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Private School Racial Enrollments and Segregation

Authors: By Sean F. Reardon, John T. Yun, Gary Orfield
Date Published: June 22, 2006

Though religious schools are not now under any desegregation requirements from courts and this report does not assess blame for the patterns reported, private school educators do have freedom to provide leadership in this area, and could well consider the techniques used by public magnet schools and secular private institutions. Moreover, private schools may well be held publicly accountable should they become publicly funded through voucher systems.
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This report is an important contribution to our understanding of the opportunities offered by schools in the United States to children of all races in a society where there will soon be no racial majority among school age children and where educational opportunity for minority students has been inadequate.  Access to good schools, the opportunity to take challenging courses from qualified teachers in schools with high levels of academic competition, the opportunity to learn about students of other backgrounds, and the chance to acquire skills in working effectively across racial and cultural and linguistic lines will all become increasingly invaluable assets for young Americans.  During the past two decades there has been an intense focus on inequality in public schools and strong suggestions that the private schools would do much better.  These discussions have been very intense within minority as well as white communities.  Though the private schools serve only a small minority of American students—about one in nine, a smaller proportion than a half century ago—they do offer an important alternative and deserve close attention. 

We have often issued national reports on trends of segregation in American public schools through the Harvard Project on School Desegregation and The Civil Rights Project and will issue new national statistics in July.  This report is an effort to extend that work to the full range of American schools.  As the country passes through vast demographic changes it is increasingly important to observe racial trends in all of our major institutions. 

The data in this report reveal that private schools have been disappointingly unsuccessful in their record of creating interracial schools–where equal opportunity, and the opportunity to learn about other cultures would be more likely.  This lack of success is despite the fact that private schools have fewer non-white students to integrate, private schools have simply not made much progress toward this goal.  Since private non-religious schools tend to be substantially more expensive than religious schools, voucher plans are most likely to fund attendance at religious schools.  It is therefore particularly distressing that these schools have the highest levels of racial separation.

In compliance with the UC Open Access Policy, this report has been made available on eScholarship:

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