Random Knowledge: How Segregated Are Urban American Schools?

Bob Somerby is always going on about this, so I thought I’d show it to everyone in simple chart form. Among America’s 20 biggest urban public school districts, here are the percentage of students who are white:

Outside of Florida and North Carolina, there are virtually no big urban school districts that are more than 20 percent white. This is partly because white families long ago fled to the suburbs or because they send their kids to private schools in the city. Either way, the result is the same: the vast majority of the student body is black and Hispanic.

Why does this matter? Because it means that desegregation of our cities’ public schools is all but impossible. If you did a perfect job of desegregation in Los Angeles, each school would have 9 percent white kids. In a more likely scenario, a few schools would have a quarter or a third white kids, and the rest would have about 1-2 percent. There’s just no realistic way to make genuine, broad-based desegregation happen.

This is apropos of nothing in particular. It’s just a reminder that if we want to improve education for children of color, then we have to improve education for children of color. Full stop. As nice as desegregation would be, we have to accept the world the way it is and figure out how to do a good job with classrooms that are all but completely black, Hispanic, and Asian. So what’s the answer?


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