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U.S. Schools Resegregating
by staff writer, January 21, 2003
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Press Release

For Immediate Release

A Multiracial Society with Segregated Schools: Are We Losing the Dream?

Please respect this embargo as we have selected it purposefully to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Cambridge, MA--January 16, 2003-- The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University (CRP) announces a new study on national resegregation trends in American public schools. “A Multiracial Society with Segregated Schools: Are We Losing the Dream?” by Erica Frankenberg, Chungmei Lee, and Professor Gary Orfield.

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. In his immortal speech, Dr. King spoke of his dreams of integration, that “One day, right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

Professor Gary Orfield, Professor of Education & Social Policy and Co-Director of CRP weighed in on the significance of releasing this work at a time set aside to honor Dr. King: "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. Dr. King would not be at banquets celebrating the triumph of civil rights, he would be leading protests against courts and school officials making decisions which send minority children back to inferior schools then punishes them for their inferior education, and for decisions that leave young whites deeply isolated and unprepared for the multiracial society they will live and work in," said Orfield.

Today, our nation’s public schools are becoming steadily more nonwhite, as the minority student enrollment approaches 40% of all U.S. public school students, almost twice the share of minority school students during the 1960s. Almost half of all public school students in the West and the South are minority students. 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 1990’s, and have now lost all progress recorded since the 1960’s.

However, the most dramatic growth is seen in the increase of Latino and to a lesser extent Asian students. Latino students are the most segregated minority group, with steadily rising segregation since federal data was first collected a third of a century ago. Latinos are segregated both by race and poverty, and a pattern of linguistic segregation is also developing. Latinos have by far the highest high school dropout rates. Asians are the most integrated and the most educationally successful group in American Schools. White students are the most segregated and are in contact with few nonwhite students except in the South and Southwest.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, American public schools are now twelve years into the process of continuous resegregation. Dr. King’s dream included the desegregation of the schools, but as a means to accomplish much more. It included actively working to teach all students fairly, with respect and equality in interracial schools. Dr. King would not have been celebrating today; he would have been marching again.

About the Report:

This report covers patterns of racial enrollment and segregation in American public schools at the national, regional, state, and district levels for students of all racial groups. Our analysis of the status of school desegregation in 2000 uses the NCES Common Core of Data for 2000-01, which contains data submitted by virtually all U.S. schools to the Department of Education. Additionally, this report examines trends in desegregation and, now, resegregation over the last one-third century.

About the Authors:

Erica Frankenberg is a Research Assistant at The Civil Rights Project and is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University. She received her Masters in Education with a concentration in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Ms. Frankenberg has also worked with a non-profit educational foundation in Alabama. She earned a B.A. in Educational Policy from Dartmouth College where she received high honors for her senior thesis regarding the end of court-mandated desegregation in Mobile, Alabama. Ms. Frankenberg’s research interest in school desegregation stems from her experience as a student in desegregated public schools. She presented, “The Impact of School Segregation on Residential Housing Patterns: Mobile, AL and Charlotte, NC,” at the Resegregation of Southern Schools conference in August 2002. She is also co-author of "Race in American Public Schools: Rapidly Resegregating School Districts," published in 2002 by The Civil Rights Project.

Chungmei Lee is a Research Associate at The Civil Rights Project. She received her Masters in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Prior to joining the Project, she worked with Harvard's Programs for Professional Education and helped train education leaders around the world in Education Management Information System (EMIS). At PPE, she also worked on issues relating to the professional development of teachers. As an independent consultant for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), she examined issues such as the financing of higher education and its impact on middle-income and low-income students' access to higher education. She holds a B.A. in history from Dartmouth College. Ms. Lee co-authored, "Race in American Public Schools: Rapidly Resegregating School Districts," published in 2002 by The Civil Rights Project.

Professor Gary Orfield is Professor of Education and Social Policy and founding Co-Director of The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. His complete biography is available online at:

copyright 2003 by The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.


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