School segregation growing in California, study finds
Mercury News

By Lisa M. Krieger

In today's San Jose Mercury News:
California's schools are among the most segregated in the nation -- and they are becoming even more divided, with Latino and African- American students clustered together and isolated from whites, according to a study released this week by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.

This trend -- driven by economic, policy and demographic changes within the state -- compounds the disadvantages of Latino and black students. And white students miss an important lesson about life in a diverse society, the researchers conclude.

"Segregation is growing in degree and complexity as the nation becomes increasingly multiracial,'' said Gary Orfield, lead author of the report and director of the project. "We have to get away from thinking of segregation as something that came out of the Old South -- and think about how it's happening in the new California.''

The findings hold true even in diverse Silicon Valley. In the San Jose Unified School District, the average black student in 1991 went to a school with 40 percent white students and 40 percent Latino students. By 2003, that changed to 28 percent white students and 50 percent Latinos.

In general, the study said, schools with high concentrations of blacks and Latinos have less-qualified teachers, lower levels of student competition, more limited curriculum, more serious health problems and a higher dropout rate. There are fewer fluent native speakers of standard English, a skill that's essential in college.

The Harvard researchers studied the changing patterns of racial composition in the nation's schools in regions, states and districts by using data from 1968 until 2003-04 from the U.S. Department of Education.

They found that in 2003, the average Latino student in the state attended a school with 19 percent white students, down from about  50 percent in 1970. The average black student in California attended a school with 22 percent white students in 2003, down from 26 percent in 1970.

Asian-Americans are the most integrated racial group. Even when they are in predominantly minority schools, they are seldom in schools overwhelmingly Asian, and are unlikely to have the kind of "linguistic segregation'' that affects Latino students, the study found.

1960s legacy

During the civil rights era, California schools were far more racially integrated than schools in other regions of the country.  By 2003-04, it was among the top five most-segregated states for both blacks and Latinos. Schools in Nevada and Texas, also once well integrated states, have lost ground, too.

This is not because of a flight to private schools, as seen after  the civil rights era, Orfield said. The reasons for today's  segregation: Minorities tended to move to the cities, while whites moved to the suburbs. Also, Latinos and blacks tend to have more children.  "These groups are inheriting the city,'' he said.

In the 1960s, more than four of every five U.S. students were white; in 2003, 58 percent were white -- and the numbers drop each year.

Throughout the nation, in states like California, the number of Latinos soared and racially segregated residential areas expanded greatly.

While courts ordered many school districts to desegregate, most of those orders dissolved in the 1990s. The subsequent return to neighborhood schools intensified segregation. "I think the awareness of our ethnic diversity is greater than over,'' and that new magnet and charter schools pull students together, said Linda Aceves, assistant superintendent for instructional services at the Santa Clara County Office of Education.

"But the schools can only do so much. It is the nature of the cost of housing in the valley -- folks can't afford certain neighborhoods and access to certain schools. In general, there are of lot of other political and social issues to deal with in achieving full integration.''

Desegregation ruling

San Jose Unified School District was sued in 1971 for discriminating against Latinos, and in 1985 a federal judge ordered the district to desegregate its schools. But over time, the focus shifted to improving student achievement at all district schools.

The district is still segregated by some measures: Overall, Latinos make up 50 percent of its students -- but at one-third of elementary schools, they are 80 percent. And test scores at those schools are far lower than the district average.

But Latinos' scores are improving. Three years ago, San Jose Unified's Latino students scored 110 points less than the district average; last year, they reduced that gap to 97 points.