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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Integrating Neighborhoods, Segregating Schools: The Retreat from School Desegregation, 1990 - 2000


Public school segregation between white and black students in Southern states increased slightly in the 1990s, reversing several decades of stable integration patterns in much of the South. This increase in school segregation carte during a decade during which residential segregation in the South declined rather substantially. Seen in the context of these decreases in residential segregation, the increase in school segregation represents a substantial change in the effectiveness of public school desegregation efforts. In 1990, the public schools in metropolitan area counties were, on average, 40% less segregated than the housing patterns in their corresponding county—school systems were able to ameliorate two-fifths of the segregative effects of housing patterns. By 2000, however, public schools were only 27% less segregated than their local housing markets, a one-third reduction in the effectiveness of desegregation efforts.

Moreover, despite the trends toward decreasing residential segregation and increasing school segregation, patterns of 'white flight' to private schools do not appear to have lessened since the 1970s. In 1980, 1990, and 1998, county-level white private school enrollment rates were strongly and tightly linked to the proportion of the county school-age population who were black white private school enrollment rates are extremely high in predominantly black counties, despite decades of stable integration in the public school.

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