Southern California schools have grown more segregated for black and Latino students as the number of Latino students surged, a new report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA finds.

Today, more than two out of five Latino students and nearly one-third of all black students in the region enroll in intensely segregated learning environments — schools where 90-100% of students are from underrepresented minority backgrounds. Just 5% of Southern California’s Asian students attend intensely segregated schools, and 2% of the region’s white students do the same

For instance, the report found that the average African American student in San Diego County went to a school that was 42.5 percent white in 1980 — but only 20 percent white in 2000. Almost a quarter of Latino students in San Diego County go to schools that are more than 90 percent underrepresented minorities. (The study considered African American, Latino and American Indian students to be underrepresented minorities.)

One pattern is more striking in San Diego Unified compared to the whole county:

[T]he level of isolation for black students depends on whether or not they enroll in SDUSD, the largest district in the county. Eighteen percent of black students attending SDUSD are in 90-100% minority schools, compared to 6% of county black students enrolled in non-SDUSD districts.

Racial segregation was mirrored by economic and language segregation, the researchers found. That could be a problem for English learners, because they don’t get exposed to many fluent classmates.

Academics and politicians debate, here and elsewhere, about whether integration matters to school achievement. The Civil Rights Project argues that Southern California schools were never truly desegregated after the civil rights era, despite busing programs like the one in San Diego. And they contend it has real academic impact, especially when racial segregation is overlaid with poverty or language:

People can say sitting next to a white or Asian child makes no difference, but being in a middle-class school — where most of the students head to college, experienced and expert teachers offer many college credit AP courses, your friends are fluent native English speakers, and colleges and employers seek out their well-prepared students — actually makes a decisive difference in the educational and life opportunities afforded to students.

The report found that students in intensely segregated schools were almost three times as likely to have a teacher who lacked full qualifications than students in largely white or Asian schools. They are also less likely to offer advanced mathematics classes.

This is an issue I’m really interested in, especially as San Diego Unified pushes for more neighborhood schooling. How will integration be impacted? Is the route to a more diverse society to put black, white, Latino and Asian kids side by side in school? Or something else? I recently asked San Diego State University professor emeritus of education Alberto Ochoa about this issue. Here was his response:

If we truly want integration in our society, I’d rather have a school that appears to be of one of two minorities, that has academic rigor and enables them to go to college, the assumption being with a college degree you’d have more access to live anywhere in the city and really integrate our community — as opposed to integrating our schools symbolically and then when the bell rings, we have resegregation.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please tell me about how integration — or the lack thereof — impacts your school.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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