Race and Ethnicity

Schools are still segregated, and black children are paying a price

Download PDF

Well over six decades after the Supreme Court declared “separate but equal” schools to be unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education, schools remain heavily segregated by race and ethnicity.

What are the consequences of this lack of progress in integrating schools for black children?

  • It depresses education outcomes for black students; as shown in this report, it lowers their standardized test scores.
  • It widens performance gaps between white and black students.
  • It reflects and bolsters segregation by economic status, with black students being more likely than white students to attend high-poverty schools.
  • It means that the promise of integration and equal opportunities for all black students remains an ideal rather than a reality.

In contrast, when black students have the opportunity  to attend schools with lower concentrations of poverty and larger shares of white students they perform better, on average, on standardized tests.

Black children are still relegated to separate and unequal schools

Findings on school segregation and student performance come from the National Center for Education Statistics’ National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the most comprehensive study of education performance in the country. We use the most recently released data to describe school segregation and its consequences for math performance of eighth-graders. These data show that only about one in eight white students (12.9%) attends a school where a majority of students are black, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian. (We refer to this group collectively as students of color hereafter.) In contrast, nearly seven in 10 black children (69.2%) attend such schools (see Figure A).

As shown in Figure B, black students are also in economically segregated schools. Less than one in three white students (31.3%) attend a high-poverty school, compared with more than seven in 10 black students (72.4%).

Figure A

Black children are five times as likely as white children to attend schools that are highly segregated by race and ethnicity: Shares of white and black eighth-graders attending schools with a high concentration of students of color, 2017

Race High-minority (51-100%)
White 12.9%
Black 69.2%
ChartData Download data

The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.

Note: Schools with a high concentration of students of color are those in which 51–100% of students are black, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian.

Notes: Schools with a high concentration of students of color are those in which 51–100% of students are black, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian. The shares are obtained using the full 8th grade mathematics sample from the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Source: Author’s analysis of microdata from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Source: Author’s analysis of microdata from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2017 Mathematics Assessment; 8th grade (U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences).

Copy the code below to embed this chart on your website.

Figure B

Black children are more than twice as likely as white children to attend high-poverty schools: Shares of white and black eighth-graders attending high-poverty schools, 2017

Race High-poverty (51-100%)
White 31.3%
Black 72.4%
ChartData Download data

The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.

Note: High-poverty schools are schools in which 51–100% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Note: High-poverty schools are schools in which 51–100% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The shares are obtained using the full 8th grade mathematics sample from the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Source: Author’s analysis of microdata from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Source: Author’s analysis of microdata from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2017 Mathematics Assessments; 8th grade (U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences).

Copy the code below to embed this chart on your website.

In America, race and poverty are intertwined, doubly disadvantaging black students

The known connection between race/ethnicity and poverty in the United States appears in data on the composition of schools attended by for black children. Figure C shows that a black child faces a very high probability of ending up in a school where a majority of her peers are both poor and students of color. While less than 1 in 10 white students (8.4%) attend high-poverty schools with a high share of students of color, six in 10 black students (60.0%) do.

In contrast, about a fourth of white students (23.5%) attend schools where most of their peers are white and not poor, while only 3.1 percent of black children attend such schools.

Figure C

Black children are highly likely to be in high-poverty schools with a high share of students of color, but white children are not: Share of black and white eighth-graders attending low-poverty mostly white schools and and high-poverty schools with high shares of students of color, 2017

Race Low-poverty and mostly white High-poverty and mostly students of color
White 23.5% 8.4%
Black 3.1% 60.0%
ChartData Download data

The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.

Notes: Schools with a high concentration of students of color are those in which 51–100% of students are black, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian. Mostly white schools are those in which more than 75% of students are white. High-poverty schools are schools in which 51–100% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL). Low-poverty schools are those in which up to 25% are FRPL-eligible.

Note: Extended notes: Schools with a high concentration of students of color are those in which 51–100% of students are black, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian. Mostly white schools are those in which more than 75% of students are white. High-poverty schools are schools in which 51–100% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL). Low-poverty schools are those in which up to 25% are FRPL eligible. The shares are obtained using the full 8th grade mathematics sample from the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Source: Author’s analysis of microdata from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Source:  Author’s analysis of microdata from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2017 Mathematics Assessments; 8th grade (U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences).

Copy the code below to embed this chart on your website.

When black children have the opportunity to attend the same schools that white children routinely attend, black children perform markedly better on standardized math tests, which we use here as a measure of education performance.

Figure D shows math scores of black eighth-graders in low-poverty, mostly white schools and in high-poverty schools with a high share of students of color. In high-poverty schools with a high share of students of color, black students scored on average 20 points less on standardized math tests than their counterparts in low-poverty, mostly white schools (255.4 vs. 275.3). In other words, scores are much lower in the type of school that black children are overwhelmingly more likely to attend (high-poverty, mostly students of color) than in the type of school (low-poverty, mostly white) that only 3.1% of black children have a chance of attending.

Though not shown in the figure, the gap between black and white student test scores is larger in high-poverty schools with a high share of students of color than in low-poverty, mostly white schools. By promoting policies that facilitate a shift away from our current pattern of heavily segregated schools, we would thus help close the gap between black and white students overall.

Figure D

Performance of black students suffers when these students attend high-poverty schools with high shares of students of color: Math performance of black students by school segregation, 2017

Black
Low-poverty and mostly white 275.3
High-poverty and mostly students of color 255.4
ChartData Download data

The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.

Notes: Schools with a high concentration of students of color are those in which 51–100% of students are black, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian. Mostly white schools are those in which more than 75% of students are white. High-poverty schools are schools in which 51–100% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL). Low-poverty schools are those in which up to 25% are FRPL eligible.

Note: Results are obtained using regression analyses and the subsample of white and black students participating in the 8th-grade mathematics assessment in the 2017 NAEP. Schools with a high concentration of students of color are those in which 51–100% of students are black, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian. Mostly white schools are those in which more than 75% of students are white. High-poverty schools are schools in which 51–100% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL). Low-poverty schools are those in which up to 25% are FRPL eligible.

Source:  Author’s analysis of microdata from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Source:  Author’s analysis of microdata from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2017 Mathematics Assessments; 8th grade (U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences).

Copy the code below to embed this chart on your website.

Unaddressed school segregation is a major longstanding policy failure. It consigns most black children to schools that put them behind academically. The persistent performance gaps between white and black children that challenge the education and career prospects of black children from early on demonstrate that school segregation continues to cast a very long shadow—from well before Brown v. Board of Education to today, and into the future.

 

This brief, published by EPI to highlight education issues for Black History Month, shows data that are part of ongoing EPI research on student performance and education inequalities. Information using earlier data on segregation and the consequences for performance for other groups, and technical details, are available in Martin Carnoy and Emma García, Five Key Trends in U.S. Student Performance: Progress by Blacks and Hispanics, the Takeoff of Asians, the Stall of non-English Speakers, the Persistence of Socioeconomic Gaps, and the Damaging Effect of Highly Segregated Schools, Economic Policy Institute, 2017.

 


See related work on Race and Ethnicity | Education | Student achievement | Educational inequity | Children | Black Americans | Racial segregation | Housing | Discrimination

See more work by Emma García