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“KING’S DREAM OR PLESSY’S NIGHTMARE?”: New Report Finds Backward Movement in School Desegregation

"For more than a decade, we have been headed backward toward greater segregation for black students."

According to a new report, U.S. schools in all regions of the country are becoming more segregated for both African American and Latino students. Brown at 50: King’s Dream or Plessy’s Nightmare? found that in many districts where a court-ordered mandate halted desegregation efforts in the past decade, there has been a significant increase in segregation. The largest increase in segregation has taken place in the South, where court decisions and civil rights laws produced the most integrated schools in the country over the last three decades.

The report, issued by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, examines changes in the country and in districts directly affected by theBrown decision. It also considers the effects of the Oklahoma City v. Dowell Supreme Court decision, which allowed a return to segregated neighborhood schools.

“For more than a decade, we have been headed backward toward greater segregation for black students,” the report says. “For Latinos, who have recently become the largest group of minority students, segregation has been steadily increasing ever since the first national data were collected in the late 1960s. . . . Both groups tend to be segregated in high poverty schools that are deeply unequal in measurable ways.”

On average, rural and small town school districts are the nation’s most integrated for both African Americans and Latinos. The report found that, “central cities of large metropolitan areas are the epicenter of segregation,” but segregation is also severe in smaller central cities and even in suburban rings of large cities, according to the report:

We now have a massive migration of black and Latino families to our suburbs, but the migration is producing hundreds of newly segregated and unequal schools and frustrating the dream of the middle class minority families for access to the most competitive schools. The process of spreading segregation threatens suburban communities with problems like those that ghettoization brought to larger and larger parts of central cities.


Overall, these highly segregated minority schools face conditions of concentrated poverty, which are powerfully related to unequal educational opportunity. Students in these schools often face conditions that their counterparts in segregated white schools rarely experience. Indeed, as researcher Cynthia Prince wrote in The Challenge of Attracting Good Teachers and Principals to Struggling Schools, “The more impoverished and racially isolated the school, the greater the likelihood that students in the school will be taught by inexperienced teachers, uncertified teachers, and out-of-field teachers who do not hold a degree in the subject they are assigned to teach. Schools with these characteristics are invariably low-performing schools.”

Brown at 50: King’s Dream or Plessy’s Nightmare? is available at:

On the Calendar


As follow-up to its High School Leadership Summit held last October in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Department of Education has announced a series of seven regional high school summits. These summits will help state teams create short- and long-term plans for strengthening outcomes for youth, improving high schools and meeting the vision of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The regional meetings will be held:

March 12-13 in Billings, Montana, with state teams from Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming;

March 26-27 in Atlanta, Georgia, with state teams from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee;

April 16-17 in Phoenix, Arizona, with state teams from Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah;

April 23-24 in St. Louis, Missouri, with state teams from Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin;

May 7-8 in Sacramento, California, with state teams from Alaska, American Samoa, California, Guam, Hawaii, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, and Washington;

May 14-15 in Cleveland, Ohio, with state teams from Delaware, District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia; and

May 21-22 in Boston, Massachusetts, with state teams from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and DOD schools.

More information is available at:


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