The fight for school desegregation that started back in the 1950s isn’t finished, not here. The Civil Rights Project at UCLA has published an update of its report on racial segregation in New Jersey schools and it concludes the state has made little, if any, progress in reducing segregation. Co-Director of The Civil Rights Project Gary Orfield explained the data to correspondent Briana Vannozzi.
Vannozzi: Gary Orfield, your latest report on segregation in New Jersey schools actually shows the problem is worsening. In fact, the report said that the number of students who attend what you call ‘apartheid’ schools actual doubled. Why is that?
Orfield: Well, these are schools that have zero to one percent white students. So, they are within a hair’s breath of being as segregated as the schools used to be in South Africa or in the American South. It’s because residential segregation has spread, it’s because of the district boundaries, it’s because of the increase in poverty level in certain communities and it’s because nothing has been done to offset these trends.
Vannozzi: Well, this go-around the data was updated from 1989 to 2010, and in this latest report you looked at 2010 to 2015, so what changed? What were the key findings this time?
Orfield: Well, you continually have a major demographic change going on in the state. Twenty-five years ago, New Jersey schools were two-thirds white. Now, they’re less than half white and there’s been a huge replacement of white students by Latino students in the state. And Latinos are, of course, haven’t received the kind of attention that African-Americans have, but they also have a very similar level of double segregation by race and poverty in schools that have inferior performance. So, New Jersey has also had a steady increase in Asian students, so, it’s really become a four-race state with no majority among young people in the state.
Vannozzi: No majority and yet we’re seeing this segregation. So, what’s the implication there? What does this mean for student performance, specifically for what we’re saying is this minority group. What does this mean for the student performance?
Orfield: Well, we show a clear relationship between this double segregation by race and poverty, which black and Latino students in New Jersey experience, and lower educational attainment, less competitive schools. Those schools tend to get and hold teachers much less effectively than schools that are integrated or predominantly white and Asian. Those schools tend to have lower graduation rates, less success in preparing students for college and so forth. And, for all the kids in New Jersey, they’re growing up in a four-race state, but they’re often not having the experiences about how to operate across such racial lines that you get from being in an integrated school which has a positive set of relationships.
Vannozzi: Are there school districts who you can point to as an example where the students are benefiting from being in that cultural and racially diverse environment?
Orfield: Well, we think that there are very few efforts in New Jersey going on to produce it, and we try to point out the example of Connecticut, which has regional magnet schools in all of its major metros in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven. But, kids from all the districts go together to a school that offers a really distinctive curriculum. They do it voluntarily and there’s thousands of kids on waiting lists. We think that would be very logical for lots of places in New Jersey because the districts are so small, the metros are so divided, and people of different races live close together, but go to schools as if they were living in an apartheid society.
Vannozzi: And, when I looked at this report, New Jersey was ranked in the top five states for the most segregated schools, which sounds surprising given how racially diverse our state is. We outranked even some of the southern states where we know that this is an issue.
Orfield: New Jersey has been more segregated than almost any place in the south for many years. We’ve been following these issues for a long time, and New Jersey has high residential segregation and very divided metros and no policies to offset them.
Vannozzi: And yet we have some of the strongest laws in the nation barring segregation, I think of Abbott v. Burke which gives funding for some of these school districts. I think of the Mount Laurel Doctrine to eliminate that exclusionary zoning, so are we not enforcing that and what can you recommend?
Orfield: Well, the Abbott case is a very important case and I strongly support the effort to give more funding to segregated, high-poverty, minority schools. That’s a good thing, but it’s not desegregation and it’s not a desegregation plan. It kind of ignored the issue of segregation. I think New Jersey has dealt with one side of the problem, but it has to take another step with dealing with the spreading racial segregation in the state. In terms of the Mount Laurel case, one of the problems with Mount Laurel is that they allowed the suburb states to buy their responsibility out by building more segregated housing in central cities which only increases school segregation. And they really didn’t have a good policy for making sure that the suburban subsidized housing got to families of color, lots of it didn’t.
Vannozzi: And, that’s a whole other issue we can do another five, 10, 30 minutes on, but Gary we have to leave it there. I thank you so much for spending some time with us. Gary Orfield, the co-director of The Civil Rights Project for UCLA. Thanks for giving us some time.
Orfield: Good to talk to you.