Overton: Segregation making a comeback


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Who needs government to segregate people? They do a great job of it themselves. Seriously.

Take my old high school in a midsize Iowa town for example. About one-third of the students were Latino, and yet it was unusual for college-credit classes to have more than one or two minority students. Most Latino students ate lunch in one big quadrant of the cafeteria. Don’t even get me started on my trials and tribulations in the “Mexican parking lot.”

Unfortunately for students’ educational well-being, schools have gone further than my former high school in recent years, with increasingly segregated school populations that lead to hugely negative ramifications for students.

A report by the Civil Rights Project found that nationally, 80 percent of Latino students and 74 percent of black students go to predominantly nonwhite schools, based on the most recent data from the 2009-2010 school year. While Latinos have experienced increasing school segregation since the mid-1970s, blacks saw a period of desegregation up until the 1990s, when schools began re-segregating.

Although Iowa doesn’t have this problem to the same degree that the rest of the nation does, this state is not exactly famous for its ethnic diversity, so it’s harder for nonwhites to become segregated to the extent that they are in New York City or Chicago. Nevertheless, we Iowans proclaimed “statistical odds be damned” and segregated the small black population that exists here.

The Civil Rights Project report said in states such as Iowa, “there is both a large majority of white students and a significant level of segregation for a small black population.”

While just 5 percent of all Iowa’s K-12 students are black, 28.6 percent of them attend schools that have a black majority population.

Also troublesome was the exposure that students of different ethnicities had to poor students. In the early 2000s, typical black and Latino students attended schools in which slightly more than half of the population in poverty, but the latest numbers show that proportion has risen to two-thirds of the students.

Schools are becoming more segregated partially because of recent court decisions, which have allowed school districts to ditch desegregation policies.

The 2007 Supreme Court decision, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, prohibited schools from pursuing diversity policies that distributed students based only on their race.

Now, people of the same ethnicity are clinging together more than ever, and because ethnicity is strongly correlated with income, predominantly white schools tend to get more resources than predominantly minority schools.

So what does growing segregation mean for students? A lot of awful things: “Racially and socioeconomically isolated schools are strongly related to an array of factors that limit educational opportunities and outcomes,” the report stated. “These include less-experienced and less-qualified teachers, high levels of teacher turnover, less-successful peer groups, and inadequate facilities and learning materials.”

Instead of actually getting help, these extremely disadvantaged schools are often slapped with penalties for poor performance.

Self-segregation comes naturally to people, and thanks to the courts it will continue for the foreseeable future. American society just has to decide if its consequences are acceptable.

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