A Dream Lost | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

A Dream Lost

"When America celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, students in schools named after Dr. King will be reciting the 'I have a dream' speech in auditoriums where there are no whites and almost everyone is poor enough to get a free lunch, the very kind of schools Dr. King fought to eliminate." Timed to honor the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the Harvard Civil Rights Project's new report, "A Multiracial Society with Segregated Schools: Are We Losing the Dream?," finds that "resegregation" of schools is at a level not seen in three decades.

Thanks to steady white flight to private academies and mostly white suburban public schools, a class of "apartheid schools," as the Harvard Civil Rights Project calls it, has emerged with virtually all black students—these often substandard schools educate one-sixth of the nation's black students, and often poorly. The average black or Latino students go to schools with a 40-percent poverty rate. These schools simply do not get the same resources, or the same level of teachers that richer white schools get.

Harvard found that this isn't just a problem for kids of color: white youth are the most segregated group in the public schools. Their schools tend to be 80-percent white (perhaps explaining the poor quality of race dialogue in the country).

The report's authors found that this resegregation is rapidly increasing thanks largely to federal courts that are growing more conservative and hostile to attempts to equalize public education. Conservative appointees to the bench, who tend to take an active and activist approach to rescinding efforts to guarantee civil rights, are starting to really hit their stride—not only allowing schools to get out from under legal orders to integrate, but even overturning efforts that school districts take upon themselves to avoid resegregation.

The report proves what too many people know and won't talk about: the nation's public schools are becoming steadily more non-white as whites flee the public-school system and take their resources with them. The minority student enrollment is approaching 40 percent of all U.S. public-school students, almost twice the share of minority school students during the 1960s. The study finds that almost half of all public school students in the West and the South are minority students and, no surprise, the worst resegregation is taking place in suburban areas.

Interestingly, the study finds that students in the South are among the most integrated, due to federal court orders starting in the 1960s, but the trend is quickly changing: "The desegregation of black students, which increased continuously from the l950s to the late l980s, has now receded to levels not seen in three decades. Black students are experiencing the most rapid resegregation in the South, triggered by Supreme Court decisions in the 1990s, and have now lost all progress recorded since the 1960s."

Perhaps the only surprise in the report (even if it shouldn't be) is that Latino students are the most segregated minority group, both by race and poverty and by "linguistic separation," as the report calls it. And Latino students have the greatest high-school dropout rates.

The report's authors say the findings fly in the face of the hard work of the Civil Rights Movement. "Martin Luther King's dream is being honored in theory and dishonored in the decisions and practices that are turning our schools back to segregation," said Gary Orfield, an education professor and esteemed civil-rights academic. "Dr. King would not have been celebrating today; he would have been marching again."

— Donna Ladd

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