Segregating California’s Future: Inequality and its Alternative 60 Years after Brown v. Board of Education
California has had serious issues of separation and discrimination in its schools since it became a state. It was little affected by the Brown decision, which was directed primarily at the 17 states that had laws mandating the segregation of African Americans.
Although the California Supreme Court recognized a broad desegregation right in the state constitution, and the legislature briefly mandated that school boards take action to enforce this right, both were reversed by voter-approved propositions. The 1979 Proposition One led to the termination of the city’s desegregation plan—the first major city in the U.S. to end its plan.
U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the 1990s led eventually to the termination of the federal desegregation orders in San Francisco and San Jose. Major court decisions in California mandating desegregation that occurred in the 1970s were overturned by the 1990s, thus California presently has no school integration policy.
Segregation has grown substantially in the past two decades, especially for Latinos. White students’ contact with nonwhite and poor students has increased significantly because of the dramatic change in overall population. Black and Latino students are strongly concentrated in schools that have far lower quality, according to state Academic Performance Index (API) ratings. Conversely, a far larger share of whites and Asians attend the most highly related schools and thus are the most prepared for college.
A half-century of desegregation research shows the major costs of segregation and the variety of benefits of schools that are attended by all races.
California has had an extremely dramatic increase in the segregation of Latinos, who on average attended schools that were 54 percent white in 1970, but now attend schools that are 84 percent nonwhite. In fact, by one of our measures, California is now the state in which Latinos are the most segregated, making them the most isolated group in the state’s schools and becoming more so.
Latinos on average attend schools in which three-quarters of the students are poor. The best way to understand segregation today in California is the isolation of the combined population of Latinos and African Americans from the combined population of whites and Asians. The correlation of Latinos plus African Americans with the percentage of poor students in a school is extremely high. Black and Latino students attend schools that on average have more than two-thirds poor students, while whites and Asians typically attend schools with a majority of middle-class students.
The typical black student in California today attends a school with more than 2.5 times as many Latinos as blacks, thus making them a minority within a school dominated by another disadvantaged group.
The most segregated districts are in the Los Angeles-Inland Empire Region. The most integrated large districts are in the Sacramento and Fresno areas, where housing segregation is low.
Current demographic trends make full integration impossible, but they also offer important opportunities to expand integrated options and thus to support lasting community integration. For example, the existing choice and charter systems ignore integration, but with the right policies in place, choice could become an important positive force.
Among large school districts in California, some are far more integrated than others, which demonstrate that a pattern of segregation is not inevitable and offers models for other communities.
Where desegregation is simply not possible, we spell out important things that can be done to make opportunity more equal in segregated schools, and to offer students more choices. The Local Control Funding Formula targets funding for many children in segregated schools, and the funds could be used to support efforts to offer more equal opportunities. However, there is currently no state initiative in the pipeline to deal with issues of resegregation in California. California educators need to step up and provide leadership on civil rights.