Professional Articles

Contrary to what some may want to believe, racial segregation in school districts is still a very prominent problem even years after the Brown vs. Board of Education court case which lead to the desegregation of American public schools in 1954. Many educators have looked further into the causes and effects current day segregation has on minority students. Sarah D. Sparks who is an assistant editor for education research at Education Week and wrote the article “Achievement Gaps and Racial Segregation: Research Finds an Insidious Cycle.” Another educator is American historian and academic, Richard Rothstein, wrote the article “Segregated Housing, Segregated Schools.” Both authors published on Education Week and used their articles to dig deeper into the causes and effects of educational segregation.

The Issue:

 Rothstein explains that schools with the most disadvantaged African-American students are located in segregated communities far from the middleclass suburbs. He came to the found that nation-wide, there was an increase in racial segregation for underprivileged African-American students. Rothstein compared statistics from 20 years ago to data collected more recently and concluded that “40 percent of black students attend schools that are more than 90 percent minority, up from 34 percent 20 years ago” and that African-American students used to attended schools where 40 percent of the students would be classified as low-income, whereas today African-American students attend schools where 60 percent of the students are low-income (Rothstein 2014).

Sparks also addressed the impact socioeconomics has on racial divides and defines it as a “segregation feedback cycle” (Sparks, 2016).  This is the phenomenon of families moving out of the cities and into suburbs to seemingly better school districts. This migration of families from the city to the suburbs left many city neighborhoods in isolation and similar to Rothstein findings resulted in segregated communities, both in the city and in the suburbs.

The Effects:

According to both Rothstein and Sparks, segregation and isolation have led to decreased academic performances for minority and lower-class students. Rothstein argues that when the majority of the school’s population is performing poorly the consequences of underperforming become worse: “When classrooms fill with students less ready to learn, teachers discipline more and instruct less” (Rothstein, 2014).  Factors such as neighborhood violence and social and economic disadvantages have a negative impact on a child’s ability to learn (Rothstein, 2014). The parents’ role in some of these under privileged communities is also important to discuss. Rothstein noted that when parents are undereducated the students have less college-educated role models to look up to and the parents are less likely to pressure the school for a better and stronger curriculum (Rothstein 2014).  In Spark’s article, researchers found that in cities with the biggest achievement gaps between African-American and white students, African-American students “lag their white peers by more than 1.5 full standard deviations, or four to five grade levels” (Sparks, 2016).

Possible Solutions:

Both Sparks and Rothstein acknowledge early on in their articles that simply implementing new school reforms and testing standards will not solve the achievement gap for poor African-American students in the United States. Rothstein offers a few suggestions towards the end of his article:

  1. “Metropolitan areas have a constitutional obligation to integrate;
  2. Inclusionary zoning laws;
  3. Scattered public and private housing for low- and moderate-income families (including in the wealthiest suburbs); and
  4. The removal of tax subsidies for property in communities that fail to take aggressive steps to integrate” (Rothstein, 2014).