Boston is the latest city that is facing resegregation in its school system, an issue that many education advocates and experts say can intensify stark racial and economic divisions in the city.
A new report from the Boston Globe details the city’s problems, finding that nearly 60 percent of Boston’s schools are “intensely segregated”—meaning students of color (mostly black and Latinx) make up at least 90 percent of seats. Twenty years ago, that number was 42 percent, the Globe reports.
The paper cites the decision to let more students attend schools in their neighborhoods, rather than enforcing court-ordered bussing, as a primary driver of the resegregation trend. A Northeastern University report also attributed the push to separate children by race on the computer system that assigns students to schools, saying its algorithm propelled school segregation and left black and Latinx students shut out of the city’s top-performing schools, siloing them into under-resourced, low-performing ones.
In tandem with intensifying segregation, the Globe reported that there were more white-dominant schools than before; in the same 20-year time period, the number of majority white city schools went from two to five (most white children living in Boston bypass city schools altogether, attending private schools instead). The paper also noted that many of the majority-black and brown schools were underperforming.
The report alarmed enough people that, two days later, the Globe published a follow-up article, with education advocates and parents calling for the city to address the issue.
President of the Boston NAACP, Tanisha Sullivan, wants the city and education leaders to “immediately appoint a task force to examine school segregation and recommend steps to end it,” the paper writes. And Matt Cregor, an education project director at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, called for the city to take its blinders off and meet the issue head-on.
“Our current student assignment system hoped, in part, to maintain some racial integration without thinking or talking about race,” Cregor said. “By 2018, our city should know better than to close our eyes and hope for the best on this.”
In light of the reports, very different proposals have arisen on how to address the problem, with some city officials saying they’d prefer to take the money allotted for bussing and use it to directly fund classrooms in underperforming schools.
Michael Loconto, the chairman of Boston’s School Committee, pointed out to the Globe that the city’s school system is predominantly made up of students of color (86 percent, according to the district). Loconto also told the paper there is no “silver bullet” for addressing the problems with Boston’s city schools.
From the Globe:
Loconto asked what the city’s priorities should be in promoting diversity in its schools: spreading out white students, hiring more staff that reflect the demographics of the school, or offering more education on other cultures?
The intensifying segregation is in keeping with trends in Boston proper. In 2015, the city was ranked the seventh most segregated city in the U.S. This racial disparity is also reflected in the city’s wealth gap. Another Globe report from last year, authored by its renowned spotlight team, reminded readers of a 2015 study that found the median wealth of black families was a mere $8, compared to $247,500 for white households.
But it’s also a nationwide phenomenon. An Atlantic article from earlier this year looked at school segregation as a nationwide phenomenon, drawing attention to recent school closures and openings as exacerbating the issue.
Will Stancil writes:
Closures are about three times as common among segregated schools, and new schools account for a substantial share of current segregation. In 2016, 38 percent of all segregated schools had opened within the last two decades, compared to 20 percent of predominantly white and integrated schools.
And apparent from reinforcing racial castes, Stancil says, educational segregation reinforces economic castes.
This leaves many parents around the country, not just in Boston, feeling as though securing a good education for their children is one big crap shoot—and that city officials and educational administrators aren’t doing enough to redress the problem of equitable, affordable education.
As one parent told the Globe, “it is almost as if the city is turning its back on our kids.”