart: School segregation between Black and white students has returned to 1968 levels, even as the nation grows more diverse, according to a report from The Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to state that the Urban Institute issued the report on 65,000 school attendance boundaries, not the National Urban League as previously stated.

Go deeper

COVID's impact on Ohio education

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Ohio's K-12 school report cards were released Thursday, shining a spotlight on pandemic-related challenges that include spiking absenteeism and a significant drop in statewide test scores.

Why it matters: The state's annual reports provide families and taxpayers a snapshot of their district's academic achievement, spending and demographic data, while also shaping instructional decisions.

"Nation's Report Card" finds reading, math test scores falling pre-COVID

Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Test scores in both reading and math declined for 13-year-old students between 2012 and 2020, according to new data released Thursday from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).

Why it matters: It's the first major decline in the two subjects since the NAEP began tracking long-term academic achievement trends in the 1970s.

Updated Oct 14, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on equal opportunity in education

On October 14th, Axios race and justice reporter Russ Contreras discussed how education systems are preparing their students for equal opportunity and sustained success in life after school, featuring Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.) and California State University Chancellor Joseph I. Castro.

Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández demonstrated how the federal government can aid states in addressing education inequalities, the difficulties of recruiting teachers in rural areas, and her focus on alleviating poverty to give children better educational opportunities.

  • On the importance of hiring teachers who can relate to students on a community and cultural level: “We need to make sure that we are training teachers that come from the community that reflect the children that they are teaching, because then that’s where the aspiration starts.”
  • On improving infrastructure to support greater broadband access: “Creating that infrastructure in those communities so there’s good broadband, so they can stay connected to the world, so they can assign subjects and projects that require that students plug into the internet and gather information. That’s the broadband work that we need to do.”

Joseph I. Castro discussed how a counselor at a college fair opened up his eyes to educational opportunity, how student services play a central role in education equity, and how public universities are working to eliminate inequities for students.

  • On investing in student services: “I believe that we need to invest in our students. They are the next generation of leaders. In order for us to support them, we of course need to have extraordinary faculty members in the classroom...and we need to make sure that they have food and housing, access to technology, all the tools necessary to be successful.”
  • On California State University’s plans for an Equity Innovation Hub: “It will be a place where Hispanic serving institutions, like 21 of our Cal State campuses, as well as hundreds across the country, will be able to work together to serve students from Latino and other backgrounds and help prepare them for STEM fields.”

Axios Chief People Officer Dominique Taylor hosted a View from the Top segment with Bank of America president of Business Banking Raul Anaya and Eduardo Díaz, Smithsonian Latino Center director and interim director of the National Museum of the American Latino. They discussed how race and racism have shaped the history of the U.S., and how these effects are still being felt in the Latino community.

  • Eduardo Díaz on the influence behind Smithsonian’s recent program “Our Shared Future: Reckoning with Our Racial Past”: “With the murder of George Floyd, it was cathartic, it brought to bear a lot of underlying historical aspects of the way race and racism has shaped this country’s history and culture, and I think it was a pivotal moment when the Smithsonian needed to do something and step forward to address it…”