The U.S. Department of Education National Center for Educational Statistics recently released its annual Condition of Education report. This year's report includes a special section that focuses on high-poverty schools in America, examining the types and locations of schools, the characteristics of the students and their teachers and principals; and student achievement.
According to the report, The Condition in Education 2010 , socioeconomic segregation in the nation's public elementary and secondary schools is on the rise, leading to a wide and persistent gap in educational achievement between racial and ethnic groups. Between the 1999-2000 and 2007-2008 school year, the percentage of students who attended high-poverty schools (schools in which 76-100 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch (FRPL)) increased from 12 percent to 17 percent – a 42 percent jump. Just about 20 percent of elementary school students and 6 percent of secondary school students attend high-poverty schools
It should come as no surprise that an overwhelming majority of the students who attend schools with high concentrated poverty are students of color. In 2007-2008, whites made up only about 14 percent of students in high-poverty schools, whereas, some 34 percent of students were black, 46 percent were Hispanic, 4 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander, and 2 percent were American Indian/Alaska Native.
Regardless of the type of school being considered, students of color make up a large percentage of socioeconomically segregated students. In 2007-2008, only 14 percent of students attending high-poverty elementary schools were white, while 34 percent were black, and 46 percent were Hispanic. Similarly, about 11 percent of students in high-poverty secondary school were White, while 38 percent were black, and 44 percent were Hispanic.
These patterns – black and Hispanic students making up a very large percentage of students of color that are socioeconomically isolated – hold especially for cities and suburbs. For example, Hispanics made up a large percentage of students in high-poverty elementary schools in both cities (48 percent) and suburbs (55 percent), followed by blacks (37 and 29 percent) and whites (10 and 12 percent). Likewise, Hispanics made up a larger percentage of student in high-poverty secondary schools in both cities (47 percent) and suburbs (56 percent), followed by blacks (40 and 27 percent) and whites (7 and 11 percent). Only in towns and rural areas do the percentage of whites attending socioeconomically isolated schools approach the percentages reached by black and Hispanic students.
Generally speaking, students of color are much more likely than white students to attend a school that is socioeconomically segregated. For example, because most students in the lower grades attend neighborhood schools, greater percentages of students of color are enrolled in schools in which a majority of the students are poor. Roughly 70 percent of Hispanic, 69 percent of Black, 60 percent of Indian/Alaska Native, and 34 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students were enrolled in elementary schools that at least half the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch compared with just 25 percent of whites.
Students of color who attend extremely impoverished schools are at a severe disadvantage compared to their peers:
- For both elementary and secondary schools, a smaller percentage of teachers working in high-poverty schools have earned at least a master's degree and professional certification than teachers working in low-poverty schools (0 to 24 percent FRPL).
- On each National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessment given between 2000 and 2009, average reading and math scores for 4th- and 8th- grade students from high poverty schools were lower than the scores for students from low-poverty schools.
- Students from schools with high concentrated poverty are less likely to graduate from high school; in 2007-2008, on average, 68 percent of 12th grade students in high-poverty schools graduated with a diploma, compared to 91 percent at low-poverty schools. The graduation rate for students in high-poverty schools has dropped significantly since the 1999-2000 school year, when 86 percent of students graduated.
- Students from schools with high concentrated poverty are less likely to attend college. Only 28 percent of students from high-poverty schools enrolled in a four-year institution after graduation, compared to 52 percent of graduates from low poverty schools.
In order to fully understand why so many students of color are socioeconomically segregated, one must examine the role federal and state governments, exclusionary zoning legislation, and private discrimination has played in bringing about and perpetuating residential segregation. For example, at the federal level, the government promoted housing discrimination through a variety of public policies, including the location of public housing in ghetto communities, urban renewal programs that destabilized black neighborhoods, and the practice of "red-lining" by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) in their home mortgage guarantee program. The problem of residential segregation has been exacerbated by "white flight," the continuous outmigration of jobs and industries out of central cities, and the flow of working-and middle-class blacks and Hispanics out of cities and into the suburbs. The point is that segregated housing in America's urban centers developed both slowly and quite intentionally.
Efforts to "fix" high-poverty schools have not worked well. It has been very difficult to overcome the many challenges these schools face, including low parental involvement and low-expectations of the students. It appears that the only real solution is to break these schools up. However, because of racially segregated housing patterns, reducing the number of schools with high concentrated poverty will not be easy. Giving students the opportunity to attend racially, ethnically and socioeconomically balanced schools may be their only hope for an economically secure future.