Just Facts: Racial Resegregation and Inequality in Public Schools

By Patrisia Mac?as Rojas Mar 20, 1999

Who goes to public school in this country?
There are approximately 46 million students in about 16,000 separate public school districts. Of these,


  • 16% are African American;
  • 9% are Latino;
  • 3% are Asian American;
  • 1% are Native American; and
  • 71% are white.


Who goes to private schools?
Hardly anyone. Even 7 out of 8 of wealthy white families send their kids to public high schools.


Who teaches in public schools?
   88% of public school teachers are white.

Do students of different races attend the same schools? Very seldom. The schools are more segregated today than they were twenty years ago.

  • By 1986, the proportion of African American students in intensely segregated (90 to 100 percent students of color) schools started to climb again, as did those attending schools with student of color majorities. By 1991, that proportion returned to the same level as in 1971, when the Supreme Court issued its first school desegregation busing decision.
  • Latino students never experienced any decrease in segregation at all. In fact, segregation of Latino students has only increased over time.
  • 63% of all white students go to schools that are 90% to 100% white.
  • Although recently increasing, black students in the South are only half as likely to attend intensely segregated schools as those who live in the Northeast.
  • The most intense school segregation happens in large Northern metropolitan areas surrounded by white suburbs. Students of color in rural areas and small towns are much more likely to attend integrated schools than those who live in large cities.
  • Big metropolitan areas maintain school segregation by having smaller school districts. The 1974 Milliken Supreme Court decision forbids desegregation plans that cross school district lines, so if the suburbs and the city have separate districts, their students won’t be able to attend the same schools.


Is “separate but equal” really such a bad thing?


  • It’s impossible to answer that question, because separate but equal schools do not exist. Schools in this country are both separate and profoundly unequal.
  • White suburban schools have vastly more money than inner-city schools, whose students are often 90 to 100 percent children of color. That’s because almost half of school funding comes from local property taxes.
  • In New York state, the richest school district spent $38,572 per student in 1992. That’s seven times what the poorest district spent— $5,423. In Illinois, the ratio was 8 to 1. In Texas, per-student spending ranged from $3,098 to more than 10 times as much—$42,000.
  • 92% of whites, 86% of African Americans, and only 61% of Latinos finish high school.
  • In metropolitan Philadelphia, inner-city drop-out rates are four times as high as those of suburban schools.
  • White high school graduates are much more likely to go to college, and to finish college, than African Americans or Latinos. Here’s how it breaks down:
    Some College B.A. Degree
    Whites 67% 34%
    African Americans 56% 17%
    Latinos 51% 16%



Sources: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics; Rethinking Schools, Funding for Justice: Milwaukee, WI, 1997; Orfield and Eaton, Dismantling Desegregation: The Quiet Reversal of Brown v. Board of Education: New Press, 1997.